In the field of science fiction, Philip K. Dick is unparalleled. His novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became the classic film Blade Runner. His short story “The Minority Report” was adapted for the screen by Steven Spielberg. The Man in the High Castle has become a hit series on Amazon, and those titles represent only a small fraction of his work.
In November 1982, six months before the author’s untimely death, journalist Gwen Lee recorded the first of several in-depth discussions with Philip K. Dick that continued over the course of the next three months. This transcription is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the field of science fiction.
“These transcripts bring fresh insights—notably, into the imaginative biotech plot line of the unwritten The Owl in Daylight . . . Dick also discusses music, writing, philosophers and his 1974–1975 mystical visions, when the revelation of his son’s undiagnosed birth defect—‘down to anatomical details’—saved the child’s life . . . Fans will rejoice.” —Publishers Weekly
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About the Author
Tim Powers is the author of fourteen novels, including The Anubis Gates, Declare, Hide Me Among the Graves, and On Stranger Tides, which was adapted for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie of the same title. His novels have twice won the Philip K. Dick Award and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and three times won Locus Awards. Powers lives with his wife, Serena, in San Bernardino, California.
Read an Excerpt
January 10, 1982
Lee: OK, you son of a gun, don't make fun of me now.
Dick: Are you speaking to it or me?
Lee: (laughs) No. To you, of course, to you.
Dick: Gwen, as long as you're taping this, I have to tell you I've always been in love with you.
Lee: Well, I've always been in love with you too.
Dick: Turn off the tape recorder and let's get it on. (laughs) How does that sound?
Lee: Uh-oh. Now Willie's gonna shoot me.
Dick: Oh, dear, well, no, no —
Lee: He sent me up here.
Dick: Listen, I thought of that. I thought of that. I plan to shoot Willie. (laughs) In fact, there's somebody coming to Willie's door at this moment with a gun. Oh, God, I had it timed. What is it now? Twenty-five of seven? About seven o'clock —
Lee: He's got an arsenal. You gotta watch that guy.
Dick: This guy's got a BAR.
Lee: Oh. What's that?
Dick: Browning automatic rifle. And an AK-15. I don't even know what an AK-15 is.
Lee: Willie's got a lot of BB guns and whatever else his dad left out. He ripped that off his poor dad. Anything that Dad leaves out disappears real quick. He has to hide the stuff that he doesn't want Willie taking.
Dick: Perhaps we should send somebody with a bazooka. That sounds like a musical instrument to me.
Lee: No, you know what's funny is that Willie's always concerned about not finding a challenging chess partner. The only person who has ever been a challenge is his father, so I said, "Hey, Phil is real good at chess." Willie just kind of said, "I don't want to play somebody that's really good. I don't want him to make a fool of me." I said, "Someday he'll have to come up and play a game with you." That's your game, right?
Dick: Well, yeah, but to me playing chess is like doing my tax returns. It's something that takes a lot of time and is a lot of work, and if you get it right it's good and if you get it wrong, it's bad, but when I get it finished I have this great feeling of relief.
Lee: Willie enjoys it. He really does. But he likes a challenge. He gets upset if he doesn't get much of a challenge.
Dick: I like games like poker and blackjack where you get some money.
Lee: Oh, those are always fun, too.
Dick: Where you get to carry something home with you. But with chess you get to carry nothing home with you except a lot of eyestrain.
Lee: Well, sure. I never had the opportunity — I couldn't ever give it that much time. I know the moves, but no strategy, you know. Oh, well.
Let's see. Maybe I should read this: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep nominated for 1968 Nebula for best novel, Nexis Six Androids are almost human. A lack of empathy is their only flaw. Eight of them flee Mars to hide among citizens of developed — the populated — San Francisco Bay area. Rick Deckard, a police bounty hunter, must find and eliminate them. Difficulties arise because on a devastated earth, all life is sacred to the followers of Wilbur Mercer. Even subnormal chicken heads, electric animals, and androids could believe themselves human." That the end of it?
Dick: That's the end of the synopsis, yeah.
Dick: Book is longer. (laughs)
Lee: (laughs) I'm sorry. That was real quick.
Dick: Hell of a novel, wasn't it? Damn.
Lee: You know that yellow book we used to get in college?
Dick: Yeah, right, yeah, right.
Lee: That's always great in a pinch.
Dick: Anyway, that's the description and what follows here is the bibliography, is a listing of every different edition that's ever been. Here's some pictures of the covers. I don't know if we can hold up the tape recorder and get pictures of the covers of some of the editions, you know. I'm now looking at a Japanese edition —
Lee: How interesting.
Dick: So it tells you all the languages it's been published in.
Lee: Oh. This is like your Official Book.
Dick: That is. Yes. That took them four years to do that.
Lee: How neat.
Dick: They worked real hard on that. And there aren't very many copies of it. I met the guy's wife, and I was going with one girlfriend named Sandra at the time; the day I got this in the mail I had broken up with her and I opened this up, it comes in the mail, and I opened it up and it says, "To Sandra" and I thought some divine power had decreed that our relationship continue because this thing is dedicated to Sandra, but it's the bibliographer's wife. It's not my Sandra, it's his.
