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A Scanner Darkly [Paperback]

Philip K. Dick
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 23 2006 Vintage
Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, Fred takes on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D--which Arctor takes in massive doses--gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize he is narcing on himself.

Caustically funny, eerily accurate in its depiction of junkies, scam artists, and the walking brain-dead, Philip K. Dick's industrial-grade stress test of identity is as unnerving as it is enthralling.

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From Amazon

Mind- and reality-bending drugs factor again and again in Philip K. Dick's hugely influential SF stories. A Scanner Darkly cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick's own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died from drug abuse. Nevertheless, it's blackly farcical, full of comic-surreal conversations between people whose synapses are partly fried, sudden flights of paranoid logic, and bad trips like the one whose victim spends a subjective eternity having all his sins read to him, in shifts, by compound-eyed aliens. (It takes 11,000 years of this to reach the time when as a boy he discovered masturbation.) The antihero Bob Arctor is forced by his double life into warring double personalities: as futuristic narcotics agent "Fred," face blurred by a high-tech scrambler, he must spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. His disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. For Arctor there's no way off the addict's downward escalator, but what awaits at the bottom is a kind of redemption--there are more wheels within wheels than we suspected, and his life is not entirely wasted. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

America in the near future has lost the war against drugs. Though the government tries to protect the upper class, the system is infested with undercover cops like Fred, who regularly ingests the popular Substance D as part of his ruse. The drug has caused Fred to develop a split personality, of which he is not aware; his alter ego is Bob, a drug dealer. Fred's superiors then set up a hidden holographic camera in his home as part of a sting operation against Bob. Though he appears on camera as Bob, none of Fred's co-workers catch on: since Fred, like all undercover police, wears a scramble suit that constantly changes his appearance, his colleagues don't know what he looks like. The camera in Fred/Bob's apartment reveals that Bob's intimates regularly betray one another for the chance to score more drugs. Even Donna, a young dealer whom Bob/Fred loves, prefers the drug to human contact. Originally published in 1977, the out-of-print novel comes frighteningly close to capturing the U.S. in 1991, in terms of the drug crisis and the relationships between the sexes. But the unrelenting scenes among the addicts make it a grueling read.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Disturbing Tract for Both Sides of the Brain Nov. 9 2002
I have always felt that PKD was the type of author who could really blow me away with his mind-expanding ideas. Unfortunately his other novels that I previously read struck me as overrated, as the ideas failed to gel into coherent stories. However, he hits the bullseye with "A Scanner Darkly" which has to be one of best novels. Taking place in a dysfunctional near-future, the story revolves around the new drug called Substance D. (The only glitch in this book is that PKD places the story in the 1990's, and PKD's vision of the future from back in the 70's is a bit distracting in its inaccuracies). Substance D causes a disconnect between the left and right sides of the brain, causing a split personality syndrome in which both of the user's selves are active simultaneously and compete with each other. The main character, Bob Arctor, is an undercover cop who poses as a dealer, and his undercover self has been assigned to watch his dealer self. At first he realizes the bureaucratic mistake, but as he falls deeper and deeper into the world of Substance D, Bob can no longer perceive the difference between his two selves and descends into a schizophrenic nightmare. Bob's deteriorating state becomes a very disturbing tract from PKD on the nature of one's identity, the destruction of the self through drug abuse, and the reality or un-reality of the self's replacement. Also, in PKD's future the drug war becomes a class war, as the "straights" need the users as a class of non-persons to manipulate and to experiment on. This may just be the way users see the world, and PKD shows us that it may not be a farfetched conspiracy theory. This is a truly troubling look into the world of damaged and ruined minds, from a man who just may have been there himself.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A darker side of PKD May 14 2014
The first PKD book I read was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the inspiration for the film Blade Runner. I was surprised at how much lighter the tone of the novel was compared to the film, and expected this atmosphere to carry over into A Scanner Darkly. Was I ever wrong.

A Scanner Darkly follows the story of Bob Arctor, a junkie and dealer of Substance D, and Fred, the narcotics agent assigned to monitor and eventually bust Bob for dealing. What Bob's junkie friends and Fred's superior officers don't know, however, is that Bob and Fred are the same person, Substance D-induced split personalities inside the same brain. As the novel progresses, Bob and Fred—who initially are aware of each other—both begin a slow descent into paranoia and madness, becoming completely split in the process. Bob, swinging between highs and withdrawals of Substance D, grows increasingly paranoid that someone's out to get him as first his most prized possession and later his car are sabotaged. Fred, suspected by his bosses of playing his undercover role a little too enthusiastically, tries to avoid their probing questions and neurological exams.

