The Mainstream That Through the Ghetto Flows An Interview with Philip K. Dick
Interviewer: Why science fiction out of all the forms of literature you
could have chosen? Was it a conscious decision?
Dick: Yes, because there's more likelihood in science fiction for the
expression of pure ideas than you find in other genres.
Interviewer: People say science fiction is "a ghetto." And then on the
other hand they say it's a "literature of ideas." But all literature is
supposed to be a literature of ideas, right? So why is it that science
fiction gets tagged with that label and in the same breath gets tagged as a
"ghetto"? In other words, why can people get away with paying a lot less
money for it?
Dick: In the first place, science fiction has changed a lot in the last few
years. It's coming out of the ghetto, but all that's done is make it worse.
The writing is worse now that it's coming out of the ghetto because it's
losing its identity. It's losing its shape. It's becoming like silly putty.
Nowadays, you can call anything you want "science fiction" or you can
decide not to call it "science fiction." For example, I have a book coming
out. If you buy the Doubleday hard-cover, you're reading a "mainstream"
novel; if you buy the Ballantine paperback, you're reading a "science
fiction" novel. So if I were to talk to you about my new novel, I'd have to
ask you whether you read the Doubleday hardback or the Ballantine
paperback. We'd be talking about packaging and marketing a book; we
wouldn't be talking about content at all. Some guy at Doubleday read the
first eighty pages, and he said, "Why, there are no rocketships in this
book! That's not science fiction. I'm going to throw it down the hall to
the trade editors and let them market it." And a guy at Ballantine looked
at the manuscript, and he said, "Hot dog! This is wonderful science
fiction! We're going to make millions!" And I said, "You guys better get
together." In other words, it came out of the ghetto in the hard-cover
edition and went right back into the ghetto in the paperback edition.
Interviewer: Which do you hope sells more?
Dick: That's a very evil question to ask. I can't answer it without
offending somebody. That is, I have to sit on two stools at once. I have to
hype the science fiction one, and then I have to turn around and hype the
mainstream one. I can't fault either one without immediately becoming the
victim of my own hype.
Interviewer: Okay, well let's see if we can rephrase it so it won't offend
quite as many people.
Dick: I don't want to offend anybody. I'm not an offensive novelist, and I
will not offend any reader anywhere. Actually, the book could not be
published as "science fiction" by Doubleday because it had four-letter
words in it, and their science fiction list doesn't allow too many
four-letter words in a book. If there had only been a few, like in Day of
Fury, that would have been different. They just inked the four-letter words
out and marketed the book as science fiction. Now, I never knew this
before: I didn't know that the distinction between "science fiction" and
"mainstream'' was the number of four-letter words. But on this new one of
mine, Larry Ashby, the editor-in-chief at Doubleday, said, "You can't take
them out. They're necessary to the book. Therefore, we can't market it as
science fiction." So now we're down to basics. If you want your book
marketed as a "mainstream" novel, you can say "Bleep, Bleep" all the way
through, but if you happen to have enough "Bleep, Bleeps" in the book, they
can't market it as science fiction because most of the science fiction
market is kids. Now, this is their theory, not mine. They also envision an
audience of guys with thick glasses and acne and hair parted in the middle
and Salvation Army overcoats and suitcases full of old magazines--guys with
felt pens who want you to sign every copy of every Astounding that they
own. That's their idea of the science fiction market, not my idea.
Interviewer: This is Doubleday, the premier hard-cover publisher?
Dick: Oh, I'm not saying Doubleday. I just mean "them."
Interviewer: Oh, "them."
Dick: "Them." The people that run things.
Interviewer: So that's the distinction. If it's got enough four-letter
words, it's not science fiction.
Dick: That's right. Now, I was told this by an editor-in-chief who's not
with Doubleday anymore. He went over to Simon and Schuster.
Interviewer: How does he explain it if you ask him about Samuel Delany with
Dhalgren? It's definitely sf, and it's got lots of four-letter words and
Dick: That's true. I read part of it, and Harlan Ellison and I agree that
it's a terrible book. Even though it had a lot of four-letter words and
ten-letter words in it, it was still a terrible book. It should have been
marketed as trash.
Interviewer: Why is it a bad book?
Dick: Oh, it's just a bad book. It's not necessary that I be a literary
critic. I just started reading it, and I said to myself, "This is the worst
trash I've ever read," and I threw it away. And Harlan did the same thing,
sitting up there in Sherman Oaks where he lives on that steep hill.
Harlan's not in it for profit. Harlan's in it for the ideology of science
Interviewer: Well, Harlan is leaving the field of science fiction. He says,
"I write what I write."
Dick: He is?
Interviewer: Yeah. Now he says, "I write Harlan Ellison stories and not
Dick: That's a tautology. "Harlan Ellison writes Harlan Ellison stories":
the predicate is applied to the subject. Recently, I listed for Publisher's
Weekly the people who had left science fiction, and I didn't even think to
add Harlan. I did read Harlan's letter in F & SF, where he said, "Come on,
America, bleep it or bleep it as regarding science fiction." And there's
Barry Maltzberg, who published the most marvelously crazy statement in the
universe. In all the history of science fiction, nobody has ever
bum-tripped science fiction as much as Barry Maltzberg did. And I think
he's a great writer. But you don't break up a marriage that way and you
don't leave science fiction that way, by saying, "Everybody in it is rotten
and everything that has ever been written is rotten, except what I wrote."