Lee:His wife's Sandra?
Dick: It's a different Sandra so I called him up and I said, "Can I tell Sandra that I dedicated it to her?" And he said, "Sure, you can tell your girlfriend it's her."
Lee: Oh, that's funny. That's the way, you know, live and learn. It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Dick: Oh, really? I didn't know that.
Lee: God, don't you just hate trite little lectures?
Dick: Well, I may look back and say that.
Lee: That's about all you can say for them. I couldn't borrow this, could I? Is it your only one?
Dick: Would you like to borrow it?
Lee: I'd like to, if you'll let me have it. I'm real careful with things like that.
Dick: Sure, sure. I might have something stuffed in there that I might want to pull. Let me check, because I have a tendency to, yeah, here's something I want to pull out. It's a, uh, no, it's that thing in the printout of books is what it is, it's not contraband — it's — it is here, I'm rattling it, you can hear the rustle of pages —
Lee: Contraband, here? [...]
Dick: So now you're asking Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That is the novel — give me the bibliography back and I'll read into the tape recorder the different editions that it's appeared in. OK, that, that came out in 1968, right?
Lee: That's what the book said.
Dick: And we're now going to look up the different editions. OK, here we go. It was followed by a German edition, 1969; Japanese edition, 1969; Dutch edition, 1969; British edition, 1969; German reissue in '71; American reissue in '71; Italian edition in '71; English edition(paper) '72; and a Danish edition in 1973; a Swedish edition, 1974; another French edition, 1976; another English edition in 1977; a Japanese edition, 1977; and a Dutch edition in 1979; and a Hebrew edition is being published in Israel, which is forthcoming; and finally, in connection with the movie, the Ballantine paperback. Now, the print run on that will be, had originally been set for half a million copies. Now, to give you an idea of how many copies that is, uh, a normal print run on a science fiction paperback book they expect to sell between 20 and 60 thousand copies, so 500,000 was —
Lee: That's just fine.
Dick: Uh, so the average science fiction paperback novel in the United States sells between 20 and 60 thousand copies. As soon as it goes above 20,000 copies they make back their costs. And if it gets up to 40,000 they make a profit, make — anything beyond that is profit. This will be, this was to be half a million. Now, after Ballantine saw the ninety-second teaser that uh, the Blade Runner studio — "Blade Runner" is actually the trademark. In other words, there is a corporation named "Blade Runner" that is the title of the film but it is also TM, like "Frisbee." The corporation is called "Blade Runner" and they actually copyrighted or patented the words "Blade Runner." Which I guess means that every time you utter the word "Blade Runner" you owe them something. You owe them a little money, a nickel or a dime. Uh, somebody asked me if the movie was about ice skating, I forget who asked me that. I said, "No, it's not about ice skating." But, uh, the production studio issued a ninety-second teaser, which I've seen. And it is being shown in the theaters now. It's hooked on the end of some fairly major movies. I think, one of the Jane Fonda films that's out now. And, uh, it's a dynamite ninety-second thing, because what it is, it's like a little ninety-second movie. It's like what happened as you went to the movies only they ran the film real fast, so the movie was over in ninety seconds. You know, you're sitting there saying, "Wait a minute! That was a great movie but I don't seem to remember too much about it." So when they showed me the ninety-second teaser, it starts out like a movie and then it is cut, you know, from scene to scene, and in ninety-seconds, a minute and a half, it's over. So I said, "Would you run that again, please?" So they ran it again for me, and it's just incredible. You hear Harrison Ford's voice over it, they call it a "voice-over," and he says something like, "I was at Tyrell Associates Office — that was where all the action was." Next thing he's on the street walking with an lot of people and somebody hits him. You don't get to see who hit him. He looks startled; apparently he doesn't know who hit him, and then there's this beautiful woman in a transparent raincoat running, and then there's some kind of gunfire exchange, and after I'd seen it a second time I still did not know what I'd seen. I mean, they call it flash cutting, which is cut so fast that it registers subliminally. So your brain knows it's seen a series of events but it doesn't really know what it's seen. So I says, "That's a great ninety-second teaser." And, when Ballantine saw it, the whole sales staff saw it and the president at Ballantine — and they liked it so they, I understand they've increased the print run from half a million to a larger number. And they're right, because it's gonna be a great film.
I've seen about twenty minutes of the film. That's without the sound track. They've got this, uh, Vangelis guy to do the music. Who did the music for Chariots of Fire. And that was on charts in England. So, when I saw it, it was at Douglas Trumball's studios in Venice. Douglas Trumball did the special effects. He did, you know, he did the special effects on 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the movie Star Trek. And uh, they showed us through the special effects studio and showed us the machinery and showed us how all the special effects were done, and — I'm not supposed to talk about that. I mean, this is something that you don't, you don't walk out of the major, the finest, special effects studio in the world and start telling everybody how they achieve the effects. And they said, "Do not walk out of here quacking like a duck." I mean, "Don't go all around about and say how these special effects were done."
