Hour 25: A Talk With Philip K. Dick
Hosted by Mike Hodel
KPFK-FM, North Hollywood, California. June 26, 1976.
Transcribed and edited by Frank C. Bertrand
You can also listen to this interview by visiting the multimedia page or here:
An interview with Philip K. Dick by Mike Hodel which aired on the science fiction themed radio show Hour 25. It is from 1977, just before A Scanner Darkly was released.
The interview is divided into 3 parts.
Part 1 (42 min.) -Why science fiction? The paradox of mainstream vs. sci-fi. On Deus Irae and researching a novel. On the I Ching and The Man In The High Castle. On A Scanner Darkly and character development. His popularity in Europe. The poverty of the beginning sci-fi writer with accounts of his own experiences.
Part 2 (20 min.) – Phil reads an excerpt from A Scanner Darkly (this is great!). Sci-fi as a “silly putty” world. On which authors he likes and dislikes in science fiction.
Part 3 (13 min.) – On winning the Campbell and Hugo awards. And much more…
From Part 2: Listen to Phil reading an excerpt from A Scanner Darkly (3:38 min.)
Mike Hodel: John Brunner calls him consistently the most brilliant science fiction writer in the field. His name is Philip K. Dick. Why science fiction out of all the forms of literature you could have chosen? Why SF? Was it a conscious decision?
Philip K. Dick: Yes. There’s more latitude in science fiction for the expression of pure ideas than you find in other genres.
Mike: Let’s get rid of a couple of cliches first. SF is a ghetto. People say, yeah, it’s a ghetto. Then on the other hand they say it’s a literature of ideas. All literature is supposed to be a literature of ideas. Right? So why is it that science fiction gets tagged with that and in the same breath is tagged as a ghetto? And people can put it down and pay a lot less money and get a lot less recognition and so forth.
Phil: Well, science fiction has changed a lot in the last few years. It’s coming out of the ghetto. But all that’s done is make it worse. I mean, the writing is worse, now that it is coming out of the ghetto. Instead of getting better it’s getting worse because it’s losing it’s identity, it’s losing it’s shape. It’s becoming like silly putty. I mean, you can now call anything you want science fiction or you can decide not to call it science fiction. I have a book coming out. The hardcover edition of it will be called mainstream and the paperback is going to be sold as science fiction. If you buy the hardcover you’re reading a mainstream novel. If you buy the Ballantine paperback you’re reading a science fiction novel. But the text is identical in the two. And they were bought simultaneously by Doubleday and Ballantine working in tandem. So if I were to talk to you about my novel, I’d have to ask you whether you’d read the Doubleday edition or the Ballantine paperback edition. Now, if you’d read the Ballantine paperback edition I’d say, yes, that was a great science fiction novel. And if you’d read the Doubleday edition I’d say, well, that was a great mainstream novel, wasn’t it Mike? You’d be hard put to figure out how to respond when it’s strictly a way of packaging it. We’re not talking about packaging and marketing. We’re not talking about content at all. Like Sharon Jarvis at Doubleday read its first eighty pages. She says, well, there’s no rocket ships in this book. It’s not science fiction. I’m going to throw it down the hall to the other editors, the trade editors and let them market it. And Ballantine looked at the manuscript and said, hot dog, this is wonderful science fiction. We’re going to make millions. And then I said, you guys better get together. So I really don’t know. I mean, it came out of the ghetto in the hardcover edition and it went right back into the ghetto in the paperback edition.
Mike: Which do you hope sells more, the softcover with the SF tag or Doubleday mainstream?
Phil: I hope, oh boy, now you’ve really put me against the wall. That’s a very evil question to ask.
Mike: That’s right.
Phil: Because I can’t answer without offending somebody. That is, I have to sit on two stools at once. And I have to hype the science fiction one and then I have to turn around and hype the mainstream one. I can’t fault either one without immediately becoming victim of my own trap.
Mike: Okay. Well, let’s see if we can rephrase it so it may not offend quite as many people.
Phil: I don’t want to offend anybody. It’s an inoffensive novel. It will not offend any reader anywhere. No bad words. Now that’s another thing. It could not be published as science fiction by Doubleday because it had four letter words in it. And their science fiction list does not allow four letter words in a book. There were too many of them to remove them. If there only had been a few, like in Deus Irae, which they bought from me and Roger Zelazny. There were only a few four letter words so they inked them out and then marketed it as science fiction. And I had never known this before. I didn’t know the distinction between science fiction and mainstream was the number of four letter words. But on this new one of mine, Larry Ashmead, the editor-in-chief at Doubleday says, you can’t take them out. They’re necessary to the book. Therefore we can’t market it as science fiction. So we’re down to basics now. If you want it marketed as a mainstream novel you say bleep bleep all the way through the book. And if you get enough bleep bleeps in the book they can’t market it as science fiction because they figure most of the science fiction market is kids. This is their theory. This is not my theory. But their envisioning this audience with the hick glasses and the acne, parting the hair in the middle, and the overcoat the guy bought at the Salvation Army and the suitcase of old magazines. And he has a felt pen that he wants you to sign every copy of every Astounding that he’s got. That’s their idea of the science fiction market. That’s theirs, that’s not my idea.
Mike: This is Doubleday, the premier hardcover —
Phil: I’m not saying I mean Doubleday. I just mean them.
Mike: Oh, them. Oh yeah, the well known —
Phil: The well known them. The people who run things.
Mike: So that’s the distinction. If it’s got enough four letter words it’s not science fiction.
Phil: That’s right. I was told this by an editor-in-chief who is not with Doubleday. He went over to Simon and Schuster.
Mike: How does he explain it? Did you ask him about somebody like Delany with Dhalgren, which is definitely SF and has got lots of four and ten letter words?
Phil: Yeah, that’s true. I’ve read part of that. Harlan Ellison and I agree that’s a terrible book. Even though it had a lot of four letter and ten letter words it was still a terrible book. It should have been marketed as trash. There’s a category, you know, there’s trash. There’s trashy novels.
Mike: There’s sci-fi and trashy novels. Okay, why? Why is it a bad book? Is it just because —
Phil: Oh, it’s just a bad book. I don’t have to go into that. I mean, it’s not necessary that I be a literary critic. I don’t know anything about that. That’s not my field. I can’t criticize. I just started reading it and said this is the worse trash I’ve ever read. And I threw it away. And Harlan did the same thing, sitting up there in Sherman Oaks where he lives on the pinnacle of that steep hill. Harlan is not in it for profit. Harlan is in it for the ideology of science fiction.
Mike: Well, Harlan is leaving the field of science fiction. He says, I write what I write.
Phil: He is?
Mike: Yeah. I write Harlan Ellison stories. They’re not science fiction. They’re —
Phil: That’s a tautology. Harlan Ellison writes Harlan Ellison stories. The predicate is implied by the subject. I’ve listed the people for Publishers Weekly who have left science fiction recently. I didn’t even think to add Harlan. I remember now, I did read Harlan’s letter to F&SF, I believe, where he said America, bleep it or bleep it regarding science fiction. Barry Malzberg published the most marvelously crazy statement of the universe. In all the history of science fiction nobody has ever bum-tripped science fiction as much as Barry Malzberg did. And I think he’s a great writer but that’s not the way. You don’t break up a marriage that way, you don’t leave science fiction that way by saying everybody in it is rotten. And everything that’s ever been written is rotten, except what I wrote; that wasn’t rotten, which is what Malzberg said, that he’s going onto bigger and greater things. And then Vonnegut, this is what I said in Publishers Weekly, Vonnegut has always never written science fiction. He discovered when upon looking back over his career, he discovered he’d made a lot of money at some point, and at that point, retroactively, he, like the Pope, everything I say is true, and I never was writing science fiction even if you read Player Piano and you thought it was science fiction, you were wrong. And Cat’s Cradle likewise. And they’re not science fiction, because I say they’re not science fiction. Come to me, I will tell you. Harlan says, come to me, I will tell you.
Mike: Silverberg is also leaving the field.
