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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The works of Philip K. Dick’s “Masterpiece Years”

Today’s New York Times features an interview with Anne R. Dick, Philip K. Dick’s third wife, in connection with the publication of a new edition of her memoir, The Search for Philip K. Dick. During the five years Anne and Philip were married, from 1959 to 1964—what writer David Gill calls “Dick’s family man period”—Dick wrote many of his best-known works. Two of them, The Man in the High Castle (1962) and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), are included in Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s; three, Martian Time-Slip (1964), Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965), and Now Wait for Last Year (1966) appear in Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s.

Commenting on this time in Dick’s life, Jonathan Lethem, editor of all three LOA volumes of Dick’s works, told The New York Times: “It’s the most important passage of his career – more masterpieces in a shorter period of time.” He had much more to say in his first of three LOA interviews about Dick:
As absurd and surreal as the images and ideas in Dick’s books could sometimes be, he always took them seriously. The predicaments of his characters were never funny to him. They were overwhelmingly terrifying and important. That’s what makes him so distinct, not only from other science fiction writers, but also from other postmodern satirical writers that he could be associated with, writers like Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Barthelme, and Richard Brautigan, all of whom also worked with absurdist and fantastic materials.
Dick commits to his visions with an emotional intensity unlike any other writer. He digs deeper and makes a life or death commitment to the situations in his novels. His books always have this doubleness. There’s a layer of satirical or fantastical inventiveness—he’s one of the great idea men of all literary history—but there’s also this personal emotional stake. He’s always putting everything he has at risk. The characters are deeply vulnerable, deeply flawed, and at the mercy of their situations. . .
If you had to pick a single decade to represent his work, the 1960s is the one to pick. That is the summit.
The Library of America interviewed Laura Leslie, the daughter of Anne and Philip K. Dick, in connection with the second LOA volume:
LOA: The works collected here were written between 1962 and 1977. What can you tell us about your father’s writing habits during that time?
Leslie: I can only tell you what my mother told me. She lived with my father from 1959 until 1963. My father liked to write at night and might write through the entire night, typing furiously. At that time he was writing so fast that he might finish a novel in as little as two weeks, writing night and day. Because my mother brought her three daughters with her into their marriage and my birth added a fourth, she wanted to have a more traditional family life where my father worked during the day and then joined her and the girls for a family dinner. At her urging, while they were married, he changed his writing habits to accommodate his new family life.
Of related interest:
  • Read a 2009 interview with Anne R. Dick on io9
  • Dick’s fifth wife, Tessa, has also written a memoir, Philip K. Dick: Remembering Firebright. You can read an excerpt on her blog.
  • Since August Suspend Your Disbelief has been blogging about how the movie adaptations of Dick’s works compare with the originals.
  • Donald Fagen of Steely Dan recently revealed that PKD was an early influence
Related LOA works: The Philip K. Dick Collection (three-book boxed set).

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