A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly is a BSFA Award
BSFA Awards
The BSFA Awards are literary awards presented annually since 1970 by the British Science Fiction Association to honor works in the genre of science fiction. Nominees and winners are chosen based on a vote of BSFA members...

 winning 1977 science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by American writer Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick
Philip Kindred Dick was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered...

. The semi-autobiographical
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

 story is set in a dystopia
A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four...

n Orange County, California
Orange County, California
Orange County is a county in the U.S. state of California. Its county seat is Santa Ana. As of the 2010 census, its population was 3,010,232, up from 2,846,293 at the 2000 census, making it the third most populous county in California, behind Los Angeles County and San Diego County...

, in the then-future of June 1994. It includes an extensive portrayal of drug culture and drug use (both recreational
Recreational drug use
Recreational drug use is the use of a drug, usually psychoactive, with the intention of creating or enhancing recreational experience. Such use is controversial, however, often being considered to be also drug abuse, and it is often illegal...

 and abusive
Drug abuse
Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, refers to a maladaptive pattern of use of a substance that is not considered dependent. The term "drug abuse" does not exclude dependency, but is otherwise used in a similar manner in nonmedical contexts...


The title echoes Through a Glass Darkly, a phrase from 1 Corinthians 13.


The protagonist is Bob Arctor, member of a household of drug-users, who is also living a parallel life as Agent Fred, an undercover police agent assigned to spy on Arctor's household. Arctor/Fred shields his true identity from those in the drug subculture
Drug subculture
Drug subcultures are examples of countercultures, which are primarily defined by recreational drug use.Drug subcultures are groups of people united by a common understanding of the meaning and value of the incorporation into one's life of the drug in question...

, and from the police themselves. (The requirement that narcotics agents remain anonymous, to avoid collusion and other forms of corruption, becomes a critical plot point late in the book.) While supposedly only posing as a drug user, Arctor becomes addicted to "Substance D" (also referred to as "Slow Death," "Death," or "D"), a powerful psychoactive drug
Psychoactive drug
A psychoactive drug, psychopharmaceutical, or psychotropic is a chemical substance that crosses the blood–brain barrier and acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function, resulting in changes in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior...

. An ongoing conflict is Arctor's love for Donna, a drug dealer through whom he intends to identify high-level dealers of Substance D. Arctor's persistent use of the drug causes the two hemispheres of his brain to function independently, or "compete." Through a series of drug and psychological tests, Arctor's superiors at work discover that his addiction has made him incapable of performing his job as a narcotics agent. Donna takes Arctor to "New-Path," a rehabilitation clinic, just as Arctor begins to experience the symptoms of Substance D withdrawal. It is revealed that Donna has been a narcotics agent all along, working as part of a police operation to infiltrate New-Path and determine its funding source. Without his knowledge, Arctor has been selected to penetrate the secretive organization.

As part of the rehab program, Arctor is renamed "Bruce" and forced to participate in cruel group-dynamic games intended to break the will of the patients. The story ends with Bruce working at a New-Path farming commune, where he is suffering from a serious neurocognitive
Neurocognitive is a term used to describe cognitive functions closely linked to the function of particular areas, neural pathways, or cortical networks in the brain substrate layers of neurological matrix at the cellular molecular level...

 deficit after withdrawing from Substance D. Although considered by his handlers to be nothing more than a walking shell of a man, "Bruce" manages to spot rows of blue flowers growing hidden among rows of corn, and realizes the blue flowers are Mors ontologica, the source of Substance D. The book ends with Bruce hiding a flower in his shoe to give to his "friends" – undercover police agents posing as recovering addicts at the Los Angeles New-Path facility – on Thanksgiving.

Autobiographical nature

A Scanner Darkly is a fictionalized account of real events
Roman à clef
Roman à clef or roman à clé , French for "novel with a key", is a phrase used to describe a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the "key" is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction...

 based on Dick's experiences in the 1970s drug culture. Dick said in an interview, "Everything in A Scanner Darkly I actually saw."

Between mid-1970 (when his fourth wife Nancy left him) and mid-1972 (when he entered the X-Kalay program; see below) Dick lived semi-communally with a rotating group of mostly teenage drug users at his home in Marin County. Dick explained, "[M]y wife Nancy left me in 1970 ... I got mixed up with a lot of street people, just to have somebody to fill the house. She left me with a four bedroom, two-bathroom house and nobody living in it but me. So I just filled it with street people and I got mixed up with a lot of people who were into drugs."

During this period, the author ceased writing completely and became fully dependent upon amphetamines, which he had been using intermittently for many years. "I did take amphetamines for years in order to be able to — I was able to produce 68 final pages of copy a day," Dick said.

