Author: Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Talk about confused identities! Fred is an undercover narcotics agent living among drug users and dealers as Bob Arctor. And Bob Arctor is a drug user himself–a user of Substance D, a drug that eventually causes separation of function between the lobes of the brain. It can also cause users to be dually (or half, depending on how you look at it) aware, with each side of the brain functioning independently, unaware of what the other half is doing. So it is with Agent Fred, who is assigned to cover a group of users including Bob Arctor . . . and who is becoming less and less coherently sure that he in fact is Bob Arctor as he takes more and more of Substance D, becoming an addict in the course of doing undercover work. Of course, there is the possibility that even that was in the plans somewhere.
A Scanner Darkly was an interesting read, but I guess mostly it just wasn’t what I was expecting. This is old-school science fiction, but it doesn’t really read like sci-fi–actually, it reminds me of Steinbeck’s social commentaries more than it does, say, Verne’s steampunk sci-fi. There are certainly some science fictional elements (like suits that make your identity indiscernible), but this book is much more a commentary on the effects of drub abuse–from someone who lived through the experience, as Dick mentions in the author’s note. It was moving and horrifying but also somewhat draggy, in my personal opinion. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had liked the characters better, although they were quite well written, and the dissolution of Fred/Arctor’s identity was effectively portrayed. Also, I have to note that the random German quotations scattered throughout were a detraction from the story for me . . . because honestly, I can’t read German, and I don’t want to take the time to find a translation in the middle of reading. In all fairness, this is the first Philip Dick book I’ve read, and I’m really not familiar with his style, so I’ll probably try to find a different book of his to read before I give up on his writing . . . but I can’t say that I would particularly recommend A Scanner Darkly except for readers who like that social commentary sort of story and who don’t mind some weird sci-fi elements mixed in.