Then we saw the twenty minutes of the film, and it was on a seventy-millimeter screen and, uh, Ridley Scott, the director, was there, and he sat behind this thing, he would lean over and explain, you know, the continuity. This was not continuity. In other words, you would see a few minutes of a scene and then there would be a few seconds of black screen and then there would be another scene. They wouldn't be directly related. He would explain the continuity. And, uh, they said, uh, you go out and quack like a duck about what you've seen and — something about a cement overcoat, I believe. (laughs) Something about floating upside down in the Pacific Ocean. So I can't talk about what I saw, except to say that the opening is simply the most stupendous thing I have ever seen in the way of a film. It is simply unbelievable. I mean, they have camera angles that have never been used before, they've got special effects that have never been used before. Not only is Doug Trumball and his crew involved, but Sid Meed is involved in a central way. I mean, Sid Meed is a designer and he did the set designs. And they brought him forward so that his designs dominate the film. They literally dominate the film. The city that he creates is all set in a large city which is somewhat like Los Angeles. It's probably more like Los Angeles than any other city. But it's only called "The City." And his, he, wrote the design, set, and then they were made into actual sets and went through the processing. And uh, I just couldn't believe it. The girl that was with me, we just sat there and just couldn't believe the opening. The, the, uh, it's seen from a flying vehicle, it's landing on the top of a 400- story police building. There's this 400-story police building that dominates the landscape, which is absolutely my fantasy of what it would have to be like forty years from now. The movie is set forty years from now. And the fact that there is this titanic police building dominating the whole landscape is exactly the way I would imagine it would be like forty years from now. Millions of small buildings and this huge police building. And they're landing, and they're landing very slowly. And it's just simply unbelievable. And it would explain to us how they would achieve these effects. And I, I just did not know —
Lee: Was your impression that it's — it's more exciting than, like, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that was really a hyped-up movie considering its special effects, or even Star Wars?
Dick: Well, now, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, all the special effects were at the end. I mean, if you missed the last ten — if you went to the bathroom during the last ten minutes, you got up and said, "Would you hold my popcorn for me, I'm going to be back in ten minutes," you literally saw nothing at that point, if you missed that last ten minutes. But with this, the moment the film begins, you are in the world that they created, and it is not like a world that has ever been created before.
Now, the way they explained it was this: They said, in analyzing science fiction films special effects, they discovered that they had created un-lived-in environments. Everything was new. The ships were new, they had no dents on them, the paint was new, I mean the control rooms look like exhibits in a science museum, you know what a control room would look like. Well, these, these streets in this city, these buildings, are all lived-in buildings. In fact, there is a tremendous sense of dilapidation and decay; what happens when a building gets old, instead of tearing it down they just add more floors to it, so it gets taller and taller, like a termite colony. It's incredible. It's like a picture I had years ago, a print of Brueghel's, uh, Tower of Babel and it just was like termites had built it, human termites had built it. And this is, it's sort of like that. And the air is bad, I mean, it's smoggy and it's drizzling all the time. I mean, people are carrying oxygen tanks around on them 'cause the air is so bad. And it's just, it's just, OK, it's like you took the wrong freeway off-ramp. This is an off-ramp that you did not want to get on when you were on the freeway. And you said, maybe this is my off-ramp — well, then, all of a sudden you realize that this is not the off-ramp you wanted. Because all of a sudden you're on this street and there are all these people.
Now, these, these crowds are not actors. They are punk rock people that were brought in, and the second you see them you know these are not actors. Nobody looks that sinister. Except the people who are that sinister. I mean, this is sinister from the heart on out. In fact, Rutger Hauer, who plays the villain, the main replicant, I mean — they're not called "androids," they're called "replicants," they were called "androids" in my book, they're called "replicants" in the film — said, that he really was having an awful time being more sinister than everybody who was walking around the streets. And after seeing some of the film I could see why. I mean, they just look absolutely — I mean you just figure if you tried to move amongst those people they would do something so terrible to you that you would not even know what it was. It would be something that you had never heard of that they would do to you, you know, something that was done to cattle — you know, like you hear these rumors of what flying saucers have done to cattle these people are going to do that to you — very strange things to you. By the time you get to the other side of the street.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What If Our World Is Their Heaven?"
Copyright © 2000 Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Tim Powers,
Blade Runner, Part 1,
January 10, 1982,
The Owl in Daylight, Part 1,
January 10, 1982,
The Owl in Daylight, Part 2,
January 15, 1982,
January 15, 1982,
Blade Runner, Part 2,
January 15, 1982,
January 15, 1982,
At first, this interview is a bit difficult to read because there's no editing involved - it's straight from Phil's mouth, all of the 'Uh's' and stuttering and interruptions by phone calls included. But once you get over that after a few pages, it's absolutely fascinating to read. My eyes were popping out and my jaw was dropping the entire time I read it - his mind works in an amazing way, and it seems rare that anyone else can think the way he does. (Perhaps I'm just jealous.) Once you read this book, everything else you read by him will be that much more awe-inspiring considering his thought processes behind his novels. A truly excellent read. And if you're not a Phillip K. Dick fan already, you will be once you read this book - I promise.