A Scanner Darkly

A depressing tale of drug use in the 70s, told from what would have been the near future at that time. Substance D, aka Death, is heavily used along with more familiar substances. Substance D splits the brain of the user into multiple personalities such that the main character of the story, Fred, is at the same time the person he is covertly monitoring, Bob Arctor. Much of the book is spent on the very mundane aspects of both strangely symbient lives. After the drug becomes too much for Fred to handle, he can no longer continue his job and is discarded by the police, even cited and fined for the very drug use required by his job. Fred/Bob is sent to a recovery clinic with a new identity, Bruce, where farm work is eventually used to rehabilitate – farm work where the source of Substance D itself is grown.

Overall, not a happy story, told from the point of view of someone who obviously has been on the wrong end of the needle. The dialog, even comical at times, can only come from knowing that path in life. Dick’s most telling line in the book comes in the Author’s notes, where he talks about what he has gone through and the friends he has lost to that same personal battle.

“They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed–run over, maimed, destroyed–but they continued to play anyhow.”

The title of the book is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, a letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians:

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

That the universe is reflected in a mirror, and there will come a time when we will see reality face to face. Where St. Paul’s mirror is a not glass, but polished metal or a pool of water, which reflects a backwards reality that a primitive viewer would be familiar with. Similarly in the lens system of a camera or Dick’s scanners, the viewer will see themselves not reversed and thus find themselves and their reality unfamiliar. This describes the paranoia that runs throughout the book.

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One thought on “A Scanner Darkly

  1. A depressing tale of drug use in the 70s, told from what would have been the near future at that time. Substance D, aka Death, is heavily used along with more familiar substances. Substance D splits the brain of the user into multiple personalities such that the main character of the story, Fred, is at the same time the person he is covertly monitoring, Bob Arctor. Much of the book is spent on the very mundane aspects of both strangely symbient lives. After the drug becomes too much for Fred to handle, he can no longer continue his job and is discarded by the police, even cited and fined for the very drug use required by his job. Fred/Bob is sent to a recovery clinic with a new identity, Bruce, where farm work is eventually used to rehabilitate – farm work where the source of Substance D itself is grown.

    Overall, not a happy story, told from the point of view of someone who obviously has been on the wrong end of the needle. The dialog, even comical at times, can only come from knowing that path in life. Dick’s most telling line in the book comes in the Author’s notes, where he talks about what he has gone through and the friends he has lost to that same personal battle.

    “They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed–run over, maimed, destroyed–but they continued to play anyhow.”

    The title of the book is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, a letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians:

    At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

    That the universe is reflected in a mirror, and there will come a time when we will see reality face to face. Where St. Paul’s mirror is a not glass, but polished metal or a pool of water, which reflects a backwards reality that a primitive viewer would be familiar with. Similarly in the lens system of a camera or Dick’s scanners, the viewer will see themselves not reversed and thus find themselves and their reality unfamiliar. This describes the paranoia that runs throughout the book.

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