A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
The science fiction genre owes so much to Philip K. Dick. More than just interesting settings and quirky plot juxtapositions (juxtaposed from today's society that is), Dick's novels explored sociological, political, and metaphysical themes. His work also tends to be a bit dark and dystopian, filled with monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states of mind. His classic novel, A Scanner Darkly, deals with just about all of these things.
The plot of A Scanner Darkly is beautifully twisted. It follows two main characters. Bob Arctor is a drug dealer who uses a powerful psychoactive drug known as Substance D. Agent Fred is an undercover officer working with LAPD to bust a big-time dealer of Substance D, Bob Arctor.
Now, Substance D causes the two hemispheres of the brain to function independently and compete. And what you very quickly realize as you get into the novel is that Bob Arctor and Agent Fred are actually the same person. At first Bob/Fred realizes the bureaucratic mistake, but the twist is that, due to the effects of Substance D, Arctor and Fred don't realize that they're the same person.
Agent Fred studies Arctor through different surveillance channels. Arctor, through an imbalance of paranoia and the reality of the situation, fears that he is being spied on. All of this gives a very interesting and unsettling take on the nature of shifting identity and the destruction of the self through drug abuse.
Beyond explorations of self, the novel also examines the corruptive capabilities of law enforcement as well as the corruptive capabilities of modern pharmaceutical and rehabilitation facilities. This book is very much a commentary of the bleak drug-abuse culture as well as the poor responses to this culture enforced by law enforcement, the government, and business.
Much of the book is written in a very frank manner, similar to that of Hemmingway. Dick nails the drug-abuse culture on the head, probably because of his own close history with drug abuse. And there are also so very rare moments of extremely intense imagery: beautiful, unsettling, and always surreal.
About five years ago, the book was adapted into a film that was directed by Richard Linklater. The style of animation for this film is truly amazing and the plot and interpretation stays true to the novel as well. I recommend both works for anyone interested in a unique story with deep insight on drug culture and how our society responds to it.
Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.
My thanks to Mariana for this guest post.