Phil: I know, I know.
Mike: Tom Disch —
Phil: He’s rich. Silverberg is rich. I don’t know how, he is. I can’t figure it out, ’cause none of the rest of us are. I’ve always asked him that same question over and over again. He just smiles with that sort of superior enigmatic smile of his which means that I know something you don’t know and that’s why I’m rich and you’re not. He didn’t make it off science fiction. I don’t believe he made if off selling science fiction. If he did he sure does know something I don’t know. I think he reinvested his royalties in a pizza plant or something.
Mike: I don’t know why. But there’s something about your style of writing, and your style as I discovered it from The Rolling Stone piece, the Paul Williams article, that puts me in mind of Kilgore Trout.
Phil: That’s Philip Jose Farmer.
Mike: Yeah, right, I know. I don’t mean you are —
Phil: I don’t understand just what you mean about Kilgore Trout.
Mike: Alright. You do writing which is excellent. And it is labeled science fiction and therefore it don’t sell nothing. It winds up —
Phil: Wrong. Wrong. Doubleday gets to market it through their el cheapo book club. Oh boy, will they love to hear this. But that’s true. They get to sell it for a dollar. And the author makes a penny, then, or something trivial like that. His royalties of the entire, Robert Heinlein explained this to me one time. He said, you sell a book to a hardcover publisher and the Doubleday Book Club snatches it right up and markets it for a dollar, no matter how many pages it’s got. I mean, we’re speaking in hyperbole here, but never the less, then your royalties immediately descend down to the miniscule level again. The more copies it sells the less money you make. Heinlein says that he was financially ruined when they picked up like Stranger In A Strange Land, I believe it was, one of his recent ones, because they immediately market a giant thing for a dollar and his royalties, he says, it destroyed the trade edition. He says, the worst thing that could happen to you. I always thought it was good when I had a book picked up by the Doubleday Book Club, but I found out I make no money. I looked at my royalty sheets. I made no money. That’s where the money is, though, is marketing it through like a book club thing. And the publisher makes the money but the author doesn’t. He makes his ten percent of the flat price on the trade edition only. And what they do is this. They print up about two thousand copies of the trade edition. They sell five hundred of them and they pulp the rest the next day. I didn’t know that. That is almost enough to make me leave the field of writing entirely. An editor, two editors told me that this is actually what happens. A hardcover publisher puts out a science fiction novel and pulps his trade edition immediately and turns it over to the book club. So the author looks at his royalty sheet, he says, that’s really strange, he says, no matter how good my novel is, it will only sell two thousand copies. It always stops at two thousand copies. Because that’s at the point that the publisher decided to pulp the edition. I was told this and one of my recent hardcover novels, I won’t name the publisher, because this is secondary data, I’ve just this editor’s word for it. After they sold five hundred copies, they pulped the entire edition. For no reason at all. Except it made it available immediately for subsidiary rights.
Mike: What about paperback?
Phil: Well, that’s a subsidiary. You mean selling directly to the paperback?
Mike: Yeah, right.
Phil: Well, somebody told me that’s where the fat money is, is selling directly to the paperbacks. That was a paperback publisher told me that. And then they offered me all the money you ever saw in your life to do a novel for them. But when they actually talked specifically, rather than just say we’ll give you all the money you ever wanted, it turned out to be less than if I sold it to a hardcover house. And there was a Doubleday Book Club edition and then a paperback, seeing that a paperback under those conditions, you split the royalties fifty-fifty with the hardcover publisher. It still turned out to be less, Mike. Because like in Ubik, I got ten thousand dollars for the paperback, of which I got five thousand. Doubleday got the other five. Well, I’ve recently, DAW offered me six thousand dollars to do an original novel for them. And for DAW six thousand dollars is like, for them, selling you all the office furniture they’ve got including all their computers and things. That’s about all the money DAW has is six thousand dollars. If you were to project six thousand for DAW, say, what will Bantam they pay, or Dell. Like Bantam has seventeen thousand five hundred outlets in the United States. They own seventeen thousand five hundred racks. Isn’t that incredible. That’s the largest number of racks that any publisher owns in this country. And DAW doesn’t own any racks that I know of. I’ve never seen a DAW rack. And they’re up to six thousand.
Mike: Are you going to do it? Are you going to write the book for them?
Phil: Oh, yes. I’m going to have a ball doing it too. It’s going to be a lot of fun. That’s Don Wollheim and he gave me my start.
Mike: That’s a good cue to pick up, some biographical stuff. You started when?
Phil: In fifty-one.
Mike: Fifty-one. When you sold your first story. How long had you been writing before you sold your first story?
Phil: Ever since I could operate a typewriter, which was when I taught myself to type when I was twelve. And I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen. It was called Return To Lilliput. It was really a bomb. It was terrible. It was the worst novel. I’ll sell it some day. I’ll find a market for it. It had – it was really neat. They rediscovered Lilliput in the modern world. Like rediscovering Atlantis. These guys report they’ve discovered Lilliput. But it’s only accessible by submarine because it’s sunk under the water. You’d think a fourteen year old kid would have a more original idea than that. And I can even tell you the numbers on the submarines. I had, A-101, B-202, C-303 were the numbers and designations of the submarines.
Mike: Makes it a finite number of submarines, then.
Phil: Yeah, well, I realized that when I got halfway through. I wasn’t thinking ahead.
Mike: You sold your first story, then, to Don Wollheim?
Phil: No. To Tony Boucher at F&SF.
Mike: That’s hell of a way to begin. That’s pretty good. F&SF in fifty-one was —
Phil: Oh, yes. It was the highest class magazine in existence at that time. And what I did was I sent out thirteen or fourteen stories. And they all came back including the one I sent to F&SF. Only, Tony Boucher said, if you rewrite along these lines you will have a worthwhile piece of fiction. Because he’s the greatest editor. I mean, he was a great writer, great anthologizer, great editor, great person. And like I had sent him 8 or 9 thousand words, and I cut it down to about two thousand words. That was a story called “Roog.” And it’s still in print. It’s still in print now. It’s in print in a text for High School students.
Mike: It’s in paperback, in one of your paperback collections of short stories, the only collection of your short stories I’ve ever seen by you.
Phil: It’s in The Preserving Machine?
Mike: I think it is.
Phil: Yeah. It’s also – Silverberg picked it up. In other words, it’s still in print, all these years later, 25, 26 years later. And I’m still getting money off the darn thing. It’s really weird. I’m still making money off stuff I wrote when I was just starting. They’re still in print, those early stories of mine. But then I hit a bad part of my career. About 1954 when I started writing the worst trashy stuff you ever – none of that stuff’s in print. It started out very good. I was a very good writer under Tony Boucher’s direction. And in ’53 I sold 27 stories that year. And 26 and 27 were rotten, worthless pieces of fiction. And my agent had to tell me, you know, his best friends won’t tell him. My agent said, Phil, write fewer, better stories. The fewest the best. Maybe one a year. But they were really terrible. But they were all being purchased.
Mike: What about the first novel you sold?
Phil: That was to Don Wollheim. That was Solar Lottery. And that’s still in print. It’s been in print off and on for about twenty years. And I’ve made about fifteen hundred dollars off it.
Mike: That is what I mean about Kilgore Trout.
Phil: Oh, is that what you mean about Kilgore Trout.
Mike: That is what I mean. A man who is virtually unparalleled in the field. Nobody knows you. You could, if you’ll pardon the hyperbole, be starving to death in the field. You’re damn good. You’re still going to make fifteen hundred buck and —
Phil: Yeah, I got a thousand dollars advance on the book. And then, when they reprinted it ten years later they gave me five hundred. And that’s the last I ever saw of any money off that book. And it’s still in print. I could walk over there and pull a copy out of the bookcase, and it still bears the original publishing date. There’s no, like, second, third printing and the further dates. It still says copyright Ace Books 1954 or whatever it is. Which almost borders on the illegal, for them to copyright it rather than giving me the copyright. It means I can’t get reversion on them, where I would get title again, because I never had title. They took copyright on their name. And they just recycle that book, and they recycle it all over the world. People find it in Hong Kong. And the royalty sheets show no copies have been sold since 1954, or something like that.