Which is what Maltzberg said. But he's going on to bigger and greater
things. And then Vonnegut. Vonnegut has always never written science
fiction. Or so he discovered when he looked back over his career and
discovered that he'd made a lot of money at some point. And at that point,
retroactively he became like the Pope, who gets to say, "Everything I say
is true, and I never was writing science fiction, even if you read Player
Piano and thought it was science fiction. You were wrong. And Cat's Cradle
likewise. And Sirens of Titan. They're not science fiction because I say
they're not science fiction. Come to me and I will tell you." That's what
Harlan always says, too.
Interviewer: Silverberg is also leaving the field.
Dick: I know. He's rich. I don't know how come he is; I can't figure it out
because none of the rest of us are. I've always asked him that same
question over and over again, and he just smiles that superior, enigmatic
smile of his which means, "I know something you don't know, and that's why
I'm rich and you're not." He didn't make it from science fiction, because
if he did, he sure does know something I don't know. I think he reinvested
his royalties in a Pizza Hut or something.
Interviewer: I don't know why, but there is something about your style of
writing, and your style as I discerned it from Paul Williams' Rolling Stone
piece, that puts me in mind of Kilgore Trout. I don't mean you are Kilgore
Dick: I don't understand what you mean about Kilgore Trout.
Interviewer: All right. You do writing which is excellent. It's labeled
science fiction, and therefore it doesn't sell much. It winds up next to
the bra and panty ads.
Dick: Wrong. Doubleday gets to market it through their el-cheapo book club.
They get to sell it for a dollar, and the author gets to make a penny.
Robert Heinlein explained this to me one time. You sell a book to a
hard-cover publisher and the Doubleday Book Club snatches it right up and
markets it for a dollar no matter how many pages it's got. Naturally, we're
speaking in hyperbole here, but nevertheless your royalties immediately
descend to the level of the minuscule again: the more copies your book
sells, the less money you make. Heinlein says that he was financially
ruined when they picked up Stranger in a Strange Land because they made him
market this giant thing for a dollar and destroyed the trade edition. I
always thought it was good when I had a book picked up by the Doubleday
Book Club, but I found out that I made no money. I looked at my royalty
receipts. That's where the money is, though, marketing it through a book
club: the publisher makes the money and the author doesn't. He makes his
ten percent of the flat price on the trade edition only. What they do is
this: they print up about two thousand copies of the trade edition, sell
five hundred of them, and pulp the rest the next day. So the author looks
at his royalty sheet and says, "That's really strange."
Interviewer: What about paperback?
Dick: You're talking about selling directly to the paperbacks?
Dick: Someone told me that's where the fat money is. It was a paperback
publisher who told me that. And then he offered me all the money you ever
saw in your life to do a novel for him. But when he actually talked
specifically rather than just saying he'd give me all the money I ever
wanted and then some, it turned out to be less than if I'd sold it to a
hard-cover house and there was a Doubleday Book Club edition and a
paperback. Under those conditions, you split the royalties fifty/fifty with
a hard-cover publisher; for Ubik, I got ten thousand dollars for the
paperback of which I got five thousand and Doubleday got the other five.
Recently, Daw offered me six thousand dollars to write an original novel
for them. And for Daw, six thousand dollars is like selling all of the
office furniture they've got, including all their computers and things.
That's about all the money Daw has, six thousand dollars. So, if you
project six thousand for Daw, say, what would Bantam pay? Or Dell? I mean,
Bantam has seventeen thousand five hundred outlets in the United
States--they own seventeen thousand five hundred racks. That's the largest
number of racks that any publisher owns in this country. Daw doesn't own
any racks that I know of, and they're up to six thousand.
Interviewer: Are you going to write the book?
Dick: Oh, yes, and I am going to have a ball doing it, too. Don Wollheim
gave me my start.
Interviewer: That's a good cue to pick up on--some biographical stuff. You
Interviewer: How long had you been writing before you sold your first
Dick: Ever since I could operate a typewriter, which was when I was twelve.
I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen. It was called Return to
Lilliput, and it was really a bomb. But I'll sell it someday. Some guys
discover Lilliput in the modern world, but it's only accessible by
submarine because it's sunk under the water. You'd think a fourteen
year-old kid would have a more original idea than that. I can even tell you
the numbers on the submarines: A10l, B202, C303.
Interviewer: That makes it a finite number of submarines then.
Dick: Well, I realized that when I got halfway through.
Interviewer: You sold your first story then to Don Wollheim?
Dick: No. To Tony Bradshear at F & SF.
Interviewer: That's a hell of a way to begin, F & SF in '51.
Dick: Oh, yes, it was the highest-class magazine in existence at that time.
What I did was send out thirteen or fourteen stories. And they all came
back, including the one I sent to F & SF. But Tony Bradshear said "If you
rewrite along these lines, you'll have a worthwhile piece of fiction." I
had sent him eight or nine thousand words, and I cut it down to about two
thousand words, and the story's still in print now. I'm still getting money
off the darn thing: I'm still making money on stuff I wrote when I was just
starting. But in about 1953, I started writing the worst trashy stuff you
ever read, and none of that stuff's in print. In 1953, I sold twenty-seven
stories, and twenty-six of the twenty-seven were rotten, worthless pieces
of fiction. My agent had to tell me. He said, "Phil, write fewer, better
stories. Maybe one a year." They were really terrible, but they were all
Interviewer: What about the first novel you sold?
Dick: That was Solar Lottery. That's been in print off and on for about
twenty years, and I've made about fifteen hundred dollars off of it.
Interviewer: That's what I meant about Kilgore Trout--a man who is
virtually unparalleled in the field. Nobody knows you; you could, if you
pardon the hyperbole, be starving to death in the field, but you're damn
good, you're still gonna be making fifteen hundred bucks.
