In an obsessive sense of categorization, one might divide science fiction in few types. The machinist fascination would be tutored by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the epic interstellar narratives as well as the speculative robotic would be lead by Isaac Asimov, the descriptions of what could not be possibly described (!) would follow the work of Stanislaw Lem…etc. finally the co-existence of overlapping worlds and the entropy that those worlds are subjecting to would recognize the paternity of Philip K. Dick.
P.K. Dick’s novels and short stories have indeed this common link; they dramatizes the absolute uncertainty of the main characters for their identity as well as the tangibility of the world that surrounds them.
As much as I love Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as an adaptation of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), it misses one of the fundamental objects that the book presents: the absolute horror that one experiences when (s)he realize that all her (his) memory have been programmed in her (his) brain and that instead of being a human, (s)he is actually an android. Similarly the ambiguity that surrounds the main character, Rick Deckard and his potential androidness seems accessory in the film while it constitutes the main atmosphere of the novel.
“An android,” he said, “doesn’t care what happens to any other android. That’s one of the indications we look for.”
“Then,” Miss Luft said, “you must be an android.”
That stopped him; he stared at her.
“Because,” she continued, “Your job is to kill them, isn’t it? You’re what they call — ” She tried to remember.
“A bounty hunter,” Rick said. “But I’m not an android.”
“This test you want to give me.” Her voice, now, had begun to return. “Have you taken it?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “A long, long time ago; when I first started with the department.”
“Maybe that’s a false memory. Don’t androids sometimes go around with false memories?”
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)
In Time out of Joint (1959), The Man in the High Castle (1962), Martian Time-slip (1964), Ubik (1969), Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974) and probably more novels, Philip K. Dick describes world that are superimposed to the vision of the main characters to deceive them about what the reality truly is -although this reality might be an additional illusive layer. For example, The Man in the High Castle introduces the United States as they have been shared by Japan and the 3rd Reich after they won the second world war (see the very interesting fictitious map that illustrates the nippo-nazi world domination in this parallel world). In the story, a book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy describes a world in which the Allies won the war, world that the protagonists eventually learn of its reality.
Nevertheless, Philip K. Dick does not limit his deceiving realities hypotheses to his fictions. On the contrary, he never misses an occasion to emit doubts about the reality of our world in the various interviews he gives, as well as in his well known lecture in the Metz Science Fiction Festival in 1977: If you find this world bad you should see some of the others. In this long text, he implies that the current world we live in is a counterfeit reality to hide the fact that we are still living during the 1st century and that we are all persecuted Christians by the Roman Empire, embodied in this reality by Richard Nixon and his administration! Lots of people then wonder if he was believing what he was saying, but such consideration does not matter; what is really important is the triggering of a doubt for what we know being the reality.
In 1978, Philip K. Dick writes a text humorously entitled How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later in which he evokes his predilection for the creation of parallel realities. This title is misleading however, as what he is precisely interested in is the description of the erosion or entropy of these realities. The character of the schizophrenic in his novels is the entity able to see beyond the appearance, in the dusty and muddy eroded entrails of the reality:
Contemplating Dr. Glaub sitting opposite him, Jack Bohlen felt the gradual diffusion of his perception which he so dreaded, the change in his awareness which had attacked him this way years ago in the personnel manager’s office at Corona Corporation, and which always seemed still with him, just on the edge.
He saw the psychiatrist under the aspect of absolute reality: a thing composed of cold wires and switches, not a human at all, not made of flesh. The fleshy trappings melted and became transparent, and Jack Bohlen saw the mechanical device beyond.
Dick, Philip K. Martian Time Slip (1964)
In Ubik, P.K. Dick dramatizes two contradictory forces fighting against each other. While the reality seems to be subjected to a chronological entropy which makes each object and body regress in time from a futuristic 1992 to the beginning of the 1950’s, the product Ubik, on the contrary, tends to reverse time to its ‘normal’ course.
The paroxysm of this entropy can be read in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in which is enunciated the Law of Kipple, neologism invented by P.K. Dick to describe the force that subjects all object and body to an eventual return to the state of dust whose reference to the Bible ‘All came from dust and will return to dust’ would probably not be refused by him.
“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”
“I see.” The girl regarded him uncertainly, not knowing whether to believe him. Not sure if he meant it seriously.
“There’s the First Law of Kipple,” he said. “‘Kipple drives out nonkipple.’ Like Gresham’s law about bad money. And in these apartments there’s been nobody there to fight the kipple.”
“So it has taken over completely,” the girl finished. She nodded. “Now I understand.”
“Your place, here,” he said, “this apartment you’ve picked — it’s too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apts. But — ” He broke off.
Isidore said, “We can’t win.”
“Why not? The girl stepped into the hall, closing the door behind her; arms folded selfconsciously before her small high breasts she faced him, eager to understand. Or so it appeared to him, anyhow. She was at least listening.
“No one can win against kipple,” he said, “except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over.
It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.”
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)
To read more on that topic you can consult the third guest writer essay written by Martin Byrne and entitled: Transcendent Delusion or; The Dangerous Free Spaces of Phillip K. Dick
If you understand French language, I also highly recommend the six hours of broadcast about P.K. Dick’s work that was recently released on France Culture.