Mike: They print a lot and they just hope. Of all the novels you have written, I guess my own particular favorite’s A Man In The High Castle, of course, Ubik [ooh-bik].
Phil: Ubik. [u-bik]
Mike: Ubik? [u-bik]
Phil: Ubik. The French call it Ubik [ooh-bik]. Dick’s Ubik.
Mike: And —
Phil: It’s called Ubik neo senora in Italian. I guess that means “Ubik my dear sir,” or something like that. Well, it does because I looked it up.
Mike: Okay. I shan’t argue with you. What about your own working habits? How do you work? Or do you, or do you have a pattern indeed?
Phil: Well, I use to just write all the time. I use to just get up at noon and sit down at the typewriter and write until 2 AM. Just write from noon in the morning until 2 AM. You’ve got to do that when you start out. Or you’re going to die on the vine. I mean you’ve got to just – you’re going to live on two thousand dollars a year. You’re going to eat rocks and dirt and weeds from the back yard for the first ten years. And then after the first ten years, you get to eat instant breakfast. You work up till you’re rich enough to get a phone put in. And you get to buy an old automobile. And you get to drive around in an old automobile, which you crank-start every morning. And then after 25 years, you manage to get a used Dodge. It costs you $795.00, but, the radio doesn’t work in it. And there’s people that’re standing behind grocery counters are making more money. One time I was in Trader-Jones, a grocery store, and I was talking with the clerk and he made more money than I did. And I was really sore. I really took it bad. Because they had just hired him. He didn’t even have seniority as a grocery clerk. At least he could have been a senior clerk. I said, how much do you make? And he says, such and such. And I said, jeepers, that’s a lot of money.
Mike: You do that enough you get to the point of what the hell, why am I beating my brains out for two grand a year, or four grand, or even ten.
Phil: Well, then, I answer I love to write. And I’d write it if they didn’t pay me anything.
Mike: He’s only kidding, he’s only kidding Bantam. He’s only kidding.
Phil: Oh, yeah, that ain’t too cool to say. Well, I say that a lot. But you try to get – I’ve got an agent who doesn’t agree with me. See, I don’t market my own stuff. I market it through the toughest, meanest dude in the world, Scott Meredith. And you can’t gyp him. It’s impossible to gyp Scott Meredith, because if you do, don’t start your car up the next morning —
Mike: At least not without checking —
Phil: Pulling the hood open and looking for extra wires.
Mike: So, you do like to write. You said, you use to work non-stop?
Mike: Have you changed that pattern?
Phil: Yes. Now I, here’s what happened to me. This novel that I spoke about earlier, Deus Irae, that Roger Zelazny and I wrote, it took us 12 years to write it. That’s really true. We figured it out. I signed a contract with Doubleday in 1964. This is 1976, right? Well, that’s how long it took the two of us. I couldn’t even write it alone. I mean, I got like a third of it done and I discovered I didn’t know anything about the subject matter, which is Christianity. I could sing a few hymns and I could cross myself and that was about all. And I had embarked on a theological novel without knowing anything about theology. So I ran across Zelazny in 1968. I had been working four years on the novel. And I said, Zelazny, do you know anything about theology? He says, you better believe it Jack. I said, how’d you like to collaborate with me? I’ve got one third of this thing done. It’s all about Christianity. So he took it. And then like 8 years later – and I didn’t hear from Roger. I got a postcard one time from the East Coast. I said, Roger’s over his head. He’s just like me, he’s doing research. Now I’ve learned. So at the end of 12 years we were able to complete it finally. We each got $400.00 a piece, or something like that. In other words, it was like the greatest disaster of our joint careers, was that novel. We’ll never be able to earn back what we put into it in the way of research and work. Now I spend my time doing research before I do the book. I’m not going to get burned like that again. I’m working on another theological novel called To Scare The Dead, but I’ve done 2 years of research. When I sit down to the typewriter I’m going to know what I’m talking about. Man In The High Castle, I did 7 years of research for Man In The High Castle. Seven years of research. I did other stuff too during that 7 years. But it took me 7 years to amass the material on the Nazis and the Japanese, especially on the Nazis, before I could sit down and write. That’s part of the reason why it’s a better novel than most of my novels, that I knew what I was talking about. There wasn’t anything I didn’t know. I had prime source material at the Berkeley Cal Library from the Gestapo that they had seized after WW II. It was marked, for the eyes of the higher police only. The higher police is their term for – I was forced to read Gestapo diaries, the Gestapo men in Warsaw, Gestapo agents. I had to read that stuff. I had to sit there because you couldn’t take it out of the library. You had to read it in the stacks. I had to read what those guys wrote in their private journals to write Man In The High Castle. And that’s why I’ve never written a sequel to it. Because it’s too horrible. It’s too awful. I started several times to write a sequel to it and I would had to go back and read about Nazis again. And I’d just like to off every one of them, it’s what I’d like to do. And so I could never do a sequel to it. Somebody would have to come in and help me do a sequel to it. Someone who had the stomach for the stamina to think along those lines, to get into the head; if you’re going to start writing about Reinhard Heydrich, for instance, you have to get into his face. Can you imagine getting into Reinhard Heydrich’s face? Now, Condon, Richard Condon, is that his name, he wrote a thing called An Infinity Of Mirrors about Reichfuhrer Himmler. Condon has the guts to do that. I could not do that again. That’s why the book, my book The Man In The High Castle is set in the Japanese part, you see, because then I could deal with people. But I have little glimpses of the Nazi part like when Mr. Tagomi hears this printout on personality traits of the Nazi contenders for Reichsfuhrer, Reichs Chancelor, I’m sorry. And he runs out and gets sick and falls down.
Mike: That was you.
Phil: That was me. That was me. Horrible, he said, horrible. Evil is like cement. Evil is a pun, concrete, cement, you see. What he’s thinking, his thoughts are all jumbled up.
Mike: Did you know it was going to be that torturous when you began?
Phil: The writing wasn’t torturous. Writing was a catharsis for me. It was the research that was so tough. I thought I hated those guys before I did the research. After I did the research then I had created for myself an enemy that I would hate the rest of my life. Fascism. Wherever it appears. Whether it’s in Germany, the United States, Soviet Union or anywhere. Fascism, wherever it appears, it is the enemy.
Mike: And yet, at least one of the Germans in that book, you, at least I came away from almost respecting in a way.
Phil: Who’s that? I’ll get him. Where is he?
Mike: The consular in San Francisco, the German –
Phil: Oh, Reiss?
Phil: Oh, he just sat around and smoked fancy cigarettes. I had to have somebody that I could talk to in that book on the German side. Fascism and Germany are not that intimately linked. Fascism is a world wide phenomena. It can hit a bunch of baboons swinging in the trees in Polynesia. They can all suddenly put on iron helmets and march around. Fascism is very much with us today, boys and girls. And it’s still an enemy. I wrote The Man In The High Castle with the I Ching.
Mike: You did?
Phil: Yeah, and I’ve been sorry ever since because when it came time to resolve the novel at the end, the I Ching didn’t know what to do. It got me through most of the book. Everytime they cast a hexagram I actually cast four of them and got something and assigned it to them and they proceeded on the basis of the advice given. Like when Juliana Frink decides to tell Abendsen that he’s about to be offed by an agent. I threw the coins and she got warning make known the truth to the court of the King great danger and so on. Someone comes up behind him and hits him with a club. That’s what she got. And so she did go warn Abendsen and if she’d got another hexagram I would not have had her go speak to Abendsen. But then when it came time to close down the novel the I Ching had no more to say. And so there’s no real ending on it. I like to regard it as an open ending. It will segue into a sequel sometime.
Mike: When you find somebody with the stomach to write one.
Phil: Yeah, or if the I Ching ever gets off its ass.