Dick: I got a thousand dollars advance on the book, and then when they
reprinted it ten years later, they gave me another five hundred. But that's
the last I ever saw of any money off that book. And it's still in print. I
could walk over there and pull a copy out of the bookcase, and it'd still
bear the original publishing date. There's no second, third or further
printing date. It still says, "Copyright Ace Books, 1954" or whatever, and
it almost borders on the illegal for them to copyright it rather than give
me the copyright. It means I can't get a reversion, whereby I'd get title
again, because I never had the title. They took copyright out in their
name, and they just recycle that book all over the world. People find it in
Hong Kong, and the royalty sheets show that no copies have been sold since
Interviewer: Of all the novels you've written, I guess my own particular
favorites are The Man in the High Castle, of course, and Ubik.
Dick: You-bick. The French call it Ooh-bick. Deek's Ooh-bick. It's called
Ubick, Mia Signore in Italian. I guess that means Ubick, My Dear Sir or
something like that. Well, it does--I looked it up.
Interviewer: What about your working habits?
Dick: Well, I used to write all the time. I used to just get up at noon and
sit down at the typewriter and write until two a.m. You've got to do that
when you start out or you're gonna die on the vine. I mean, you're gonna
live on two thousand dollars a year, and you're gonna eat rocks and dirt
and weeds from the back yard for the first ten years. And then after the
first ten years, you get to eat instant breakfast. Then you work your way
up so that you're rich enough to get a phone put in and buy an old
Interviewer: Does that sound like Kilgore Trout?
Dick: It does, doesn't it? You get to drive around in an old hubmobile that
you crank-start every morning. And then after twenty-five years, you manage
to get a used Dodge. It costs you seven hundred and ninety-five dollars,
but the radio doesn't work. You know, there are people standing behind
grocery counters making more money. One time, I was in a grocery store,
talking to the clerk, and I found out that he made more money than I did. I
was really sore, because they'd just hired him. He didn't even have
seniority as a grocery clerk; at least he could have been a senior clerk.
Interviewer: Do you start saying to yourself, "What the hell? Why am I
beating my brains out for two grand a year? Four grand, or even ten?"
Dick: I love to write. I'd write if they didn't pay me anything, although I
have an agent who doesn't agree with me. I don't market my own stuff--I
market it through the toughest, meanest dude in the world, Scott Meredith.
And you can't gyp him. It's impossible to gyp Scott Meredith, because if
you do, don't start your car up in the morning.
Interviewer: So you do like to write, and you used to work nonstop. Have
you changed that pattern?
Dick: Yes. Here's what happened to me. A novel that Roger Zelazny and I
wrote, Deus Irae, took twelve years to write. I signed a contract with
Doubleday in 1964, and this is 1976, right? Well, that's how long it took
the two of us to write it. I got maybe a third of it done and discovered
that I didn't know anything about the subject matter, which is
Christianity. I could sing a few hymns, you know, and I could cross myself,
but that was about all. Anyway, I had embarked on a theological novel
without knowing anything about theology. So when I ran across Zelazny in
1968, I'd been working for four years on the novel, and I said, "Zelazny,
do you know anything about theology?" He said, "You better believe it,
Jack," and I said, "How would you like to collaborate with me? I got
one-third of this thing done, and it's all about Christianity." So he took
it. And then eight years went by, and I didn't hear from Roger until I got
a postcard one time from him from the East Coast. Roger's in over his head
just like me, but he's doing research. We each got four hundred dollars
apiece or something like that. We'll never be able to earn back what we put
into that book in the way of research and work. Now I, too, spend my time
doing research before I do a book; I'm not going to get burned like that
again. I'm working on another theological novel called To Scare the Dead,
but I've done two years of research, and when I sit down at the typewriter,
I'm gonna know what I'm talking about. I did seven years of research for
The Man in the High Castle. Seven years of research: it took me seven years
to amass the material on the Nazis and the Japanese. Especially on the
Nazis. And that's probably the reason why it's a better novel than most of
my novels: I knew what I was talking about. I had prime-source material at
the Berkeley-Cal library right from the gestapo's mouth--stuff that had
been seized after World War II. Stuff that was marked for the eyes of "the
higher police" only. I had to read what those guys wrote in their private
journals in order to write The Man in the High Castle. That's also why I've
never written a sequel to it: it's too horrible, too awful. I started
several times to write a sequel, but I had to go back and read about Nazis
again, so I couldn't do it. Somebody would have to come in and help
me--someone who had the stomach for it, the stamina, to think along those
lines, to get into the head of the right character. Now, Richard Condon,
who wrote The Manchurian Candidate, also wrote a thing called An Infinity
of Mirrors, which is about Reichsfuhrer Himmler, and Condon knew everything
there was to know about Himmler. He got into Himmler's head; he had the
guts to do that. I don't, and that's why my book, The Man in the High
Castle, is set in the Japanese part. I just have little glimpses of the
Interviewer: Did you know it was going to be that torturous when you began?
Dick: The writing wasn't torturous; the writing was a catharsis for me. It
was the research that was so tough. I thought I hated those guys before I
did the research, but after I did the research, I had created for myself an
entity that I would hate the rest of my life: fascism. Fascism is very much
with us today, boys and girls. It is still the enemy. By the way, I wrote
The Man in the High Castle with the I Ching.
Interviewer: You did?
Dick: Yeah, and I've been sorry ever since, because when it came time to
resolve the novel at the end, the I Ching didn't know what to do.
