The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings by Philip K. Dick

Part One

Autobiographical Writings

The writings in this section have been grouped together by the fact that their content focuses exclusively or primarily on Dick’s life. It will be obvious to the reader, however, that many of the writings included in other sections of this volume contain autobiographical elements as well. In his writings, Dick frequently drew upon events in his life to elucidate his ideas, and, in like manner, drew upon the ideas that most fascinated him at any given time to elucidate past events.

The two selections from the mainstream novel Gather Yourselves Together (1949) vividly portray the psyche of the young and innocent protagonist Carl, who bears a close resemblance to the young Philip K. Dick. These are certainly not autobiographical passages, but they nonetheless offer insight into the modes of thought and feeling of the apprentice writer coming of age. This novel was published in a limited edition by WCS Books in 1994.

“Introducing the Author” was first published (with an accompanying photograph of Dick) on the inside front cover of Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy (February 1953).

“Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick” (1968) was apparently prepared for the use of one of Dick’s publishers. It is published here for the first time.

“Self Portrait” was first published, according to Paul Williams, “in mid- or late 1968 for a Danish magazine or fanzine edited by Jannick Storm.” It first appeared in English in the Philip K. Dick Society (PKDS) Newsletter (edited by Williams), No. 2, December 1983.

“Notes Made Late at Night by a Weary SF Writer,” written in 1968, was first published in Eternity Science Fiction, Old Series, No. 1, July 1972. It was reprinted in the PKDS Newsletter, Nos. 22-23, December 1989.

The two autobiographical sketches — each titled “Biographical Material on Philip K. Dick” and written in 1972 and 1973, respectively — are published here for the first time.

“Memories Found in a Bill from a Small Animal Vet” first appeared in The Real World, No. 5, February-March 1976.

“The Short, Happy Life of a Science Fiction Writer” first appeared in Scintillation, Vol. 3, No. 3, June 1976.

“Strange Memories of Death,” written in 1979, first appeared in Interzone, Summer 1984, and was republished in the Dick essay-story collection I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, edited by Mark Hurst and Paul Williams.

The 1980 epistolatory exchange with critic Frank Bertrand — titled (in Dick’s typed transcript) “Philip K. Dick on Philosophy: A Brief Interview” — was first published in Niekas, No. 36, in 1988. The version published here comes from the typed transcript in the possession of the Dick Estate.

Two Fragments from the Mainstream Novel Gather Yourselves Together (1949)

This was what happened to all the things that came out of the wet earth, out of the filthy slime and mold. All things that lived, big and little. They appeared, struggling out of the sticky wetness. And then, after a time, they died.

Carl looked up at the day again, at the sunlight and the hills. It did not look the same, now, as it had looked a few moments before. Perhaps he saw it more clearly than he had a moment ago. The sky, blue and pure, stretched out as far as the eye could see. But blood and feathers came from the sky. The sky was beautiful when he stood a long way off from it. But when he saw too closely, it was not pretty. It was ugly and bitter.

The sky was held together with tacks and gum and sticky tape. It cracked and was mended, cracked and was mended again. It crumbled and sagged, rotted and swayed in the wind, and like the sky in the children’s story, part of it fell to earth.

Carl walked on slowly. He stepped off the road and climbed a narrow dirt ridge. Soon he was going up the side of a grassy slope, breathing deeply and taking big steps. He stopped for a moment, turning to look back.

Already the Company and its property had become small, down below him. Shrunk, dwindling away. Carl sat down on a rock. The world was quiet and still around him. Nothing stirred. His world. His silent, personal world.

But he did not understand it. So how could it be his world? He had come out to smile at the flowers and grass. But he had found something more, something that he could not smile at. Something that was not pleasant at all. Something that he did not like nor understand nor want.

So it was not his world. If it were his world he would have made it differently. It had been put together wrong. Very much wrong. Put together in ways that he could not approve of.

The silent bird, lying in the road. It reminded him of something. His thoughts wandered. What did it remind him of? A strange feeling drifted through him. This had happened before. This very thing. He had gone out and found something terrible. Something that did not make sense. Something he could not explain or understand.

After a while he remembered. The cat. The dying old cat, with its broken ears, one eye gone, its body thin and dry with patches of loose hair. The cat and the bird. Other things. Flies buzzing around. Streams of ants. Things dying, disappearing silently, drifting away. With no one to watch or care.

He had never understood it, this thing that he found, in the great warm world. It had no meaning. No sense. Was there some purpose? Some reason?

When he understood the cat was dead he had gone back inside the house, walking slowly, deep in thought. Back inside, to his room, his things. His microscope. His stamps and maps and drawings and books. They had meaning. Purpose. Their existence had reason to it. He could look at them and understand them.

Carl sat on the hillside, thinking about his childhood. It was not so long ago. Not so very many years in the past. He could feel the memories rising up around him, seeping up on all sides of him. Sights, smells. Tastes. His past was very much with him. It was close, just below the surface. Waiting to come up. His room. His microscope. The drawings he had made.

He sat and remembered about them.

* * * *

Her breasts amazed him. They did not jut out and up. They did not swell, pressing forward as the drawings had shown them. They hung down, and when she bent over they fell away from her. They bounced and swung when she picked up her clothes, bending over and reaching down to dress. They were not hard cups at all, but flesh like the rest of her, soft pale flesh. Like wineskins hanging on tent walls in Middle East villages. Sacks, wobbling flesh sacks that much [sic; must] have got in her way every now and then.

She buttoned her short red pants and fastened her gray blouse around her. She sat down to tie her sandals. Now she looked the same as she always had, not white, bare, chunky. Her breasts were again curves under her blouse, not bulging wineskins hanging down. In the close-fitting pants and blouse she looked taller and slimmer.

She finished dressing and went off, across the lawn. He lost sight of her. She had disappeared. It was finished. He relaxed. His blood subsided. His heart began to return to normal, the color draining out of his cheeks and ears. He sighed, letting out his breath.

Had it really happened? He felt dazed. In a way he was disappointed. She had been white and short, bulging here and there. With legs for walking and feet for standing. Her body was like all bodies, a physical creation, an instrument, a machine. It had come into the world the same way as other things, from the dust and wet slime. After a while it would wither and sag and crack and bend, and the tape and glue and tacks would give way to let it sink back down into the ground again, from which it had come.

It would break and wear out. It would fade and pass away, like the grass and the flowers, the great fir trees above him, like the hills and the earth itself. It was a part of the ordinary world, a material thing like other material things. Subject to the same laws. Acting in the same way.

He thought suddenly of his drawings, the pinups he had copied, all the notions and images that had crowded into his mind as he sat in his stuffy room with the sunlight shining through the drapes. He smiled. Well, at least he had gained a new understanding. He had lost all the cherished images and illusions, but he understood something now that had eluded him before. Bodies, his body, her body, all were about the same. All were part of the same world. There was nothing outside the world, no great realm of the phantom soul, the region of the sublime. There was only this — what he saw with his eyes. The trees and sun and water. He, Barbara, everyone and everything, were parts of this. There was nothing else.

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Categories: Dick, Phillip K.