“The most dangerous kind of person,” Arctor said, “is one who is afraid of his own shadow.”
“A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K Dick is a weird book. If you want your stories straight forward, with plots that are fairly easy to follow, skip this one. But if you enjoy challenging material that explores the psyche, and where most things are not what they seem, you may enjoy this book.
I’ll be glad, Bob Arctor thought, when we get in the holoscanners and have them set up all over this house. He touched his gun, felt reassured, then wondered if he should make certain it was still full of shells. But then, he realized, I’ll wonder if the firing pin is gone or if the powder has been removed from the shells and so forth, on and on, obsessively, like a little boy counting cracks in the sidewalk to reduce his fear. Little Bobby Arctor, coming home from the first grade with his little schoolbooks, frightened at the unknown lying ahead.
As the drugs exert more influence over him, he has trouble both distinguishing between Fred and Bob and with not distinguishing between Fred and Bob.
And then he thought, What the hell am I talking about? I must be nuts. I know Bob Arctor; he’s a good person. He’s up to nothing. At least nothing unsavory. In fact, he thought, he works for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, covertly. Which is probably why Barris is after him.
But, he thought, that wouldn’t explain why the Orange County Sheriff’s office is a after him – especially to the extent of installing all those holos and assigning a full-time agent to watch and report on him. That wouldn’t account for that.
On the other hand, Hank and those guys downtown would not be too happy if Bob Arctor left his house, now that the monitors had been expensively and elaborately installed, and was never seen again: never showed up on any of the tape. He could not therefore take off in order to fulfill his personal surveillance plans at the expense of theirs. After all, it was their money.
To survive in a fascist police state, he thought, you gotta always be able to come up with a name, your name. At all times. That’s the first sign they look for that you’re wired, not being able to figure out who the hell you are.
Donna inhaled from the hash pipe and contemplated the lights spread out below them; she smelled the air and listened. “After he saw God, he felt really good, for around a year. And then he felt really bad. Worse than he ever had before in his life. Because one day it came over him, he began to realize, he was never going to see God again. He was going to live out his whole remaining life, decades, maybe fifty years, and see nothing but what he had always seen. What we see. He was worse off than if he hadn’t seen God. He told me one day he got really mad; he just freaked out and started cursing and smashing things in his apartment. He even smashed his stereo. He realized he was going to have to live on and on like he was, seeing nothing. Without any purpose. Just a lump of flesh grinding along, eating, drinking, sleeping, working, crapping.”
“Like the rest of us.” It was the first thing Bob Arctor had managed to say; each word came with retching difficulty.
Donna said, “That’s what I told him. I pointed that out. We were all in that same boat and it didn’t freak the rest of us.
And he said, ‘You don’t know what I saw. You don’t know what I know.’”
Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this particular life-style the motto is, “Be happy now because tomorrow you are dying,” but the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a memory. It is, then, only a speeding up, an intensifying, of the ordinary human existence. It is not different form your life-style, it is only faster. It all takes place in days or weeks or months instead of years. “Take the cash and let the credit go,” as Villion said in 1460. But that is a mistake if the cash is a penny and the credit is a whole life time.
And while we spend time laughing at the antics of many of the characters, one of the more poignant moments comes as Bob Arctor watches and drug-addled prostitute sleep.
“I don’t care if he stunk,” the girl beside him muttered later on, dreamily, in her sleep. “I still loved him.”
He wondered who she meant. A boyfriend? Her father? A tomcat? A childhood precious stuffed toy? Maybe all of them, he thought. But the words were “I loved,” not “I still love.” Evidently he, whatever or whoever he had been, was gone now.
Maybe, Arctor reflected, they (whoever they were) had made her throw him out, because he stank so bad. Probably so. He wondered how old she had been then, the remembering worn-out junkie girl who dozed beside him.
He recalled a case in which a heroin dealer, out to burn a chick, had planted two packets of heroin in the handle of her iron, then phoned in an anonymous tip on her to WE TIP. Before the tip could be acted on, the chick found the heroin, but instead of flushing it, she had sold it. The police came, found nothing, then made a voiceprint on the phone tip, and arrested the pusher for giving false information to the authorities. While out on bail, the pusher visited the chick late one night and beat her almost to death. When caught and asked why he’d put out one of her eyes and broken both her arms and several ribs, he explained that the chick had come across two packets of high-grade heroin belonging to him, sold them for a good profit, and not cut him in. Such, Arctor reflected, went the pusher mentality.
cocktail, things don’t work out quite the way he planned.
“Your sins will now be read to you ceaselessly, in shifts, throughout eternity. The list will never end.”
Know your dealer, Charles Freck thought, and wished he could take back the last half-hour of his life.
A thousand years later he was still lying there on his bed…They had gotten up to the first grade, when he was six years old.
Ten thousand years later, they had reached the sixth grade. The year he had discovered masturbation.
“A Scanner Darkly” is a fascinating dive into the seas of identity.
“A Scanner Darkly” is a warning light about the dangers of a police state.
But above all, “A Scanner Darkly” is a great book that exercises the brain with a complex plot, sudden twists and turns in the story, and engaging and funny characters. It’s well worth the time.