Admittedly, it got me through most of the book. Every time my people would
cast a hexagram, I actually cast it for them and let them proceed on the
basis of the advice given. But then when it came time to close down the
novel, the I Ching had no more to say. So there's no real ending on it. I
like to regard it as an open ending, so it can segue into a sequel some
Interviewer: If you found somebody with the stomach to write one.
Dick: Or if the I Ching ever gets off its ass.
Interviewer: Do you go back from time to time to see if there's an ending?
Dick: No. I don't use the I Ching any more, because the I Ching told me
more lies than anybody I've ever known. The I Ching has a personality that
is very devious and very treacherous: it feeds you just what you want to
hear. It's spaced-out and burned-out more people than I care to name. You
know, a friend is somebody who doesn't tell you what you want to hear: a
friend tells you what's true. Oldentime kings all had their toadies around
them who told them what they wanted to hear. The king said, "Am I the
greatest king in the world?" and the toadies said, "Yeah, you're the
greatest king in the world." Well, that's what the I Ching does. It's a
crock, is what it is. John Sladek, who covers everything from scientology
to the Mafia and says that none of them exist, says that the I Ching is a
hoax. Sladek also did a parody of my writing which is much better than
anything I've ever done. I was walking on cloud nine after I read that
parody. I wrote Ed Ferber, who's editor of F & SF, and I said, "I have
talent. Sladek has genius." And Ed Ferber wrote back and said, "Fine, I'm
going to buy a lot of stuff from Sladek now." And he did; he commissioned
eight more parodies, all of which are marvelous. Sladek's book is called
The Steam-Driven Boy and Other Strangers. His parody of me is called "Solar
Shoe Salesman," in which somebody consults these tiles which tell him,
"Many small greatnesses denied, no saying. It does not further to discover
gifts only. The wise king avoids fried foods." I'm looking at this parody
and I'm saying, "If I could write as well as Sladek...." That's another
thing that brought me back into science fiction when I started to talk
about being a mainstream writer. Too often, we use science fiction as a
crash pad: if you start thinking you're any good, you leave it. It's unfair
to the field. And it's also hubris: I'm a great writer, I am not a science
fiction writer. But what about your first proposition? Maybe you're not
such a great writer after all.
Interviewer: A month ago, I interviewed Richard Lupoff, a good writer,
probably best known for Again Dark Visions. . .
Dick: . . . His wife's very pretty, too. I tried to pick her up in a bar
once. Didn't know it was his wife. The most amazing thing happened: I found
myself in the parking lot stretched out flat. Lupoff sure has a short fuse.
Interviewer: He does have a short fuse. That's one of the reasons he's
getting out of the field.
Dick: Wait a minute: he hasn't even been in the field.
Interviewer: He says so: says he's been in it for ten years, written
novels, short stories, the whole thing.
Dick: He has? I didn't know that.
Interviewer: He's made maybe four, five, ten grand.
Dick: Is this Lupoff that you're talking about?
Interviewer: Dick Lupoff.
Dick: Guys leave the field before they even get into it now.
Interviewer: He was offered big money--he wouldn't say how much, but I
gather it was better than fifteen grand--to write a novel about New York
Dick: De gustibus non est argumentam--"Other people can have bad taste and
I don't care." That's how you translate that.
Interviewer: Well, he got that kind of money for writing the mainstream
Dick: That makes me really sore. Because we're in a double bind. If we stay
in the field, they pay us pennies. Of course nobody's offered me fifteen
thousand dollars to leave the field yet.
Interviewer: His agent apologized that it was so little because this was a
"first book." And Lupoff said, "What is this? I've been working for ten
years. I'm a competent, established writer." And the agent says, "That's
science fiction. That's not literature."
Dick: How do you know? Who told you?
Dick: Don't believe anything a writer tells you. I'm a writer. I'd know. A
fiction writer speaks with a forked tongue. Talk-um big money. I want to
see Lupoff's contract.
Interviewer: Spend an evening ransacking his agent's files.
Dick: If somebody offered me fifteen thousand dollars.... Well, Daw offered
me six thousand dollars to write a science fiction novel, and to me that's
a lot of money.
Interviewer: It is a lot of money.
Dick: Well, I thought it was.
Interviewer: Considering it's Wollheim. Considering the fact he's only been
at it--what, two years? Three years?
Dick: He also bought the leftovers from the Ballantine collection of my
stories. He said, "I'll take what Betty Ballantine doesn't want." That's
exactly what he got, and he was madder than a wet hen, to use a ten-letter
word. He said, "I got Betty Ballantine's rejects," and I said, "That's what
you contracted for." He said, "That ain't right," and I said, "Neither is
the price." We're still talking in terms of the same advance that I got
when I started out, so when you factor in inflation, I'm getting less money
per novel than I did in 1950. Doubleday went up to three thousand dollars
advance for my new book, A Scanner Darkly. They said that that was the most
they could go for a "science fiction" novel. So after they had acquired it
for three thousand dollars, they turned it over to the trade department,
which has no limit on what it can offer, and then they told me that the
real limit was four thousand dollars. But I was too dumb to know the
difference. They acquired it for three thousand dollars, which is just
chicken feed, let's face it--three thousand bucks, and it took me like
three years to write the book. Now that's a thousand dollars a year.