Mike: Do you go back from time to time and throw it to see if there is an ending to it or —
Phil: No, I don’t use the I Ching anymore. I’ll tell ya, the I Ching told me more lies than anybody else I’ve ever known. The I Ching has a personality and it’s very devious and very treacherous. And it feeds ya just what you want to hear. And it’s really spaced out and burned out more people than I would care to name. Like a friend is somebody who doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. A friend tells you what’s true. A toady is the old word for somebody who told you what you wanted to hear. The Kings all had their toadies around them who told them what they wanted to hear. The King said, am I the greatest King in the world? Yeah, you’re the greatest King in the world, yeah. Well, this is what the I Ching does. It tells you what you want to hear and it’s not a true friend. One time I really zapped it. I asked it if it was the devil. And it said yes. And then I asked it if it spoke for God, and it said no. It said I am a complete liar. I mean that was the interpretation. In other words I set it up. I set it up. I asked two questions simultaneously and it said I speak with forked tongue, is what it said. And then it said, oops, I didn’t mean to say that. But it had already –
Mike: Then you get a paradox.
Phil: Oh, I watched a girl do this to it once.
Mike: That’s the paradox. It’s lying when it says it’s lying.
Phil: It’s just full of, it’s a crock is what it is. Sladek, John Sladek said this in his debunking book. He covers everything from Scientology to the Mafia. He says none of them exist. And he says the I Ching – you know Sladek did a parody of my writing. It’s as much better than anything I’ve ever done. Have you read Sladek’s parody of my writing?
Mike: Oh, yes.
Phil: It’s so much better than anything that I can do. And I walked around and I was really off the ground. Walking on cloud nine, after I read the parody. And I wrote Ed Ferman, who is the editor of F&SF. This appeared originally in F&SF. And I said, I have talent, Sladek has genius. And Ed Ferman wrote back and said, fine, I’m going to buy a lot of stuff from Sladek. And he did. He commissioned eight more parodies. And they’re all marvelous; a parody of Asimov. Sladek said I was the hardest person to parody. I have his book in front of me. In England it’s called The Steam-Driven Boy and other Strangers. Sladek says the I Ching is a hoax. And Sladek is right. His parody of me is called “Solar Shoe Salesman.” And in it somebody consults the tiles and it gives him many small greatnesses deny. It does not further to discover several gifts only. The wise King avoids fried foods. And I says, ah, Sladek, you finished it off man. I can never consult the I Ching again. And all started laughing. I’m looking at this parody and I’m saying if I could write as well as Sladek. That’s another thing that brought me back into writing science fiction when I started to talk about being a mainstream writer. We’re using science fiction as a crash pad, rather than a legitimate dwelling. And I won’t do that. If science fiction is going to go down the tubes, I’ll go down the tubes with it, rather than abandon it. I think it’s unfair, if you start thinking you’re any good, you leave it. It’s unfair to the field. And also it’s so, like, Hubris. I’m a great writer, therefore, I am not a science fiction writer. Well, what about your first proposition. Maybe you’re not such a great writer after all. Maybe you’re wrong right there, before you’ve gotten to the second part of the proposition.
Mike: Maybe a month ago I was talking – we had Richard Lupoff on the show. Richard Lupoff. Good writer. Good competent writer. Probably best known for what he did for Again Dangerous Visions, with the “Bentfin Boomer Boys on Little old New Alabama;” marvelous story.
Phil: His wife’s very pretty too. Pat Lupoff. Tried to pick her up in a bar. Didn’t know it was his wife. Most amazing thing happened. Found myself out in the parking lot stretched out flat. Lupoff sure has a short fuse.
Mike: He does have a short fuse. That’s one of the reasons he’s getting out of the field. He says, look, he said –
Phil: Wait a minute.
Mike: He says he’s been in it ten years. He’s written novels —
Phil: He had? I didn’t know that.
Mike: Short stories, the whole thing. And he’s made maybe four, five, ten grand. He said –
Phil: That’s nothing. What’s that?
Mike: He said that.
Phil: Is this Lupoff you’re talking about?
Mike: Dick Lupoff, yeah.
Phil: The guys leave the field before they even get into it.
Mike: Because he was offered big money. He would not say how much, but I gathered it was better than fifteen grand, a personal hypothesis, to write a novel about New York City, I believe, or something on the East Coast.
Phil: De gustibus non est disputandum. Other people can have bad taste and I don’t care. That’s how you translate that.
Mike: He got – when his agent said he got that kind of money for writing the mainstream thing.
Phil: Makes me really sore. Because we’re in a double-bind. If we stay in the field they pay us pennies. Well, nobody’s offered me fifteen thousand dollars to leave, yet.
Mike: The agent had to apologize because it was so little because, he said, this is a first book. You haven’t written anything –
Phil: Oh, that’s a lot of hype.
Mike: And Lupoff says, what is this. I’ve been working in the field for ten years. I’m a competent, good, established writer. He says, that’s science fiction. That’s not literature, his agent says.
Phil: How do you know? Who told you?
Phil: Don’t believe anything a writer tells you. I’m a writer, I would know.
Mike: I promise.
Phil: Always, always check on your facts when any writer tells you anything, any fiction writer tells you anything. A fiction writer speak with forked tongue. Talk big money. I want to see Lupoff’s contract before I’ll believe it. I’d like to see it.
Mike: Spend a evening ransacking his agent’s files.
Phil: If somebody offered me fifteen, well, DAW offered six thousand dollars to write a science fiction novel. And to me that’s a lot of money.
Mike: That it is, a lot of money.
Phil: I thought it was.
Mike: Considering it’s Wollheim, considering the fact he’s only been doing the firm what? Two years? Three years? Something like that.
Phil: Well, he bought a thing from me in ’71, so, he just started out then. It was really funny. He bought the leftovers from the Ballantine collection that’s coming out of my stories. He says, I’ll take what Betty Ballantine doesn’t want. And that’s exactly what he got. And he was madder than a wet hen, as we say, to use a ten letter word. He says, I got Betty Ballantine’s rejects. I says, that’s what you contracted for, that’s what you got. He says, that ain’t right. I says, neither is the price. We were still talking in terms of the same advance that I got when I started out, really. That with inflation we are getting less advance now, when you factor in the inflation factor, we’re getting less money per novel than we did in 1950, I mean, what we could buy with what we got then. We could buy more than what we get now. Doubleday went up to 3,000 dollars advance for me on my new book, I forget the title – A Scanner Darkly. They offered me 3,000 dollars. They says that was the most they could go for a science fiction novel. And after they had acquired it for 3,000 dollars, they turned it over to the trade department, which has no limit on what it can offer. And then they told me that the real limit was 4,000 dollars, that – and I thought at the time, well, ya know, it takes one to know one. They acquired it for 3,000 dollars, this new novel of mine, which is just chicken feed, Mike, let’s face it, it’s just chicken feed. Three thousand bucks. And it took me like three years to write the book. That’s a thousand dollars a year. Anybody that wants to write science fiction and then they’re going to market it as a mainstream novel. They get to sit on both stools. They can eat the porridge out of one pot and they eat the porridge out of the other pot. And I’ve got no porridge at all. And they’re going to make a bundle on it. And Ballantine is going to make a bundle on it. And Ballantine deserves to make a bundle on it because Judy-Lyn Del Rey at Ballantine went over the manuscript page by page with me, that’s A Scanner Darkly, and told me what it needed to make it into a really competent book. She’s able to show me point for point. This is the first time any editor has ever done that with me since The Man In The High Castle, the editor Pete Israel was the editor for Putnam then. And he went over The Man In The High Castle page by page and showed me how it should be changed. And then, now, Judy-Lyn has done that with A Scanner Darkly. And so I’ve got two good novels under my belt because I had a good editor. The rest of them, they let me flounder around and write whatever came into my head. So, it was all uneven, the good parts and the bad parts wouldn’t add up. Judy-Lyn del Rey, I’ve never had an editor like her before. She is probably the greatest editor since Maxwell Perkins. She showed me how to create a character and I’ve been selling novels for 22 years. And she showed me how to develop a character. Now that really – my first reaction was dear Judy-Lyn how would you like to take a one way walk off the Long Beach pier? But then I started looking at what she was saying there. And as soon as my fuse had burned out, being very short, it didn’t take long, I realized that she was teaching me how to write. And it’s too bad nobody did that 25 years ago because then maybe my books would make more sense. But look for A Scanner Darkly because that’s – there’s a master craftsman came into that book, Judy-Lyn del Rey. Now I know what to do when I write a book. You don’t just write whatever comes into your head when you sit there in front of the typewriter. Like when I wrote Ubik, I got about 12 pages done then I didn’t have anything I could think of so I just wrote whatever came into my mind. And I wrote it from my unconscious is what I did. I turned it over to my right hemisphere of my brain which did all the thinking from then on. And I was as surprised as anybody as what came out. And in France, it’s considered a great novel because it doesn’t really make any sense. It’s an absurdist thing, a pate de zique in France. Ever since Jeury hit town in Paris they’ve loved stuff that didn’t make any sense. Maybe it makes sense when you translate it into French. Like Poe, was it Baudelaire who translated Poe and made him a great writer in France? Maybe I’m a great writer in France because I’ve got good translators.
