Philip K Dick: the writer witness to the future
This bureaucracy manifested itself in various forms throughout his work. In his 1974 novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, set in a 1988 dystopia where the United States is once again ruled by a dictatorship, a singer and television host called Jason Taverner wakes up to find himself in a world in which he is suddenly no longer famous and lacks the many documents now needed to avoid being arrested and sent to a labor camp.
Taverner may struggle to get beyond basic spot checks and cords in Flow My Tears, but other Dick characters struggle with even the most basic things in their homes. In the 1969 novel Ubik, a character ends up having an argument with the door to his apartment, because he doesn’t have the change to enter via its coin-operated mechanism. The door even threatens to sue him when he tries to kick it down. Every aspect of lived experience becomes a commodity in Dick’s work, one that is deeply poignant. Dick sees a paywall future, where the conveniences of our own homes all require a token offering, even though today that offering is personal information rather than currency.
Aside from Dick’s ability to foreshadow the future we now take for granted, his most disturbing insight was that the world itself was ultimately a simulation. Dick’s reality was already fragile and complex. In many of his later books, the idea that reality is a facade became a dominant theme. “Dick argued that we existed in a simulation,” Peake suggests. “Elon Musk stirred up controversy quite recently by effectively venturing on the same idea.”
Whether his visions were, as he believed, the product of glitches in the simulation or his declining sanity, one thing is certain: the world in which Philip K Dick’s work is celebrated today feels increasingly close to that imagined by this most unique and exceptional writer.
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