As the novel progresses, we find out the identity of the saboteur, and discover several layers of undercover police operations working at increasing expense to Fred's sanity. Towards the end of the novel, Fred is so burnt out by the excessive amounts of Substance D he takes to deal with the mounting stress that the police check him into a rehab clinic—but even this is not as innocent as it seems.

Overall, A Scanner Darkly was interesting and well-written; it also provided a vivid account of the paranoia and softening grip on reality that often accompany the abuse of hallucinogens.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stoner book Aug. 2 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
This was my very first PKD novel. I love science fiction and I had heard his were great. It seems I picked the wrong one for sci-fi as there is only a fictional stoner book here. It was a really good book, but I almost felt stoned myself just reading it and I have to assume PKD was stoned writing it.

** Spoiler Alert ** This is the story of Bob Arctor, a narc who is living with his two stoner buddies, hanging out with their stoner friends, trying to date a stoner girl named Donna. Everyone is hooked on this new drug called Substance D, even Bob, and this is really bad stuff. Eventually, it separates your brain into it's two halves and thinking seems to become impossible. The far-gone end up in a drug rehab to live out the rest of their days. Some of the luckier ones get shipped off to a farm to work.
Most of the story is made up of the ramblings and ridiculous conversations people have when they are high. Paranoia creeps in, a little back-stabbing, some destruction of personal property....I assume the normal lives of junkies. However, all is not what it seems in this book. I thought it might be just a tale to warn of the dangers of excessive drug use, and perhaps that is part of it, but I thought the end result would be death so I was very pleased at the ending of this book. The vicious circle created by unscrupulous people to get rich off the lives of people who thought they were just taking drugs to have some fun. Sounds like a scheme the Government would try to pull off if they thought they could get away with it.

If you're looking for a good story and it doesn't have to be sci-fi, and you can handle the junkie conversations, this is one I would definitely recommend.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible
This book was very disjointed. It drags on and on and is filled with meaningless drug-addled content that doesn't further the story. The characters are flat and quickly forgotten. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Lindsey
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story
There is just no comparison for this book. It so so human. It exemplifies the simple thoughts each human has on a daily basis and then takes it into a realm of drug use and... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Samantha K Krewulak
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome drug sci-fi novel
I thoroughly enjoyed this fictional drug sci-fi novel. I found it hard to put down until it was finished. Twist ending.
Published 16 months ago by vp
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
This book is one of my all time favourites, I've read it over and over again.
The world described by M. Read more
Published on May 19 2011 by Anton PANAITESCO
5.0 out of 5 stars Dick's dark night
Among Dick's 45 or so novels, A Scanner Darkly is his dark night of the soul, and is based on one of the lowest points in his life-his involvement with drugs and hard-drug users in... Read more
Published on June 5 2004 by Doug Mackey
4.0 out of 5 stars Let Them Play Again
This is not an SF novel. This is a story about Dick's drug-addicted friends and their sad fates. The book consists of a series of anecdotes and scenes that range from the absurdly... Read more
Published on April 19 2004 by Storm
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly, indeed
Dick's tragic satire on drug enforcement skewers drug users, enforcement, treatment, and organized crime with equally scathing ferocity as cogs in an out-of-control system of... Read more
Published on Dec 24 2003 by Joseph M. Futrelle
3.0 out of 5 stars What spoon
I got this book from the library. I'll be forthcoming:
If you read it as a novel it's a horrid incorent horribly edited read. Read more
Published on Oct. 4 2003 by "g0d333"
2.0 out of 5 stars A great plot - an addled delivery
He may have a cult following, but like the characters in this novel, P.K. Dick appears to have been drug addled at the time he wrote 'Scanner'. Read more
Published on May 18 2003 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Realize what is being done
A previous reviewer commented on Dick's inability to draw characterization. Interchangable are Arctor, Fred, Freck etc. This is all very true. Read more
Published on May 16 2003 by Objective if the movie is good in my opinion
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