Mike: You are better known I think sometimes in France –
Phil: In France –
Mike: Than you are here.
Phil: In Germany, France, in England too. I’m not translated though, see. I mean we speak the same, you understand –
Mike: Two nations separated by –
Phil: They spell curb with a “k” there.
Phil: That’s the only difference.
Mike: What do they think of The Man In The High Castle in Germany?
Phil: Oh, that’s heavy, heavy. They didn’t know I could read German. They bought it, a publisher bought it in Germany and began to translate it. And I learned of it, the fact that they bought it. Oh no, you’re not going to print that in Germany without letting me see the German translation of this. You get that in the contract Scott, you insist. And Scott is Jewish. And I said, listen Scott, we’re not going to let them publish that book unless I read the galleys. It’s got to be a sequitur quo non, it’s got to be a condition. And he said, I agree with you completely. And they phoned Germany. And they asked for it immediately, the galleys. Well, they didn’t have galleys. They still just had the typescript, the manuscript. And they had to send it to us. We made it a condition in the contract. And I got a chance to read it, because I can read German, and I started reading that thing and they had destroyed that book. They left whole scenes out, whole basic scenes just – the action, they had just turned it into a travesty. And I wrote them a letter. They went out of business after they published it too. Like I was really, I actually burst into tears when I finished reading it. I actually cried at what they – see, there was my best novel, right? And they said we didn’t know you could read German. They actually said that in their letter. At least they gave me five days to read it. That’s how they thought, they had five days. They said he wasn’t German, he can’t be fluent enough so he can read the whole darn thing in five days. But my German got very fluent at that point. I just stayed up night and day with my Cassell’s German-English dictionary and I read every single word and I compared it line by line with the english. And I marked the parts they had cut out, the parts they had changed. They hadn’t changed any of the political parts. All the anti-Nazi stuff was still there. They had just cheapened it into a cheap adventure novel. Fast action. Fast paced adventure novel. I remember, at one part it says “unter Gomi nanntest seine scheisstergewehr wie Wyat Urp.” And I never mentioned Wyat Urp in my book anywhere. In Germany Mr. Tagomi he is like Wyat Urp. Isn’t that dreadful? The whole thing was that way.
Mike: What about Japan?
Phil: There is a Japanese edition. I can’t read it. I can read the titles of my english novels in the bio section in the back. And they have – I’m not putting you on. I don’t mean this as a slur against the Japanese. But they said the english title’s Gullible Man instead of Variable Man. That’s their problem. But I can’t read the Japanese edition. Oh, I got – I wrote the translator. Somebody suggested I write the translator, Japanese translator, and ask him specific questions about the book. And I could tell something about the Japanese edition that way. And he wrote back. And he was really – I thought the Japanese were suppose to be very polite because I was really wrong. In his first letter he said your book wasn’t any good to start with. And he says secondly you confuse Chinese culture and Japanese culture. Chinese are inferior people and the I Ching is Chinese and not Japanese. No Japanese would ever use such Confucian classics. Only foreigners use those. And he went on like that. I was really amazed how up front he was in his contempt for the book. But the book is still in print in Japan. It sold very well. I made almost $30 dollars, $35 dollars off it over a ten year period. I once got a check for 40 cents and Scott had taken 2 cents out. There were 42 cents. It was a book that sold in Tanganyika or someplace like that, really. No kidding. One copy. And my royalty is 42 cents and Scott took out 2 cents and sent me a check for 40 cents. And do you know that I was so broke I cashed it. I wrote dirty words on the back of it for a long time, you know, I wasn’t going to caXXXXX. Finally I went up to the 7-11 and bought a man handler meat pie or something, hand over a 40 cent check, royalty check. I’m tell ya –
Mike: And they took it?
Phil: Oh, they kind of laughed at me. But they always laughed at me at the 7-11 anyways because my checks always bounced. At least this check didn’t bounce, being how it was Scott’s check. One time four guys from the 7-11 showed up at the front door with $285 dollars worth of bad checks that I’d written to the 7-11. They said, you’ve got until 5 o’clock to make them good or you’re going to the D.A.’s office. They said, you’re going to get in the car now and we’re going to ride around till 5 o’clock. And we did. And I borrowed it from my insurance agent; State Farm insurance agent loaned me the money to pay them. That’s the life of the writer. Does that give you an insight – I’m laughing now. I wasn’t laughing that day.
Mike: And the next book you’ve got coming out Phil is A Scanner Darkly?
Mike: Anything like the Cordwainer Smith’s scanners or –
Phil: I didn’t know anybody used that in a title. What does that mean?
Mike: “Scanners live in vain,” one of Cordwainer Smith’s first SF stories.
Phil: Suffering succotash. Does that mean I’ve got to change my title?
Mike: I don’t think so. He’s dead.
Phil: No, that isn’t the issue at hand. Well, I know he’s dead. That wasn’t even his name. No, A Scanner Darkly is from Paul’s sees through a glass darkly.
Phil: It’s the story about a guy who becomes a narcotics agent and then begins to narc on himself. He rigs up a scanner, an infra-red scanner, in his own home. And while he’s in the home he feels he’s being watched. And then when he goes to the safe house he watches reels and reels of tape, video hologram tape – it’s set in the future – of what he was doing in the house and he’s so spaced out by the dope he’s been taking as an undercover agent that he doesn’t know he’s narcing on himself. He thinks he’s two different guys. And when his superiors point out to him that he’s really the same guy that he’s been reporting on, he just slides into a terrible rage and they fire him. And then he’s got to come off the dope because he can’t afford to buy it anymore because he didn’t have any more money. And his brain is all burned out. And Judy-Lyn del Rey helped me put this book back together so that it made more sense. And one of the things that I wrote was this funny suicide scene. I really think there should be more funny suicide things. I think that it’s a topic of great humor. And this is it. It’s very short and it’s in the book and it’s self explanatory, I hope. I hope the whole book makes sense. Judy says it makes sense now. So we’ll have the first Phil Dick novel that makes sense. The scene goes as follows:
“Charles Freck, becoming progressively more and more
depressed by what was happening to everybody he knew,
decided finally to off himself. There was no problem, in the
circles where he hung out, in putting an end to yourself:
you just bought into a large quantity of reds and took them
with some cheap wine, late at night, with the phone off the
hook so no one would interrupt you.
The planning part had to do with the artifacts you wanted
found on you by later archeologists. So they’d know from
which stratum you came. And also could piece together where
your head had been at at the time you did it.
He spent several days deciding on the artifacts. Much longer
than he had spent deciding to kill himself, and approximately the
same time required to get that many reds. He would be found
lying on his back, on his bed, with a copy of Ayn Rand’s The
Fountainhead (which would prove he had been a misunderstood superman rejected by the masses and so, in a sense, murdered
by their scorn) and an unfinished letter to Exxon protesting the
cancellation of his gas credit card. That way he would indict
the system and achieve something by his death, over and
above what the death itself achieved. Actually, he was not
as sure in his mind what the death achieved as what the two
artifacts achieved; but anyhow it all added up, and he began to
make ready, like an animal sensing its time has come and
acting out its instinctive programming, laid down by nature,
when its inevitable end was near.
