Review of A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. DickA Scanner Darkly
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Paul Giamatti
8 CDs – Approx. 9.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 073932392X
Themes: / Science Fiction / Drugs / Consciousness / Identity / Paranoia / Law Enforcement /

“I myself? I am not a character in this novel, I am the novel.”
-Philip K. Dick A Scanner Darkly

Bob Arctor is the owner of a ramshackle Orange County, California bungalow that houses a small group of drug users. The police think Bob is a dealer in the dangerously addictive drug called Substance-D but Bob really isn’t. Or is he? Fred thinks so, Fred is a deep-cover police agent assigned to surveil Bob’s every move by means of holoscanners and upclose undercover investigation – but Fred’s job is made more difficult because it requires him to take Substance-D, the effects of which have been to gradually split his brain into two very distinct and mutually combative conciousnesses. Fred schizm is so bad that he now doesn’t realize that he is also Bob Arctor and that he has in fact been narcing on himself! Fred/Bob’s only hope is to convince his/their dealer, a druggie named Donna, to get him to the source of Substance-D. Yep it is another typical Dickian plot, the downtrodden protagonist/s finds him/themselves at odds with complicated plot, which while not specifically aimed against him, is something in which he/they have become inadvertently entangled. Unfortunately when survival is the object of the game, Dick’s poor characters don’t know that doubling-down only multiplies the jeopardy by a factor of two.

Dick was no stranger to paranoid drug fantasies. Back in 1972 with his fourth marriage in ruins, an unsolved burglary in his Marin County home and a serious amphetamine addiction Dick travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia to be Guest of Honor at V-Con. After delivering a landmark speech he attempted suicide. Desperate for help, Dick begged and gained entrance to an exclusive heroin addiction treatment center called X-Kalay. This despite the fact he wasn’t addicted to heroin. When he eventually retuned to California he started work on a new novel. A Scanner Darkly was the result. Now 33 years later Dick’s novel has been adapted for audio as a result of the new film version. The good news is, no matter what you think of the film you’ll dig the audiobook. Despite what mayu sound like a downer, you’ll dig this book, A Scanner Darkly has some of the funniest scenes in all of Science Fiction. One section about a suicide gone wrong showcases Dick’s absurdist intellect… “[Charles Freck] spent several days deciding on the artifacts [that would be found by the archaeologists who discovered his dead body]….He would be found lying on his back, on his bed, with a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (which would prove he had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the cancellation of his gas credit card.” Even better, the ending is masterful, giving up the same Science Fiction satisfaction as did his Hugo winning The Man In The High Castle.

Actor Paul Giamatti (who had a supporting role in the film version of PKD’s Paycheck) was the perfect choice to read A Scanner Darkly. Giamatti’s on-screen characters only hint at his range and it took this audiobook to showcase all that talent. This is an excellent performance, Giamatti has said that Steve Bucemi should have been cast in the Tom Cruise role of the Minority Report film but I’m thinking it should have been Giamatti. His sympathetic portrayal of these drugged-out hippies and drugged-up cops makes this Random House’s A Scanner Darkly the definitive reading of a Dick novel. Giamatti ably gives distinction to the cast of losers and even carries off the German sequences without a hitch. What blows me away about this production is that Giamatti had expresed interest* in being in the Linklater film version of the same name, Giamatti has stated in multiple interviews that he is a fan of PKD’s work. Giamatti has even been approached to play PKD in a film adaptation of Dick’s life! That’d be a hoot.

Two Seeing Ear Theater alumni, Brian Smith and John Colluci, produced and directed Giamatti’s performance. The audiobook also includes intro music and the complete coda; a list by Dick of many of his closest friends who died or were severely damaged by drug use. I heartily endorse this unabridged audiobook and we in our influenced wisdom have seen fit to grant it a hallowed place in the hall of SFFaudio Essentials. This is a book to be long remembered and a reading never to be forgotten.

*Entertainment Weekly (issue #884/885 Summer 2006 Double Issue – page 117)

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of “Run for the Stars” by Harlan Ellison

Science Fiction Audiobook - Run for the Stars by Harlan EllisonRun for the Stars
By Harlan Ellison; Read by Harlan Ellison
3 CD’s – 122 minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: ReQuest Audiobooks
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1933299533
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alien invasion / Drugs / Insurgency /

It was recently announced that Harlan Ellison will be named an SFWA Grand Master at the Nebula Awards Weekend in May. Regular readers of this website should know that I’m thrilled with the decision, as Ellison is easily one of my favorite writers. He also happens to be one of my favorite narrators. His audiobooks are insistent, as if he is vocally grabbing your shoulders to make sure you have his full attention.

Ellison to me is Ellison – he’s his own genre. He takes his main character and dangles him so far in the wind that the reader can’t possibly imagine him coming back. Yet he does come back, but is invariably damaged along the way. It’s painful to hear, how we treat each other. Very difficult to look at. But Ellison shows it to us, even here in his early work.

“Run for the Stars” is the story of a man named Benno Tallant, a drug addict who finds himself in a position to fight back against the Kyben, an occupying alien race. Unlike most alien invasion stories, this is happening to a colony that is not so friendly to Earth, which is the aliens’ next stop. Tallant fights not only the aliens, but his fellow humans. And himself – the reader is never certain that he wants to save the Earth, or himself for that matter.

The audiobook also includes some commentary from Ellison about the origins of the story, and how it got published. Commentary like this in an audiobook really enhances its value in my eyes. I enjoyed it as much as I did the story itself.

“Run for the Stars” is a fabulous listen – the first title we’ve reviewed from ReQuest Audio. In the hopper are two other ReQuest titles – “Eye for Eye” by Orson Scott Card and “Tales from Nightscape” by David Morrell. You can find their website here. I hope to hear much more from them in the future.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Ash City Stomp by Richard Butner

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Ash City Stomp by Richard ButnerAsh City Stomp
By Richard Butner; Read by Richard Butner
1 MP3 File – 32 Minutes 17 Seconds [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Published: 2004
Themes: / Fantasy / The Devil / Drugs /

“The Devil was rail thin, wearing a too-large red union suit that had long since faded to pink. It draped over his caved-in chest in front and bagged down almost to his knees in the seat. A tattered red bath towel was tied around his neck, serving as a cape. He wore muddy red suede shoes that looked like they’d been part of a Christmas elf costume.”

The Small Beer Press website has posted an author- read downloadable MP3 of Richard Butner’s short story Ash City Stomp, taken from the anthology entitled Trampoline. You’ve likely read stories like this before. I’m not sure if it has a name (maybe slacker-zen would be a good one), but it is some kind of amalgam of the gen-x aesthetic with the fantastic element. Something like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as written by Douglas Coupland. It’s not designed to leave you fully satisfied. Instead, its purpose is to show you the post-modern human dilemma for the educated class and their relationship to traditional fantasy elements. Butner’s stripped-down dialogue is rhythmically punctuated with curly-cues of ornate hyper-description. As a reader Butner doesn’t have much luck playing the female voice, but his crazy devil voice is loads of fun. The recording itself is clean, and includes an introductory hard rocking electric guitar riff. The free downloadable MP3 be found HERE.

Posted by Jesse Willis