Somebody sits down to write science fiction, and then the publisher markets
it as a mainstream novel and gets to sit on both stools. They get to eat
the porridge out of one pot, and then they get to eat the porridge out of
the other pot, and I got no porridge in mine at all. They're going to make
a bundle on it, but Ballantine deserves to make a bundle on it because
Judy-Lynn Del Rey at Ballantine went over the manuscript page by page with
me and told me what it needed in order to be a truly competent book. This
is the first time that any editor has ever done that with me since The Man
in the High Castle. Pete Israel, who was the editor for Putnam then, went
over The Man in the High Castle page by page, and now Judy-Lynn has done
that with A Scanner Darkly. So now I've got two good novels under my belt
because I've had two good editors. Judy-Lynn Del Rey is probably the
greatest editor since Maxwell Perkins: she showed me how to create a
character. I've been selling novels for twenty-two years, and she showed me
how to develop a character. My first reaction was, "Dear Judy-Lynn, how
would you like to take a one-way walk off the Long Beach Pier?" But then I
started thinking about what she was saying, and soon as my fuse had burned
out--being very short, it didn't take long--I realized that she was
teaching me how to write. It's too ball that nobody did that twenty-five
years ago, because then maybe my books would have made more sense. But A
Scanner Darkly? A master craftsman came into that book--Judy-Lynn Del Rey.
Now I know what to do w hen I write a book. You don't just write whatever
comes into your head while you're sitting there in front of the typewriter.
When I wrote Ubik, I got about twelve pages done and couldn't think of
anything else, so l just wrote whatever came into my mind. I wrote it from
my unconscious: I let the right hemisphere of my brain do all the thinking,
and I was as surprised as anybody as to what came out. In France, of
course, it's considered a great novel because it doesn't make any sense; in
France, it's a roman de pataphysique. Ever since Alfred Jarry hit town,
they've loved stuff that doesn't make any sense. Maybe it does make sense
when you translate it into French. Maybe I'm a great writer in France
because I've got good translators.
Interviewer: You are better known, I think, in France than you are here.
Dick: Germany, France--England, too.
Interviewer: What do they think of The Man in the High Castle in Germany?
Dick: They didn't know that I could read German. A publisher bought it in
Germany and began to translate it, and when I learned that they'd bought
it, I said, "Oh, no, you're not going to put that book out in Germany
without letting me see the German translation." I said, "Listen, Scott,
we're not going to let them publish that book lest I read the galleys. It's
gotta be sine qua non. It's gotta be a condition." Well, they didn't have
galleys. They just had the typescript, so they had to send that to us. When
I started reading that thing, I could see that they had destroyed the book.
They'd turned it into a travesty of itself. I actually burst into tears
when I finished reading it. Here was my best novel, right, and they said,
"We didn't know you could read German." They actually said that in their
letter. They gave me five days to read it, and my German got very fluent. I
stayed up night and day with my Cassell's German-English Dictionary and I
read every single word, comparing the German line by line with the English.
They hadn't changed any of the political parts--all the anti-Nazi stuff was
still there. They'd just turned it into a cheap adventure novel. I remember
one part where it read: Tagomi stolzierte einher wie Wyatt Earp." Now, I
never mentioned Wyatt Earp in my book. "Tagomi swaggered like Wyatt Earp"!
"Tagomi swaggered like Vyatt Oorp"!
Interviewer: What about Japan?
Dick: I can't read Japanese. I can read the English titles of my novels in
the bio section in the back. So help me--I don't mean this as a slur
against the Japanese--but they listed Valuable Man instead of Variable Man.
Somebody suggested I write the translator and ask him specific questions
about the book, and he did write back. Now, I thought the Japanese were
supposed to be very polite, but I was wrong. First of all, he said, "Your
book wasn't any good to start with.'' Secondly, he said, "You've also
confused Chinese culture and Japanese culture. The Chinese are inferior
people, and the I Ching's Chinese and not Japanese. No Japanese would ever
use some Confucian classic. Only foreigners use those." I was quite amazed
at how up-front he was in his contempt for the book, but it's still in
print in Japan. It's sold very well, and I've made almost thirty-five
dollars off of it. Over a ten-year period. One time, I got a check for
forty-two cents, and Scott Meredith had taken out two cents. A check for
forty-two cents. It was the royalty for a copy that had sold in Tanganyika
or some place like that. One copy, and my royalty's forty-two cents. And
Scott took out two cents and sent me a check for forty cents. I was so
broke, I cashed it. I wrote dirty words on the back of it for a long time,
and finally I went up to the Seven Eleven and bought a Manhandler Meat Pie
Interviewer: They took a forty-cent check?
Dick: Well, they kind of laughed at me, but they always laughed at me at
Seven Eleven anyway because mv checks always bounced. At least this check
didn't bounce, seeing how it was Scott's check. One time, four guys from
the Seven Eleven showed up at the front door with two hundred and
eighty-five dollars worth of bad checks that I'd written to the Seven
Eleven. They said, "You've got till five o'clock to make them good or
you're going to the DA's office." I borrowed it from mv insurance agent.
State Farm loaned me the money. That's the life of the writer. I'm laughing
now, but I wasn't laughing that day.
Interviewer: Does A Scanner Darkly have anything to do with Cordwainer
Dick: I didn't know anybody used that title.
Interviewer: Cordwainer Smith's first sf story--Scanners Live in Vain.
Dick: Suffering succotash. Does that mean I have to change my title?
Interviewer: I don't think so. He's dead.
Dick: Well, I know he's dead. That wasn't even his real name. No, A Scanner
Darkly is from Paul's "through a glass, darkly." It's a story about a guy
who becomes a narcotics agent and then begins to nark on himself. He rigs
up an infrared scanner in his own home, but he starts to feel like he's
being watched. And then when he goes to a safe house, he watches reels and
reels of tape--video hologram tapes set in the future--depicting exactly
what he's doing in the house. He's so spaced-out by the dope he's been
taking as an undercover agent that he doesn't know he's narking on himself.
