Sunday, 3 February 2013

Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick

Lawrence Sutin Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989)

So far as I'm aware, and leaving out those more personal accounts written by an assortment of ex-wives, there are two major biographies of Philip K. Dick, and this is somehow the third one I've read. Unless the universe really is as weird as it seemed to our boy, I'm assuming the first, borrowed from Dulwich library all those years ago, was probably this same title recalled somewhat differently because I've had a whole lot more Dick since then - and yes, I probably will continue to milk that joke for some time to come - so on this occasion I approached Divine Invasions with the advantage of a more thorough understanding of its subject;

Funnily enough, there's probably a reasonable argument to support the possibility that the universe really is as weird as it seemed to our boy given how the great majority of his science-fiction novels were largely autobiographical - providing you keep in mind that the more conspicuously fantastic elements are either metaphor or furniture. Indeed, my only minor quibble with this biography is the distinction Sutin tends to draw between Dick's science-fiction and his mainstream novels, a distinction which seems debatable aside from the obvious lack of androids or spacecraft in the latter.

I read Emmanuel Carrère's I Am Alive and You Are Dead - the other big Dick biography, if you'll pardon my further labouring the joke on the grounds that someone has to because I'm pretty damn certain there's no point leaving it to those tossers at The Guadrian book review - which was pretty great from what I remember, although Divine Invasions seems definitive. I recall acquiring a less than favourable impression of Dick as a person from somewhere or other, possibly a combination of Carrère's book and whatever related material I had on the go at the time, and it's hard not to frown upon the occasionally slightly despicable treatment of all the Mrs. Dicks, each generally traded in for younger models then portrayed as castrating harridans in one novel or another. Divine Invasions presents what seems like a more balanced view in this respect, leading one to the conclusion that he may have been messed up - hardly a revelation - but was undoubtedly one of the good guys in all senses that matter, albeit a good guy who suffered some serious brainfarts from time to time.

I'm not sure this is one to dip into unless you're already fascinated by the man's life and work, although any Dick novel read in the wake of Divine Invasions will most likely prove all the more rewarding for a more thorough grounding in the symbols of the writer's personal and very peculiar landscape.

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