At the last moment (as end-time closed in on him) he
changed his mind on a decisive Issue and decided to drink
the reds down with a connoisseur wine instead of Ripple or
Thunderbird, so he set off on one last drive, over to Trader
Joe’s, which specialized in fine wines, and bought a bottle of
1971 Modavi Cabernet Sauvignon, which set him back almost
thirty dollars — all he had.
Back home again, he uncorked the wine, let it breathe,
drank a few glasses of it, spent a few minutes contemplating
his favorite page of The Illustrated Picture Book of Sex, which
showed the girl on top, then placed the plastic bag of reds beside
his bed, lay down with the Any Rand book and unfinished protest
letter to Exxon, tried to think of something meaningful but could not, although he kept remembering the girl being on top, and then, with
a glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon, gulped down all the reds at once.
After that, the deed being one, he lay back, the Ayn Rand book
And the letter on his chest, and waited.
However, he had been burned. The capsules were not barbiturates,
as represented. They were some kind of kinky psychedelics, of a type
he had never dropped before, probably a mixture, and new on the
market. Instead of quietly suffocating, Charles Freck began to
hallucinate. Well, he thought philosophically, this is the story of my life. Always ripped off. He had to face the fact – considering how many of
the capsules he had swallowed – that he was in for some trip.
The next thing he knew, a creature from between dimensions was standing beside his bed looking down at him disapprovingly.
The creature had many eyes, all over it, ultra-modern expensive-looking clothing, and rose up eight feet high. Also, it carried an
“You’re going to read me my sins,” Charles Freck said.
The creature nodded and unsealed the scroll.
Freck said, lying helpless on his bed, “and it’s going to take a
hundred thousand hours.”
Fixing its many compound eyes on him, the creature from
between dimensions said, “We are no longer in the mundane
universe. Lower-plane categories of material existence such as
‘space’ and ‘time’ no longer apply to you. You have been elevated
to the transcendent realm. Your sins will 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 with
the Ayn Rand book and the letter to Exxon on his chest, listening
to them read his sins to him. 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.
He shut his eyes, but he could still see the multi-eyed, eight-foot-high being with its endless scroll reading on and on.
“And next –” it was saying. Charles Freck thought, at least I
got a good wine.”
Mike: Oh, that’s marvelous.
Phil: So, I just stuck that in. She didn’t ask for that. This thing that I read, a guy told me that happened to him.
Phil: Yeah. That he had bought barbituates, what he thought were barbituates and everything there is exactly what happened to the guy, except the particular artifacts that he had. I forgot what he had, a can opener or something. He was going to do it for the archeologists, you know. He expected them to find him thousands – I don’t know what made him think that. Well, I guess I do, because it was 800 pounds of psychedelics that he took. He still didn’t know where he was. But that’s what happened to him, he hallucinated. The cops found him under a bush. He was very fortunate. He was outdoors. And a police car drove by. And he’s lying under a bush, with a hundred pounds of psychedelics in his tum-tum and his bloodstream, seeing creatures from between the dimensions. And the police car saw him and they leaped right out and grabbed him and took him to the hospital, just drove him right to the hospital. So, if like he had done it inside, like my character did – this character is never seen again in the book, I just realized. We assume he’s still going to be there hallucinating. This guy told me if he’d done it in his bedroom instead of under a bush – that was the one thing that saved him was the cops came. I mean like I’m anti-cop all the time but I think to myself there is an example of where you really could use a cop car coming by. The guy couldn’t get up or talk or anything. He couldn’t tell them what he had taken or anything. The worst aspect to suicide is where you get into it and you can’t get back out and you change your mind. Like people who do it with automobile exhausts, they turn into a vegetable. Somebody drags them out of the car and saves them but they’ve burned out all their brain cells from the carbon monoxide.
Mike: Didn’t you tell me when you were on the show before, didn’t you tell me you had worked in counseling in a situation like that where you were dealing with drug cases, OD’s and so forth for a long time?
Mike: That has really got to be one of the grimmest parts of dealing with humanity. When you see them in that condition, in that state –
Phil: Well, A Scanner Darkly is about this, Mike. It’s, you know, I tried to find the ultimate ironies in the drug world. And the ultimate irony would be, like I remember in the old days when you were underage in a bar with a fake I.D. drinking, being real grown up, that a guy would come in the bar and he’d order milk and he’d be a cop because he couldn’t drink on duty. Even if he’s a plain clothes cop, he was not allowed to order whiskey. So all the underaged people get up and leave the bar right away as soon as somebody came in and ordered ginger-ale. They just – we all leave the bar. But undercover narcotics agents, they have to take dope to be undercover narcotics agents, I guess. I mean, I figured that if they blow their cover they’re going to get offed, you see. So I presumed that, like if everybody lights up a joint and there’s a narc sitting there he’s going to have to light up a joint. He can’t say, no, I’m only allowed to drink ginger-ale. Because in those circles they’re going to run over, back over him with their car. So, that’s an ultimate irony and then the dope that the guy takes burns his brain out and I just tried to pile – see how far you could push the terrible tragedies of the dope world. And it would be where this guy is reporting on himself and he’s too burned out to know the difference any more. And even when they tell him, I mean, I saw – I remember one thing I saw when I use to hang around with dopers. This guy took me to meet this dude who had a lot of money. And there was this dude all he could do was juggle three balls in the air, you know, toss it up and catch them. And I thought, gee, what a hebephrenic type. The guy’s about 30 years old and all he can do is stand around all day juggling these three balls and kind of smile a lot. And I thought, I guess, I mean that’s really too bad, probably moron level. And then I pulled a book off of, out of the bookshelf and it was Spinoza. And the guy had his bookplate thing on the colophon page and he had underlined parts. At one time in other words he’d had a brilliant mind. And I could look at the guy standing juggling three balls. I said. this guy burned his brain on dope, right. And my friend says, yes he did. He use to be – in fact he’s got 3 million dollars. He’s got everything in the world. And there’s nothing left of him, nothing left. You can’t even ask him what he took. He doesn’t even know what he took. He couldn’t even tell you what he took. And if you held up the book of Spinoza to him he wouldn’t even recognize it. It’s worse than Flowers For Algernon, you know, in a way. I couldn’t, I just, I said, I want to get out of here man. I want to get out of here. I don’t want to see this. Like, look at the Spinoza. It was very difficult to read Spinoza. That’s probably – Spinoza is the hardest philosopher to read, really. And the guy had underlined parts that meant a lot to him. And there he is juggling his three balls. He can’t even do that. And I says, holy goodness and a lot of other things I said when it began to come to my attention. And I talked to Avram Davidson’s ex-wife, Grania Davidson, about that. She did a short story about that and beat me to it in a short story. I hope we don’t overlap too much. But her husband, Steve Davis, is a doctor. And he came up with this idea, which I was toying around with, that would be lead poisoning in the air from car exhausts. That a whole city of people could burn out their brains on the lead toxins in the atmosphere and nobody would know it. Like even the doctors wouldn’t know it because they were inhaling the stuff. And he said this really could happen. He said, like it would start out with the doctor finds a hypodermic, you never leave it around. And he would think to himself there’s something wrong. And Steve Davis wasn’t a writer and Grania wrote a short story which I never read. But she and I talked over this idea and I was in the hospital after that. Forget what I had. Oh, a girlfriend of mine was in the hospital and I went to visit her and by god there was a hypodermic lying on the television set beside her. And I thought, you know this is exactly what Steve Davis was talking about. I mean, maybe everybody, this is in Marin County – maybe everybody in Marin County from the car exhaust and dope has now got to the point where they’re all walking around sideways and nobody knows the difference. And in Scanner they’re all turning on. They’re all, nobody knows anything anymore. And it’s a terrible thing. Like Tom Disch wrote Camp Concentration which I think we discussed when we were on the air before which I’ve always felt was one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written where everybody gets very brilliant from getting syphilis. I always meant to ask Tom Disch where he got the idea to get syphilis made you brilliant although he told me peripherally that Thomas Mann had syphilis, in fact tertiary syphilis, and that the more his brain burned out the more brilliant he got. And I was going to say the next time I saw Tom Disch, well you’re wrong about that, you know, because Camp Concentration posits that syphilis will speed up your mentational process. It doesn’t at all. You can check the opening of Breakfast Of Champions where Vonnegut describes seeing peritics walking around and the guy can’t even step off the curb. He doesn’t even know when they get to the curb. Their foot comes up and they fall down. That’s really what tertiary syphilis – I don’t know where Disch got, I mean where Mann/Disch got that idea. But I think my book is sadder than Camp Concentration, in a way.
