Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Philip K. Dick learned about women from Ursula K. Le Guin

In a September talk at Portland Arts & Lectures Ursula K. Le Guin offered the oeuvre of Philip K. Dick as an example of how “you can’t judge quality by genre.” What she didn’t mention was her own influence on Dick’s writing—and his influence on her. Le Guin has long been a vocal advocate for Dick’s work and has acknowledged that her 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven was strongly influenced by Dick’s sixties novels.

But in 1981 Le Guin and Dick (who would have turned eighty-two today—less than a year older than Le Guin) had a bit of a contretemps when writer Michael Bishop wrote Dick and quoted some disparaging comments Le Guin had made in a talk at Emory University about Dick’s obsession with “unresolvable metaphysical matters,” his sanity, and his portrayal of women. Dick responded by publishing a broadside in Science Fiction Review. Le Guin apologized in the same issue for upsetting Dick—but reaffirmed her critique of Dick’s women, especially in the novels preceding VALIS:
The women were symbols—whether goddess, bitch, hag, witch—but there weren’t any women left, and there used to be women in his books.
As Lawrence Sutin details in Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick, the two writers managed to patch up their difficulties through private letters—and Dick took Le Guin's criticism about his women to heart. The result:
In May 1981, upon completing The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, with its loving portrait of Angel Archer, Phil would write to Le Guin in joy and triumph: “This is the happiest moment of my life, Ursula, to meet face-to-face this bright, scrappy, witty, educated, tender woman . . . and had it not been for your analysis of my writing I probably never would have discovered her."
In a Library of America interview about Philip K. Dick, Jonathan Lethem shared Dick’s enthusiasm for Angel Archer:
Certainly the narrator is one of his greatest characters, bar none, and the fact that she’s female is a real gift for those readers uncomfortable with Dick’s depictions of women even in some of his finest works (there are many of us).
Also of interest:
Related LOA works: The Philip K. Dick Collection (3-book boxed set)

5 comments:

  1. Can you please recommend 2-3 Philip K. Dick books to read?

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  2. Sure, Kevin. PKD fans often have different favorites. In fact, in his interview about PKD's Novels of the 1960s Jonathan Lethem said "I’ve often had the experience in recommending Dick’s work to someone, that the second book they read is their favorite. Forever. Whatever the second one is. They read one and say “Oh, this is a little odd, this is a little bumpy. I want to read more.” Then they somehow shift into the gear he is working in and they become a devoted fan, the second one in." Keeping that in mind, we'd recommend starting with The Man in the High Castle and then trying Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or Ubik. Enjoy.

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  3. I read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" first and it is still my favorite. Second, I read "The Man in the High Castle," then "A Scanner Darkly." I liked my order just fine.

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  4. I started with "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and my second was "A Scanner Darkly," which I love and wrote my Master's Thesis on, but my favorite so far was the third one I read, "Ubik."

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  5. I recommend reading the collected short stories. This way you can get into his style and understand some of the concepts he's portraying very quickly. Then when getting into his novels I hold tight and keep reading and enjoy the feeling of not fully understanding. Actually I find the collected short stories as an enlightening build up of progressive concepts of the ilk of mulla nasredeen(spelling?!) and deepak chopra.

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