The character of Donna was inspired by an older teenager who became associated with Dick sometime in 1970; though they never became lovers, the woman was his principal female companion until early 1972, when Dick left for Canada to deliver a speech to a Vancouver science fiction convention. This speech, "The Android and the Human", served as the basis for many of the recurring themes and motifs in the ensuing novel. Another turning point in this timeframe for Dick is the alleged burglary of his home and theft of his papers.

Because of his firsthand experience, Dick captures the language, conversation, and culture of drug users in the 1960s with a rare clarity. This is further explained in the moving afterword, where Dick dedicates the book to those of his friends — he includes himself — who suffered debilitation or death as a result of their drug use. Mirroring the epilogue are the involuntary goodbyes that occur throughout the story — the constant turnover and burn-out of young people that lived with Dick during those years.

In the afterword, he states that the novel is about “some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did” (referring to the disproportional damage that drug use causes on the user) and that "drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to move out in front of a moving car."

After delivering "The Android and the Human", Dick became a participant in X-Kalay (a Canadian Synanon
The Synanon organization, initially a drug rehabilitation program, was founded by Charles E. "Chuck" Dederich, Sr., in 1958, in Santa Monica, California, United States...

-type recovery program), effortlessly convincing program caseworkers that he was nursing a heroin addiction to do so. Dick's recovery program participation was portrayed in his 1988 book The Dark Haired Girl
The Dark Haired Girl
The Dark Haired Girl is a collection of essays, poems and letters by Philip K. Dick. It was first published by Mark V. Ziesing in 1989.Ziesing considers this the necessary companion volume to the complete collected works of the author...

(a collection of letters and journals from this period, most of a romantic nature). Presumably, this was a source for the vividness and accuracy with which the clinic in the novel is portrayed. It was at X-Kalay, while doing publicity for the facility, that he devised the notion of rehab centers being used to secretly harvest drugs (thus inspiring the book's New-Path clinics).

Writing process and publication

A Scanner Darkly was one of the few Dick novels to gestate over a long period of time. By February 1973, in an effort to prove that the effects of his amphetamine usage was merely psychosomatic, the newly clean-and-sober author had already prepared a full outline. A first draft was in development by March. This labor was soon supplanted by a new family and the completion of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is a 1974 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick about a genetically enhanced pop singer and television star who loses his identity overnight. The story is set in a futuristic dystopia, where America has become a police state after a Second Civil War. The novel...

(left unfinished in 1970), which was finally released in 1974 and received the prestigious John W. Campbell Award
Campbell award (best novel)
The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for best science fiction novel was created in 1973 by writers and critics Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss to honor Campbell's name...

. Additional preoccupations were the alleged mystical experiences of early 1974 that would eventually serve as a basis for VALIS
VALIS is a 1981 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The title is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, Dick's gnostic vision of one aspect of God....

and the unpublished Exegesis
Exegesis (book)
The Exegesis is a journal kept by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, documenting and exploring his religious and visionary experiences. Dick's wealth of knowledge on the subjects of philosophy, religion, and science inform the work throughout....

journal, a screenplay for an unproduced film adaptation of 1969's Ubik
Ubik is a 1969 science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. Critic Lev Grossman described it as "a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you'll never be sure you've woken up from."-Plot synopsis:...

, an occasional lecture, and the Roger Zelazny
Roger Zelazny
Roger Joseph Zelazny was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for his The Chronicles of Amber series...

 collaboration Deus Irae
Deus Irae
Deus Irae is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny. It was published in 1976. Deus irae means God of wrath in Latin. The name is a play on Dies Irae, meaning Day of Wrath or Judgment Day...


Because of its semi-autobiographical nature, some of Scanner was torturous to write. Tessa Dick, Philip's wife at the time, once stated that she often found her husband weeping as the sun rose after a night-long writing session. Tessa has given interviews stating that "when he was with me, he wrote A Scanner Darkly [in] under two weeks. But we spent three years rewriting it" and that she was "pretty involved in his writing process [for A Scanner Darkly]." Tessa confirmed in a later interview that she "participated in the writing of A Scanner Darkly" and said that she "consider[s] [her]self the silent co-author." Philip wrote a contract giving Tessa half of all the rights to the novel, which stated that Tessa "participated to a great extent in writing the outline and novel A Scanner Darkly with me, and I owe her one half of all income derived from it."

There was also the challenge of transmuting the events into "science fiction," as Dick felt that he could not sell a mainstream novel. Providing invaluable aid in this field was Judy-Lynn del Rey
Judy-Lynn del Rey
Judy-Lynn del Rey née Benjamin was a science fiction editor.Born with dwarfism, she was a fan and regular attendee at science fiction conventions and worked her way up the publishing ladder, starting with work at the science fiction magazine Galaxy.Judy-Lynn was friends with Lester del Rey and...

