When I think of California, I picture a family sitting around a table in a riotous garden. Big avocados and glasses of cold white wine. I think of a friend, a writer, who lives there now. I think of the sea, and mountains, and the sound of car doors slamming. The sun always shining. And I think about Philip K Dick dropping out of… everything. He started writing professionally in 1952. ‘Professionally’ means he made money at it. He wrote a lot of books. People say Philip K Dick wasn’t much of a writer, that his books were pulpy and his prose flat. They are often right. But I always thought he was amazing. I always thought he was a genius.
When I first started reading PKD, no one really gave a fuck about him. That’s changed a bit these days, perhaps thanks to Bladerunner, and thanks to the growing popularity of science fiction in general. I’m not sure that PKD’s work really counts as sci fi, though. A sub-genre, maybe. I guess it doesn’t fit neatly anywhere. It goes along its own weird trajectory – his visions of the future and life on Mars are uniquely flavoured, and more often than not are centred on lonely outsiders who, try as they might, are utterly at odds with the rest of the world, whatever that world may be.
What I like most about Philip K Dick’s books is the instability of reality. In the worlds he creates, the rug can be ripped from under your feet at any time. Time can flip back, turn inside out. You may not be who you think you are. Drugs are doorways into other dimensions. And when you think you are safe, you are not safe. And everything you think you know is an illusion.
If I had to choose one writer who has influenced my writing more than any other, it would be PKD. His themes and ideas are the ones I keep coming back to, over and over, pulling at the threads.