He thinks he's two different guys, and when his superiors point out to him
that he's really the same guy that he's been reporting on, he flies into a
terrible rage and they fire him. So now he's got to come off the dope
because he can't afford to buy it anymore but his brain is all burnt-out,
and Judy-Lynn Del Rey helped me put the book together so that it made more
sense. One of the things that I wrote was a funny suicide scene, because I
really think there should be more funny suicide scenes written. It's very
short and it's self-explanatory. I hope. I hope the whole book makes sense.
Judy-Lynn says it makes sense now. So now we'll have the first full-length
novel of mine that makes sense. The scene goes as follows:
Charles Freck, becoming progressively more and more depressed by what was
happening to everybody he knew, decided finally to off himself. There was
no problem, in the circles where he hung out in putting an end to yourself:
you just bought into a large quantity of reds and took them with some cheap
wine, late at night, with the phone of the hook so no one would interrupt
The planning part had to do with the artifacts you wanted found on you by
later archeologists. So they'd know from which stratum you came. And also
could piece together where your head had been at the time you did it.
He spent several days deciding on the artifacts. Much longer than he had
spent deciding to kill himself and approximately the same time required to
get that many reds. He would be found lying on his back, on his bed, with a
copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (which would prove he held been a
misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered
by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the
cancellation of his gas credit card. That way he would indict the system
and achieve something by his death, over and above what the death itself
Actually he was not as sure in his mind what the death achieved as what the
two artifacts achieved; but anyhow it all added up, and he began to make
ready, like an animal sensing its time has come and acting out its
instinctive programming, laid down by nature, when its inevitable end was
At the last moment (as end-time closed in on him) he changed his mind on a
decisive issue and decided to drink the reds down with a connoisseur wine
instead of Ripple or Thunderbird, so he set off on one last drive over to
Trader Joe's, which specialized in fine wines and bought a bottle of 1972
Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, which set him back almost thirty dollars--all
Back home again, he uncorked the wine, let it breathe, drank a few glasses
of it, spent a few minutes contemplating his favorite page of The
Illustrated Picture Book of Sex, which showed the girl on top, then placed
the plastic bag of reds beside his bed lay down with the Ayn Rand book and
unfinished protest letter to Exxon, tried to think of something meaningful
but could not although he kept remembering the girl being on top, and then,
with a glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon, gulped down all the reds at once.
After that, the deed being done, he lay back, the Ayn Rand book and letter
on his chest, and waited.
However, he had been burned. The capsules were not barbiturates, as
represented. They were some kind of kinky psychedelics, of a type he had
never dropped before, probably a mixture, and new on the market. Instead of
quietly suffocating, Charles Freck began to hallucinate. Well, he thought
philosophically, this is the story of my life. Always ripped off. He had to
face the fact--considering how many of the capsules he had swallowed--that
he was in for some trip.
The next thing he knew, a creature from between dimensions was standing
beside his bed looking down at him disapprovingly. The creature had many
eyes, all over it, ultra-modern expensive-looking clothing, and rose up
eight feet high. Also, it carried an enormous scroll.
"You're going to read me my sins," Charles Freck said.
The creature nodded and unsealed the scroll.
Freck said, lying helpless on his bed, "and it's going to take a hundred
Fixing its many compound eyes on him, the creature from between dimensions
said, "We are no longer in the mundane universe. Lower-plane categories of
material existence such as 'space' and 'time' no longer apply to you. You
have been elevated to the transcendent realm. Your sins will be read to you
ceaselessly, in shifts, throughout eternity. The list will never end."
Know your dealer, Charles Freck thought, and wished he could take back the
last half-hour of his life.
A thousand years later he was still lying there on his bed with the Ayn
Rand book and the letter to Exxon on his chest, listening to them read his
sins to him. They had gotten up to the first grade, when he was six years
Tell thousand years later they had reached the sixth grade.
The year he had discovered masturbation.
He shut his eyes, but he could still see the multi-eyed, eight-foot-high
being with its endless scroll reading on and on.
"And next--" it was saying.
Charles Freck thought, At least I got a good wine.
I just stuck that in. A guy told me once that this really happened to him.
He had bought what he thought were barbiturates, and everything here is
exactly what happened to the guy, except that I changed the artifacts. He
had a candle or something, and he was going to do it for archeologists,
whom he expected to find him a thousand years later. I don't know what made
him think that. Well, I guess I do, because it was eight hundred pounds of
psychedelics that he took. The cops found him under a bush. He was outdoors
and a police car drove by: he was lying there under a bush with a hundred
pounds of psychedelics in his tum-tum, seeing creatures from between the
dimensions, and a police car saw him and the cops leaped right out and took
him to the hospital. Now, I'm anti-cop all the time, but I think to myself
that here's when you could really use a cop car coming by. He couldn't tell
them what he'd taken or anything. Which is, when you get down to it, the
worst aspect of suicide: you get into it and you can't get back out when
you change your mind.
Interviewer: Didn't you tell me that you'd worked in counseling, in
situations in which you were dealing with drug cases, o.d.'s and so forth,
for a long time?
Dick: Well, A Scanner Darkly is about that. I tried to find the ultimate
ironies in the drug world. Remember in the old days before dope? When you
were underage, you could go into a bar with fake ID, drink beer and be real
grown-up. Then a guy would come into the bar and order ginger ale, and you
knew he was a cop because he couldn't drink liquor on duty, even if he was
a plain-clothes cop. But undercover narcotics agents--they have to take
dope to be undercover narcotics agents. I mean, if they blow their cover,
they're going to get offed. So I presume that if everybody lights up a
joint and there's a narc sitting there, he's going to have to light up a
joint. He can't say, "No, I'm only allowed to drink ginger ale," because
people in those circles are going to run over him with their car. That's
one of the ultimate ironies: the dope burns the agent's brain out. In A
Scanner Darkly, I just tried to see how far you could push the terrible
tragedies of the dope world: the hero's a narc who's reporting on himself
and he's too burnt-out to know the difference anymore. I remember one thing
I saw when I used to hang around with dopers. A friend took me to meet this
dude who had a lot of money, but all he could do now was juggle three balls
in the air. I thought, "Gee, what a poor egophrenic type." Then I pulled a
book off his bookshelf. It was Spinoza, and the guy had underlined parts.
