fork post never sent #2

Joe Barrera jsb at
Wed Sep 17 15:42:09 PDT 2003
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 ten-letter words.

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 fiction.

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 
science fiction."

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 Malzberg, 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 Malzberg 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 Malzberg 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 Trout.

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?

Interviewer: Yeah.

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 started when?

Dick: '51.

Interviewer: How long had you been writing before you sold your first story?

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 BradshearT{sic -- should be  ony Boucher} 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 being purchased.

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 1954.

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?

Interviewer: You-bick.

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 automobile.

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 Nazi part.

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 time.

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?

Interviewer: Lupoff.

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 

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 or something.

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 
Smith's Scanners?

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 you.

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 achieved.

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 near.

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 he had.

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 
thousand hours."

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 old.

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 

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 same.

Interviewer: Which comes first for you? Situations? Characters? Or can't 
you tell?

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 Malzberg, Phil Farmer....

Interviewer: Silverberg?

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 

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 Hugo.

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 
congratulate me.

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 

Interviewer: If I remember the Rolling Stone piece, that screenplay you 
did of Ubik is currently bouncing around in Europe, still trying to get 
financed .

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 chest.

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 Malzberg 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 Malzberg 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.

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