Thursday, March 31, 2011

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

The Adjustment Bureau
Walt Giersbach ‘61

The release Mar. 4 of The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, will send some movie-goers back to their sources to review author Philip K. Dick’s oeuvre.  They should.  This seminal author’s 46 books and 121 short stories have been adapted to 10 films.  (Confession: I have 13 Dick books on my shelves and one e-book collection of stories.) 

It wasn’t always this way, in the 1950s and ‘60s when Dick was writing for pulp science fiction magazines.  Jonathan Lethem notes in the foreword to The Stories of Philip K. Dick that Dick worked to gain recognition and usually failed.  He also takes note of Dick’s “remarkably personal vision of paranoia and dislocation.”  
Laura Miller, an editor at, wrote, “Dick has his share of champions, ranging from rock musicians to French postmodernists.  Since his best work was published as pulp science fiction, they've had their hands full just trying to win him a little credibility.  Meanwhile, almost unremarked, Dick's sensibility has seeped wide and deep into contemporary life.” 

Some writers rise like Roman candles before fading, their books relegated to flea markets.  Fortunately, Dick has heirs and a literary executor maintaining his reputation, and I presume merchandising his work beyond his death in 1982.  In lieu of a seeing his works reissued, there are always new and used bookstores, and his official site,, to keep his work alive.

The plot of The Adjustment Bureau isn’t material here.  (A man confronts the fact that he doesn’t have free will in the face of the Bureau that guides his decision-making process.)  In any case, it was extensively rewritten by Screenwriter-Director George Nolfi.  Key to the storyline of both book and film, however, is Dick’s existential question of what is human and real.

The other films were adaptations as well, often surpassing the original story.  You’ll remember Blade Runner (based on "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"), Screamers (based on "Second Variety"), Total Recall (based on "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"), Confessions d'un Barjo (French, based on "Confessions of a Crap Artist"), Impostor, Minority Report, Paycheck, and A Scanner DarklyKing of the Elves is set for movie release in 2012.  Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick includes “The Adjustment Bureau” and 21 other short stories including “Paycheck” and “The Minority Report.”

Dick wrote of made-up worlds – of a farmer on Mars, a police agency that arrests criminals before they commit a crime, and an alternative history in which the Axis powers win World War II.  Often, he posed those questions of what is human and what is real.  This might also have been Dick’s own cri de coeur for never being recognized as a “real” literary writer.

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, 2000, Pantheon Book, ISBN-13: 978-0-307-49777-2
[on order for Burling Library]

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