Mike: Do you find yourself doing a consistent universe from book to book? I mean, not like Man In The High Castle, obviously, but where you do have a book set in 1981 or 2011. Are they essentially the same universe or does it –
Phil: Well, I didn’t think they were but somebody said that they are all essentially the same universe, that my basic postulates are always the same.
Mike: Which comes first for you, situations, characters or do they, are they sort of interleaved and you can’t tell?
Phil: Well, the first thing is the idea, which is a pure idea. And the next thing is the characters who will be confronted by an environment based on the idea. That is, you create an environment which is a kind of a special effects mock-up of an idea. You translate it from an idea into a world. And then, but then you have to have the people who must live in that world. And if my books all have a consistency it’s because my ideas interlace and interact with each other. And I always try to find somebody who’s the victim of the idea and somebody who is the master of the idea. So you have a bifurcated society always with the loser, you know, and the winner. Somebody’s going to make it off the idea and somebody’s going to be victimized by the idea. Suppose we use pretzels for money, as an example. And all the people who own bakeries would probably – instead of a president we’d have the chief baker. See what I mean, and then there’s another guy who has a dietary deficiency. He’s got to eat pretzels or he’ll die. And so whenever he’s paid off at the end of the month he has to eat the pretzels instead of using them to buy things with. So they give him his months pay and it’s in a papersack, a little white paper bag, like you get pretzels in. And he eats the pretzels on the way home and then he realizes that now he can’t pay any of his bills. But his system requires the salt in the pretzels or something like that. That’s –
Mike: Copyright 1976, Philip K. Dick.
Phil: I don’t know, man, science fiction’s become very much like a silly putty world, in trying to define it. Publishers Weekly in their questionnaire that they sent, the first question is what do you mean when you use the term science fiction? And I thought, well, I could spend the rest of my life answering that one question.
Mike: Who was it that defined it by saying science fiction is what I mean when I point at something –
Phil: Oh, well that’s Wittgenstein originally and his idea of definitions by families of connectives, like if you look up the word “door” in the Meriam and Websters three, the big new Meriam and Websters. Look up something simple like “door”. A door is a thing standing in a horizontal position as distinguished, or like a chair from a shelf. The hardest thing in the world to define is the simplest objects. Like that, what is a door –
Mike: Define a spiral staircase without using your hands.
Phil: It’s a helical spiral, no, that’s a tautology. They asked, how do you define science fiction? I finally decided I would answer. It took me ten pages to answer such, in all. Ten pages to answer how do you define science fiction; what is the present state of science fiction, and what is its future? It took me ten pages, and then some little questions like who do you think is any good? But the basic questions what is it, where does it stand now, and where is it going to took me ten pages to answer.
Mike: Who do you think is any good?
Phil: In the field? Well, most of the people I think are good are apparently dropping out of the field, so if I say they are good, then they would deny that they were science fiction writers. Tom Disch, Barry Malzberg, Phil Farmer –
Phil: I don’t like Bob’s stuff at all. I’ve never read anything by Silverberg that I liked. I don’t like his stuff. I don’t like Harlan Ellison’s stuff. I like Spinrad’s stuff a lot. Katherine Kurtz, I like her stuff. She writes fantasy, I guess. She’s also very pretty. Hi Kathy. I sure like your books. What are they about? She writes fantasy for Ballantine.
Phil: Well, as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, you said it, not me, Gesagts in Luther’s translation, Beis du der juder Konig. And then Jesus answers, Sie sagts, you said it, not me. If that’s what you say Pontius that’s up to you. You’re the emperata.
Mike: I’ve got to go wash my hands, excuse me.
Phil: That was, you know, he didn’t get off the hook by answering that way. Pilate got off the hook by – I can not answer about Ursula’s stuff. I really don’t understand it. Her whole body of writing seems to me to be like a sermonette. The television station use to sign off with a sermonette, a kind of political sermonette, all hopped up in gussy dove with a kind of literary style. But it’s all from the Poli Sci department of the University of California in Berkeley as far as I can make out when you strip the style away.
Mike: You beat out Ursula LeGuin for the Campbell Award in 1975. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said won the award losing to The Dispossessed which that year won the Hugo and the Nebula. The whole awards thing, is that essentially a game that the field plays or does it really have meaning?
Phil: Well –
Mike: I say this to a man who has at least one Hugo.
Phil: Yeah, well, when I learned I’d won the John W. Campbell Award my first reaction was to refuse the award because I was present when the first, when the award was given out in Fullerton. And it was a shambles and a mockery and a disgrace.
Mike: Yeah, I was there too.
Phil: You were there too? I was so upset I went up and made a formal complaint to the university about the whole ceremonies. In fact I have never gone anywhere and spoken anywhere since that thing. I was so ashamed of every single person up there on that panel. Ashamed for those students who came there to hear us answer their relevant questions with our relevant answers. And they asked relevant questions and all we did was make fools of ourselves. And I never have ever spoken in public since then. I have become a complete recluse. I’ve turned down every speaking engagement that’s ever been offered me since. Then the next year I won the John W. Campbell award and immediately I was going to refuse it. And I was all set to – I got very sick with the flu just thinking about having won. I was – my whole barfed up feeling came back that I’d had the year before when it was in Fullerton. But then Harry Harrison called me up and he described the awards ceremony in England. It was given at St. John’s College at Oxford. And he said it isn’t like it was when it was given in Fullerton. He said it was not a shambles and a mockery and a disgrace. And he said – and so I finally decided that it was an honor. But I was very reluctant to accept it. And I refused to pose for publicity pictures at the University of California at Fullerton with my award. I refused to do it. I refused to pick up the award, in fact. I wouldn’t even pick it up. I made them bring it over to me and I wouldn’t be photographed with the award or with Dr. McNelly. I wouldn’t have anything to do with any of the PR hype. I told them I was sick. Told them I had kidney trouble. But so, anyway, they brought the award over and then Time Magazine interviewed me and they photographed me and I was looking through the thing, it’s a moebius strip. Have you ever seen it?
Phil: Well, it’s a moebius strip. It looks like something you’d use to prop up the axle of your car with if you’re changing a tire and couldn’t find a regular bumper jack. And, I don’t know Mike what to think about these awards. Like I’m ambivalent. It’s nice that I won because it means that Flow My Tears is going to be reissued again because it got the award. It means the book will go back into print next November with a new cover and the fact that I got the award. So like I just split right down the middle. My left hand votes yes, my right hand votes no on the value of the awards. It’s like aw shucks fellows, gee whiz, you shouldn’t have done it, but don’t take it back. I was very happy when I got my original Hugo Award. They never told me I got it. I didn’t find out until my agent wrote to congratulate me. And I was very excited and I considered it a great honor. But I think now the awards have become – what is it they give in Canada? They give, there’s something, the Elron, or something. It’s a lemon or something like that. It’s for the worst science fiction novel of the year and – how do you accept an award like that. What do you say when they give it?
Mike: Harvard does the same thing with the Lampoon award.
Phil: Yes, yes.
Mike: Is the field – well, look, a couple of times you have compared the field to silly putty. Is Gresham’s Law in operation? Is the bad SF or sci-fi driving out the good? Is there less good stuff being printed? Is Sturgeon’s Law still in force?
