Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (3/5)

4 May

Oh, book clubs. Look at you trying to get me to read and like sci-fi. You try so hard! But it all still comes off as ‘too weird for me.’ Oh well, you tried.

Cover image via

Cover image via

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Summary from Goodreads:

Substance D is not known as Death for nothing. It is the most toxic drug ever to find its way on to the streets of LA. It destroys the links between the brain’s two hemispheres, causing, first, disorientation and then complete and irreversible brain damage.

The undercover narcotics agent who calls himself Bob Arctor is desperate to discover the ultimate source of supply. But to find any kind of lead he has to pose as a user and, inevitably, without realising what is happening, Arctor is soon as addicted as the junkies he works among…

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know I’m not a sci-fi person. I usually find books in this genre to be quick reads, but not the kind of book I’m really interested in. The same was true here. It was good, the characters were solid, but I wasn’t that interested. The technology and world building were a distraction to the story for me. I dunno, it wasn’t great to me. I’ll still watch the movie to see if I get more out of it, but I’m not really optimistic.

I liked Arctor’s descent into addiction. I thought it was really believable in terms of how quickly he took a turn for the worst and how it went from something social to a coping mechanism. I thought he was well-developed. I thought Donna was great, too. I won’t spoil the revelation about her from the end, but I thought it was fitting. I enjoyed how untouchable she was but at the same time, Bob felt like he owned her. It was a good balance and Dick did a good job striking it.

Donna was my favorite, probably because she was the least strung out and the only woman. She was put together but still helpful to Bob and the others who needed a level-headed woman in their lives. She was very caring and giving, but was very self-respecting of her boundaries at the same time. She never let Bob pressure her into being with him or spending time with him when she didn’t want to. I respected that about her.

These characters were very removed from my daily life and I think that’s part of why I had so much trouble connecting with them or the story. I find that this is a large part of why science fiction doesn’t appeal to me. I feel no connection with the characters. Oh well. In this story, that feeling was particularly hard to come by because I couldn’t relate to the drug addictions that defined a lot of the characters.

I liked the scenes when Fred was reporting to Hank. The way that Dick wrote these scenes, where Fred had to pretend to be someone he wasn’t, I thought was very clever. I liked the idea of the scramble suit, but I thought it was taken a bit far that the police knew he was a member of Arctor’s group but not which one. There were only so many options!

I thought there was a lot of extra ‘stuff’ in the novel. I think Bob’s digression into addiction was a bit slow and the stories that highlighted his fall weren’t very interesting to me. They seemed repetitive somehow, I’m not sure I could articulate why I feel that way. I wish it had been shorter.

The author’s note at the end made it obvious that this was semi-autobiographical. Dick himself was an addict (though not of Substance D) and knew a lot of people who were similar to Bob and his roommates. Many of them passed away or were permanently scarred from their addiction. He’s warning of the dangers. I like this, even though I don’t like the novel so much. I like his anti-drug message without being preachy. It’s hard to talk to people about a problem they have or the dangers of getting into something in a sincere way that they will listen to. I think Dick did a good job of getting this message out in a way people will respond to.

Writer’s Takeaway: I like to have a message in my stories. It’s never overbearing or something that permeates every sentence that I write, but it’s there, somewhere. I thought Dick had a good message and I liked that it was almost hidden in a sci-fi book. I wasn’t picking up this book thinking there would be a serious warning inside, but I’m glad there was.

Well written, but not a genre for me. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Book Review- A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K Dick | Wrapped Up In Books
Paranoia in Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly | Blue Labyrinths

5 Responses to “Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (3/5)”

  1. Cathy746books May 4, 2015 at 3:24 PM #

    I don’t read much sci-fi either, but my hubbie is always trying to get me to read Phillip K Dick. I’m still not convinced!


    • Sam May 4, 2015 at 3:26 PM #

      I’ve seen some of the movies that have been made from his books and enjoyed those, but I’m not sure I’d pick up another one of his books. The films are great, though! I like action movies but not action books. It’s weird.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cathy746books May 4, 2015 at 3:29 PM #

        Actually, is there a movie of A Scanner Darkly with Robert Downey Jr? If so, I’ve seen it!


      • Sam May 4, 2015 at 3:39 PM #

        I haven’t seen it yet but I heard Keanu Reeves is in it. Not sure about Robert Downey Jr. but it would be an added bonus!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cathy746books May 4, 2015 at 4:05 PM #

        Haha yes! It’s quite good if I remember rightly!


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