At one time, in other words, he had had a brilliant mind. I could look at
the book and see what he'd underlined, and I could look at the same guy
standing there, juggling three balls. I said, "This guy burned his brain
out on dope, right?" And my friend said, "Yes, he did. He's got three
million dollars, but he's burned out. There's nothing left of him. He
couldn't even tell you what he took." I just said, "I want to get out of
here, man. I don't want to see this." You know, it's very difficult to read
Spinoza, and this guy had underlined parts that meant a lot to him, and
there he was juggling these three balls. I said, "Holy Goodness," and a lot
of other things. I was talking to Avram Davidson's ex-wife about that, and
she beat me to the idea in a short story. Her current husband, Steve Davis,
is a doctor, and he came up with a similar idea that I've been toying
around with. It's about lead poisoning in the air: a whole city of people
could burn-out their brains on the lead toxins in the atmosphere and nobody
would know it. Even the doctors wouldn't know it. So in Scanner, they're
all turned on and nobody knows anything anymore. Tom Disch, for example,
wrote Camp Concentration, which I have always thought was one of the
greatest science fiction novels ever written. Everybody turns brilliant
from getting syphilis, and I always meant to ask Tom where he got the idea
that getting syphilis made you brilliant. He told me, peripherally, that
Thomas Mann had syphilis--in fact, tertiary syphilis and the more his brain
burned out, the more brilliant he got. So Camp Concentration posits that
syphilis will speed up your mentational process. Like hell, it does! In any
case, I think my book is sadder than Camp Concentration, in a way.
Interviewer: Do you find yourself creating a consistent universe from book
to book? Not in The Man in the High Castle obviously, but when you set a
book in 1981 or 2011, is the universe essentially the same universe?
Dick: I didn't think they were, but a lot of people say that they're all
essentially the same universe, that my basic postulates are always the
Interviewer: Which comes first for you? Situations? Characters? Or can't
Dick: The first thing is the idea. A pure idea. The next thing is
characters who will be confronted by an environment based on that idea.
That is, you create an environment which is a kind of a special-effects
mock-up of an idea. In other words, I translate an idea into a world. Then
you need the people who must live in that world. I always try to find
somebody who's the victim of the idea and somebody who's the master of the
idea, so that you have a bifurcated society with somebody who's going to
make it off the idea and somebody who's going to be victimized by the idea.
Suppose we have a society that uses pretzels for money, and instead of a
president they'd have a chief baker. And then there's one guy who has a
dietary deficiency which requires that he eat pretzels or die. So whenever
he's paid off at the end of the month, he has to eat the pretzels instead
of using them to buy things. They give him his month's pay in a little
paper sack, but he eats the pretzels on the way home and then realizes that
he can't pay any of his bills.
Interviewer: Copyright 1976, Philip K. Dick.
Dick: As I said, the world of science fiction has become very much like a
silly putty world. Publisher's Weekly once sent me a questionnaire and the
first question was: "What do you mean when you use the term science
fiction? I thought, "I could spend the rest of my life answering that one
question." When I finally decided that I would answer it, it took me ten
pages. They asked things like: "What is the present state of science
fiction?" and ''What is its future?" and "Who do you think is any good?"
The basic questions.
Interviewer: Who do you think is any good?
Dick: In the field? Well, most of the people I think are any good are
apparently dropping out of the field. So if I say they're any good, they'll
probably deny that they ever were science-fiction writers. Tom Disch, Barry
Maltzberg, Phil Farmer....
Dick: I never read anything by Silverberg I liked. I don't like Harlan
Ellison's stuff either. I like Norman Spinrad and Catherine Kurtz, who
writes fantasy, I guess. She's also very pretty.
Interviewer: Le Guin?
Dick: Well, as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, "You said it, not me." ''Du
sagst." That's Luther's translation. "Bist du Konig?" says Pilate, and then
Jesus answers, ''Du sagst"--"You said it, not me. If that's what you say,
Pontius, that's up to you. You're the imperator." I can't answer about
Ursula's stuff, because I really don't understand it. Her whole body of
writing seems to me like a kind of political sermonette all gussied up with
literary style. But when you strip the style away, it's all from the
poli-sci department at the University of California at Berkeley.
Interviewer: You beat out Ursula Le Guin for the Campbell Award in 1975.
The whole awards thing: is that essentially a game that the field plays or
does it really have meaning? I say this to the man who has at least one
Dick: When I learned I'd won the John W. Campbell award, my first reaction
was to refuse it because I was present when the award was given out in
Fullerton, where the entire ceremony was a shambles and a mockery and a
disgrace. I was ashamed of every single person up there on that panel,
ashamed for those students who came there to hear us answer their relevant
questions with our relevant answers. They asked relevant questions and all
we did was make fools of ourselves. And I have never spoken in public since
then. Then the next year, I won the J. W. Campbell award, and I was going
to refuse it. I got very sick with the flu, just thinking about having won.