Phil: I really don’t know, Mike. I really don’t know. I have a great anxiety about the future of science fiction. And when I wrote to Publishers Weekly I took a very negative view of the future of science fiction. I contrasted the hopes and dreams that we’d had for it with now people writing about sword fights and little fellows with fuzzy turned-up feet. What is it, Draino and Fredo and other –
Mike: Dildo –
Phil: Yeah. You can’t parody science fiction anymore because it’s becoming a parody of itself. You know people think science fiction consists of guys putting on funny looking old fashioned costumes and whacking each other over the head with swords. And that’s not science fiction. Science fiction is stuff like 1984, to me, dystopias.
Mike: Like Man In The High Castle, dystopias?
Phil: Yeah. The novel of ideas is still the cardinal thing in science fiction. All we’ve got now is tedious sermonettes masquerading as literature, Adventure, Space Opera. I had a strange experience. I played over a X-1 cassette that somebody sent me for one of my X-1 shows that NBC did in 1954. 1954. And it was indistinguishable from the latest science fiction like Space 1999, is that what it’s called? And Star Trek. Mine was as modern in 1954 as what they’re doing now.
Mike: What one was yours?
Phil: Well, the one I played over was “Colony.” Remember, we listened to that tape? And we marveled that in 1954, I didn’t do – I don’t take credit for the radio treatment of it. Somebody else did it. But what he was doing in ’54, treating my story, was as modern as what they’re doing now.
Mike: Well –
Phil: You wouldn’t know it was done in ’54. There was nothing to give it away.
Mike: We’re going to find out. Because, if we have that tape of X-1 called “Colony” we’re going to run it tonight.
Phil: Well, I’ll give you my cassette.
Mike: We may have it. There’s a fellow named Bob Borgan who’s given Hour 25 like, oh god, I must have 50 radio shows Dimension X, X-1, etc. If that one is in there, I think it is, we’ll run it.
Phil: Yeah, I have – there were two of mine, “Colony” and “The Defenders.” And it was just scary to listen to it and look on the date, you know, ’54, and realize here we are in 1976 and we’ve made no steps forward. You know we’re still, it’s still as follows – Captain, there’s something hideous on the viewscreen. Captain says, turn on the laserbeams. And then a voice comes out of no where, all looking under the seat cushions to see where the voice comes from and it’s talking through an echo chamber and it says, I can read your thoughts. I need your assistance. And they say, it’s a ruse. Get the eagles going. Zzzt zzzt zzzt. The eagles take off. We know this is a ruse. This is the Captain talking from the control room. We know it’s all a ruse. You don’t need our help. You’re going to zap us as soon as we take off to zap you first. And, you know, nothing has progressed. I am a superior being. I am a kindly old fellow. You can believe everything I’m telling you because I’m really a computer and would a computer lie. And I thought, oh my god I just saw that on the air Saturday night and I says that’s HAL talking again. That’s ol’ HAL, you know, shining everybody on. My name is HAL. Would I lie? Would a computer lie? Herb Jaffe, he has an option on Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? And I don’t dare bad mouth his silly movies. If you’re listening Herb Jaffe I love your money. But you sure write lousy scripts, I’ll tell ya, man. You’re back, you’re a Neanderthal man is what you are. You’re back in the Stone Age. You’re back with George Pal. You’re, I don’t want you to make a movie out of my book. I read the screenplay that they wrote for Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? And it was a combination of Steve Reeves and Maxwell Smart. And I said, the producer, Robert Jaffe, Herb Jaffe’s son, flew down to Fullerton to talk with me about it, because I didn’t think it was a final shooting script. I thought it was the rough draft. And I, he, I says I’m going to beat you up right here in the airport, I says you’re going to drag me down with you guys and ruin my career if you make a movie out of my book. He says, you mean it’s that bad? And I said, yeah, and we went on. Finally he says, you mean you wrote that book seriously? He says, you science fiction writers take your writing seriously? I says, seriously enough to throw you right out of my car. I said, that’s how serious we take it. I said, I’m going to buy it back from you. I’m going to give you the $2,000 dollar option money back. And he says, you’re serious aren’t you? And we had about a four-hour rap session which was very productive. They didn’t make the movie unless they write a decent script. It was really terrible. It was the worst script. It was – how bad was it? I’ll tell you how bad it was. You could have stopped the first person on the street and asked him to write a script and he could have done a better job, really. And there’s a guy I know who’s into screenplays says it would also cost about six million dollars to make it which is another thing.
Mike: You wrote a screenplay of one of your own things.
Phil: Yeah, I wrote a good screenplay. I wrote a really good one of Ubik. And it seems to be the fate that the better the screenplay – boy, there’s Gresham’s Law. I don’t know how it applies to science fiction writing in general but it sure applies to screenplays, you know, that the bad screenplays force the good out. If given a choice they will make a movie out of a bad screenplay and they’ll throw the good screenplay back at the author.
Mike: If I remember, The Rolling Stone piece, that screenplay you did of Ubik is currently bouncing around Europe trying to get finances. Is that still the case or is that –
Phil: Yeah, it’s still optioned and they’re still trying to get financing for it. It’s not the director’s fault. He spent all the money he had, Jean-Pierre Gorin, and he couldn’t get the financial backing. He couldn’t get the millions of dollars that it would cost. And he got really sick. He got sick with liver trouble and he had to give up being a director and go teach down in San Diego. He just about died trying to get a movie made out of that. But I wrote a really great – I must say, I wish you’d – I’d like to read it over the air sometime. There’s the funniest scenes in that screenplay that aren’t in the book that I added that I went back to the old silent film days where these – you know, it’s a tragedy. That’s the one thing I am bitter about. If I had written a novel with that stuff in it I wouldn’t have any trouble selling it. But I can’t sell that screenplay. It’s too bad.
Mike: We are close to running out of time. Let me ask you if there’s anything in particular that we have not covered that you do want to get on, that you want to talk about?
Phil: Well, let me just make one statement. And that is that I hope people will come into the science fiction field and write science fiction and not listen to people like Silverberg and Malzberg and Harlan Ellison and anybody else you want to name, Vonnegut, who say either they don’t write science fiction or they never did write science fiction or they will not write it in the future. I mean science fiction is a lot of fun to write. And it’s worth all the bad financial breaks to do it. I mean I don’t regret for one – well, that’s not true. I regret it when they turn off my electricity. I go through periods where – when I sent off the manuscript of Flow My Tears, for instance, to my agent, I didn’t have enough money to send it first class. I had to send it by parcel post, I mean third class mail. I didn’t have money for first class postage. That’s how poor I was. And that’s just — city when you get to the point when you can’t pay the postage to mail a manuscript off after it’s already been bought. Doubleday had already bought it on the basis of the outline. So, I mean, it’s the artist in the garret again. You know, he’s going to starve his ass off if he writes science fiction. Nobody will give him any, they’ll flip him off every time. He will never get any recognition. He will never get any money. But he will have a hell of a lot of fun. And he ought to know what he’s in for. If he wants to go in it for the money, let him go elsewhere but if he loves to write science fiction let him be prepared for what’s going to happen to him. He’s going to get no money and he’s going to get no recognition. And he’s going to die in the gutter. But he might die happier and at more peace with himself than somebody who’s going to make fifteen thou doing something he may not want to do. I mean, do what you want to do. I mean, these people are stupid if they think they’re in it for money. Why did they get in it in the first place? Who ever promised them a lot of money? Where was Ellison promised a lot of money? Where was Malzberg promised a lot of money? Where did it say when Malzberg was born that he was promised fame and money? You know, it’s like his birthright, you know, his patrimony. Nonsense. We’re lucky that they publish us at all, in a way, you know. They could actually abolish the field of science fiction. And then we really would have to write something else. We’re lucky that category still exists. I mean, let’s hear it for the science fiction writers who are coming along and still write science fiction and flip the bird to the people who want money.
Mike: The words of Philip K. Dick. This is Mike Hodel for Hour 25.