, head of Ballantine Books' SF division which had optioned the book. Del Rey suggested the timeline change to 1994 and helped to emphasize the more futuristic elements of the novel, such as the "scramble suit" employed by Fred (which, incidentally, emerged from one of the mystical experiences). Yet much of the dialogue spoken by the characters used hippie slang, dating the events of the novel to their "true" time-frame of 1970–72. Dick also credited Del Rey with going over the book page by page with him, "teaching me how to write", and "[helping] me put this book back together so that it made more sense." He also called her "a master craftsman".

Upon its publication in 1977, A Scanner Darkly was hailed by ALA
American Library Association
The American Library Association is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 62,000 members....

 Booklist as "his best yet!" Brian Aldiss
Brian Aldiss
Brian Wilson Aldiss, OBE is an English author of both general fiction and science fiction. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss. Greatly influenced by science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society...

 lauded it as "the best book of the year," while Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg is an American author, best known for writing science fiction. He is a multiple nominee of the Hugo Award and a winner of the Nebula Award.-Early years:...

 praised the novel as "a masterpiece of sorts, full of demonic intensity," but concluded that "it happens also not to be a very successful novel. . . . a failure, but a stunning failure." Spider Robinson
Spider Robinson
Spider Robinson is an American-born Canadian Hugo and Nebula award winning science fiction author.- Biography :Born in the Bronx, New York City, Robinson attended Catholic high school, spending his junior year in a seminary, followed by two years in a Catholic college, and five years at the State...

 panned the novel as "sometimes fascinating, sometimes hilarious, [but] usually deadly boring." Sales were typical for the SF genre in America, but hardcover editions were issued in Europe, where all of Dick's works were warmly received.
It was nominated for neither the Nebula nor the Hugo Award but was awarded the British version (the BSFA) in 1978, and the French equivalent (Graouilly d'Or) upon its publication there in 1979. It also was nominated for the Campbell Award in 1978 and placed sixth in the annual Locus poll
Locus Award
The Locus Award is a literary award established in 1971 and presented to winners of Locus magazine's annual readers' poll. Currently, the Locus Awards are presented at an annual banquet...



The animated film A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly (film)
A Scanner Darkly is a 2006 science fiction thriller directed by Richard Linklater based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. The film tells the story of identity and deception in a near-future dystopia constantly under intrusive high-technology police surveillance in the midst of a drug...

was authorized by Dick's estate. It was released in July 2006 and stars Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves
Keanu Charles Reeves is a Canadian actor. Reeves is perhaps best known for his roles in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Speed, Point Break and the science fiction-action trilogy The Matrix...

 as Fred/Bob Arctor and Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder is an American actress. She made her film debut in the 1986 film Lucas. Ryder's first significant role came in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice as a goth teenager, which won her critical and commercial recognition...

 as Donna. Rory Cochrane
Rory Cochrane
Rory Cochrane is an American actor. He is known for playing Ron Slater in Dazed and Confused, Lucas in Empire Records, and Tim Speedle in CSI: Miami.-Early life:...

, Robert Downey, Jr., and Woody Harrelson
Woody Harrelson
Woodrow Tracy "Woody" Harrelson is an American actor.Harrelson's breakthrough role came in the television sitcom Cheers as bartender Woody Boyd...

 co-star as Arctor's drugged-out housemates. The film was directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater
-Early life:Linklater was born in Houston, Texas. He studied at Sam Houston State University and left midway through his stint in college to work on an off-shore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. While working on the rig he read a lot of literature, but on land he developed a love of film through...



An unabridged
Abridgement or abridgment is a term defined as "shortening" or "condensing" and is most commonly used in reference to the act of reducing a written work, typically a book, into a shorter form...

 audiobook version, read by Paul Giamatti
Paul Giamatti
Paul Edward Valentine Giamatti is an American actor. Giamatti began his career as a supporting actor in several films produced during the 1990s including Private Parts, The Truman Show, Saving Private Ryan, The Negotiator, and Man on the Moon, before earning lead roles in several projects in the...

, was released in 2006 by Random House Audio to coincide with the release of the film adaptation. It runs approximately 9.5 hours over eight compact disc
Compact Disc
The Compact Disc is an optical disc used to store digital data. It was originally developed to store and playback sound recordings exclusively, but later expanded to encompass data storage , write-once audio and data storage , rewritable media , Video Compact Discs , Super Video Compact Discs ,...

s. This version is a tie-in
A tie-in is an authorized product based on a media property a company is releasing, such as a movie or video/DVD, computer game, video game, television program/television series, board game, web site, role-playing game or literary property...

, using the film's poster as cover art.

External links

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