But then Harry Harrison called me up and described the award ceremony in
England. He assured me that it wouldn't be a mockery and a disgrace, but I
was still very reluctant to accept it, and I refused to pose for publicity
pictures at the University of California at Fullerton with my award. I
refused to pick up the award, and I made them bring it over to me. I told
them I was sick; I told them I had kidney trouble. Then Time magazine
interviewed me, and when they photographed me, I happened to look at the
thing. It's a Mobius strip. It looks like something that you'd use to prop
up the axle of your car with if you were changing your tire and couldn't
find a regular bumper-jack. All in all, I don't know what to think about
these awards; I'm ambivalent. It's nice that I won it because it means that
like Flow My Tears is going to be reissued again. You feel like saying,
"Aw, shucks fellows, gee whiz, you shouldn'ta done it, but don't take it
back." I was very happy when I got my original Hugo award, although they
never told me I got it. I didn't find out till my agent wrote to
Interviewer: A couple of times you have compared the field to silly putty.
Is Gresham's law in operation? Is there less good writing being published ?
Dick: I really don't know. I have a great anxiety about the future of
science fiction. When I wrote to Publisher's Weekly, I took a very negative
view of the future of science fiction. I contrasted the hopes and dreams
that we'd had for it with what's happening now, with people writing about
sword fights and little fellows with fuzzy turned-up feet. You can't parody
science fiction any more because it's becoming a parody of itself. People
are starting to think that science fiction consists of guys whacking each
other over the head with swords. That's not science fiction. Science
fiction is stuff like 1984.
Interviewer: Like The Man in the High Castle?
Dick: Yeah. I think the novel of ideas is still the cardinal thing in
science fiction. All we have now is space opera and tedious sermonettes
masquerading as literature. Like "Space 1999" and "Star Trek." Here we are
in 1976, and we've made no progress whatsoever. Someone says, "Captain,
there's something hideous on the view-screen." The captain says, "Turn on
the laser beams," and then a voice comes out of nowhere, and everybody
looks under the seat cushions to see where the voice is coming from.
A producer by the name of Herb Jaffe has an option on Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep? I don't dare bad-mouth his silly movies, but if you're
listening, Herb Jaffe, I love your money, but you sure write busy scripts.
You're a Neanderthal man. You're back with George Pal, and I don't want you
to make a movie out of my book. The screenplay that they wrote for Androids
was a combination of Steve Reeves and Maxwell Smart. Robert Jaffe, Herb
Jaffe's son, flew down to Fullerton to talk with me about it because I
didn't think it was a final shooting script; I thought it was just a rough
draft. I told him, "I'm going to beat you up right here in the airport,
because you're going to drag me down with you guys and ruin my career if
you make a movie out of my book." He said, "You mean it's that bad?" and I
said, "Yeah." Finally, he said, "You mean you wrote that book seriously?
You science-fiction writers take your writing seriously?" I said,
"Seriously enough to throw you right out of this moving car." I said, "I'm
going to buy it back from you and give you the two-thousand-dollar option
money back." Then we had a four-hour rap session which was very productive:
they didn't make the movie. They just continued to hold the option, and I'm
hoping they don't make the movie unless they write a decent script.
Interviewer: You wrote a screenplay of one of your own works, didn't you?
Dick: Yeah, I wrote a good screenplay. I wrote a really good one of Ubik.
Boy, there's Gresham's law. I don't know how it applies to science fiction
writing in general, but it sure applies to screenplays: the bad screenplays
force the good ones out. Given a choice, they'll make a movie out of bad
screenplay and throw the good screenplay back at the author.
Interviewer: If I remember the Rolling Stone piece, that screenplay you did
of Ubik is currently bouncing around in Europe, still trying to get
Dick: It's still optioned. They're still trying to get financing for it,
but it's not the director's fault. Jean-Pierre Gorin spent all the money he
had, but he couldn't get the millions of dollars that he thought it would
cost. Then he got sick with liver trouble, and he had to give up being a
director and go teach down in San Diego. I wrote a really great screenplay,
and that's the one thing I am bitter about. If I had written a novel with
some of that stuff in it, I wouldn't have had any trouble selling it. But I
can't sell that screenplay.
Interviewer: We're running out of time. Let me ask you if there's anything
in particular that we have not covered that you do want to get off your
Dick: Let me make just one statement: I hope people will come into the
science fiction field and write science fiction and not listen to people
like Robert Silverberg and Barry Maltzberg and Harlan Ellison and Kurt
Vonnegut, who say either they don't write science fiction or they never did
write science fiction or they will not write it in the future. I mean,
science fiction is a lot of fun to write, and it's worth all the bad
financial breaks to do it. I don't regret one thing. Well, that's not true.
I regret it when they turn off my electricity. For instance, I went through
periods when I sent off the manuscript of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
and didn't have enough money to send it first class. I had to send it by
third-class mail. That's Pressure City when you get to the point where you
can't pay the postage to mail off a manuscript after it's already been
bought. We're back to the artist in the garret again. You know he's going
to starve his ass off if he writes science fiction; he'll never get any
recognition, and he'll never get any money. But he will have a hell of a
lot of fun, and he ought to know what he's in it for. If he wants to go
into writing for the money, let him go elsewhere. Writers are stupid if
they think they're in it for money. Why did they get into writing in the
first place? Whoever promised them a lot of money? Where was Ellison
promised a lot of money? Where did it say that Maltzberg was promised fame
and money, as if it was his birthright, his patrimony. Nonsense. We're
lucky they publish us at all. They could actually abolish the field of
science fiction, and then we really would have to write something else.
We're lucky that the category still exists. Let's hear it for the science
fiction writers who are coming along and still writing science fiction and
flip the bird to the people who want money.