Forwarded from David Altman

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Apr 25 08:40:22 MDT 2001


Lou:

First of all, I apologize for sending all these notes for you to post to
the List, but here goes another one (if this keeps up, I'll have to
resubscribe to stop bothering you).

First of all, the title of the article you posted from Lingua Franca ("The
Sci-Fi Writer Who was a Rat") does a great disservice to this decent,
humanistic and generally progressive writer. It puts him on the same level
as a fink like Elia Kazan, which he definitely was not!

First of all, it has been known for some time that Dick wrote those
deranged letters to the FBI (I first read them in 1993 in a volume of his
collected letters), so how do the editors of Lingua Franca come off like
they've uncovered some great "scoop?" Second, as another poster has pointed
out, Dick was not a "well man." Although I doubt he was what you'd call
"clinically insane," his mind and body had been done in by years of
chemical abuse.

Like a lot of people, I got into reading science fiction when I was very
young, starting out with the old standbys like Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein.
Let me tell you how Philip K. Dick changed my view of SF, and how he
changed my life.

I first saw a copy of "Dr. Bloodmoney" by Philip K. Dick in a convenience
store book rack in 1965, when I was 12 years old. I bought it because of
its lurid cover, but reading it was a revelation! It begins on the day
World War III breaks out in 1983. One of the protagonists, Stuart
McConchie, a black man, works in a stereo equipment store. Stuart's nose is
out of joint about a new employee, Hoppy Harrington. Hoppy is a
"thalidomide baby" who gets around by means of some sort of robotic cart.
Stuart tells his boss (an ACLU member), "Well, I have to hand it to you.
First you hire me, a Negro, and now this guy. I hope you keep him in back
where nobody can see him." (I'm recounting this dialogue from memory. I
don't have the book in front of me.)

After World War III begins and the bombs start falling, the first reaction
of another character, Bonny Keller, is to have sex with the first man she
sees. Most of the book takes place seven years later and is a biting
portrait of small-town idiocy in Marin County, California, against a
backdrop of mutants, communication with the dead, and a stranded orbiting
astronaut who entertains the people below with old recordings of the
Andrews Sister and readings of "Of Human Bondage."

Reading further, I discovered Dick had other things to say. "The World
Jones Made" deals with the rise of a fascist leader who is a mutant
(fascism and the danger of fascism is a recurring Dick theme), while other
stories explore consumer culture and altered realities.

The point I'm making is that compared to Dick, all of the science fiction I
had read previously was kiddy crap! Whereas in most science fiction before
Dick the characters were cardboard cutouts, his were living, breathing
human beings, who screwed up, who had unhappy marriages, who were catching
hell at work. Not unlike the people I knew! His writings are generally
suffused with kindness and compassion for the "little people."

At such a young age, reading all of this had a profound effect on me, and
led me to question the world in which I was living. In a way, you might
even say Phil Dick helped me become a socialist!

Although Dick was basically a liberal in his political outlook (he had some
quirks, like being anti-abortion), I found out later that he had hung out
with members of the CP and SWP in Berkeley in the early '50s. He even
mentions the SWP in his book "Radio Free Albemuth."

So, don't judge Philip K. Dick too harshly. The good he did far outweighs
his errors.

David Altman


Louis Proyect
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