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A Scanner Darkly [Paperback]

Philip K. Dick
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 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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"Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his hair."

This semi-autobiographical story by Philip K. Dick is the story of Robert Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent assigned to spy on Arctor's household. Living in his scramble suit as "Fred", out to catch high-level dealers of Substance D, this is the story of the slow and surreal breakdown of a human into the two co-existing yet conflicting hemispheres of the brain. Under the influence of the very drug he set out to catch users and dealers of, he undergoes increasing confusion about reality. His progressive meltdown and the final stages of identity shift - especially when the surveillance cameras are set up and we see Bob/Fred's degeneration as his consciousness weaves in reality and out films - made for absolutely fascinating reading.

Comedy. Tragedy. Horror. Loneliness. And the final recognition of everyone as "a lump of flesh grinding along, eating, drinking, sleeping, working, crapping", makes this is a heartbreaking fantasy film that keeps rolling not just in the characters' but also the readers' heads. One is left wondering if Fred hoped in vain that - unlike himself who could see only darkness when he looked into himself - the scanners at least would see clearly and not darkly, or would all be lost with no knowledge gained.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dick's dark night June 5 2004
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 1970-72. Although Dick's characters had rarely been two-dimensional before, in this novel they clearly take on flesh, and for him it was a breakthrough. The dialogue is street talk of the late 1970s, gritty and realistic; the setting is Southern California, and though nominally science fiction, the sf elements are minimal. The conversations of the characters reflect, often humorously, their derangement and deterioration from the use of drugs. The main character is both a narcotics agent and an addict of the hallucinogenic Substance D, nicknamed "Death." The split in his personality finally brings him to a crisis and entry into a drug rehabilitation center. The whole story is told with great compassion, which makes the pessimism somewhat bearable. On the whole this is not a happy book. But it is compelling, real, and incredibly deeply felt. Most readers of PKD, I believe, tend to rank this near the top of the list of all his books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Realize what is being done May 15 2003
A previous reviewer commented on Dick's inability to draw characterization. Interchangable are Arctor, Fred, Freck etc. This is all very true. The simple reason is Dick was portraying drugs as 'mind wrecks.' These were not characters, but paranoid puppets being conducted by the same string, drugs. Would one expect much character diversity when each man lives in the same broken down room. Their about as mechanical as the adroids that flood Dick's other stories. Everybody is portrayed as an addict or a stright. There is no middle ground. In fact, at the beginning of the read, I thought Freck was actually Arctor. They never spoke to each other. Now, whether or not this was my ignorance or Philip's plan, this can be said; he wrote at a rapid pace and was not meticulous in proof-reading. Anyways, this story is driven not by auxilliary characters but by substance D. If you want out of this trip, just don't pick up the book. Deciding to read this is your choice, but once picked up, it will be a disease.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A darker side of PKD
The first PKD book I read was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the inspiration for the film Blade Runner. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jayson Vavrek
4.0 out of 5 stars Stoner book
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. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rose
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 15 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 17 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 19 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
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. 3 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
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