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Philip K. Dick_1962_The Man In The High Castle.jpg

"It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane."

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | April 13, 2010 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | April 13, 2010 |

Philip K. Dick wrote some of the most impenetrable and brilliant science fiction of the last century, short but dense novels packed with beautiful prose and sublime ideas. Born six weeks premature, Dick barely survived the first month of life, though his twin sister did not. He was plagued with questions of sanity for the last decade of his life, and died far too young at age 53. He never saw mainstream success in his lifetime, so short of money that Robert Heinlein helped him out every once and a while, though they were diametrically opposed in any element of philosophy. Said Dick:

“Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him — one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don’t agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn’t raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I’m a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.”

Although well recognized as one of the legends of science fiction, he isn’t exactly the writer one would generally recommend to science fiction novices, any more than someone who’s never seen water bigger than a bathtub should be first taught the butterfly stroke. So it’s a bit baffling that his work has repeatedly been posthumously adopted to film. Here’s the list of adaptations so far (some of which are all but unrecognizable, keeping not even the titles of the stories):

Blade Runner

Total Recall


Minority Report



A Scanner Darkly


Now that’s about as broad a range as you can get from horrific to brilliant. I mean, if you put Blade Runner and Next next to each other, they’ll disintegrate into a supernova of pure energy.

There are also another seven of his works in one stage of production or another:

King of the Elves: A short story about elves living in the modern world, being made as an animated film by Disney for release in 2012. You just know that they’re going to add fucking songs.

Radio Free Albemuth: A semi-autobiographical tale that has already been finished and stars Alanis Morissette. It’s based on the novel Radio Free Albemuth but they’re probably going to release it under the name VALIS even though that’s the name of a different Dick novel. The rationale is longwinded, boring, and involves the words “the financiers like.” It started the indie film circuit earlier this year, but has no set release date yet.

The Adjustment Bureau: Based on the short story Adjustment Team, it involves a congressman and a ballerina kept apart by mysterious forces. Three different articles use variations on the phrase “peeling back the layers of reality,” so I believe this film may be about onions. It stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt and has a release date of July 30 of this year.

Ubik: A psychological horror novel that just about defies description (like most of Dick’s work), Dick himself wrote a screenplay for Ubik before he died (though admittedly it would be more interesting if he’d done so after he died). The option for it was picked up a couple of years ago, but there hasn’t been any more movement since then.

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said: a world famous singer and actor goes to sleep one night and wakes up in a world that doesn’t remember him. Set in a dystopian totalitarian America, naturally. Terminator Salvation producers Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson are adapting it, and insisting that they will be staying faithful to the story. Yeah, that’s up there with “of course I’ll call you tomorrow” in the pantheon of socially required statements everyone knows are lies.

Total Recall: Yes. It’s being remade. The difference between the three-breasted hooker jump-starting puberty for a quarter million boys in 1990 and the meh it would be received with today is a testament to the haunting majesty of internet porn.

The World Jones Made: Post-apocalypse America, moral relativism gone haywire: you can have any morality you want, but you can’t tell anyone else that yours is right. Enter Floyd Jones, who can see into the future and becomes a cult leader. Terry Gilliam says he’d love to make this into a film, which would be very exciting, except that Terry Gilliam only makes a film every four years or so and at any given time is being quoted about approximately 37 different potential ones.

Well, that’s enough Dick for one day. Oh come on, somebody had to say it.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.