Book: A Scanner Darkly
Writer(s): Philip K. Dick
A remarkable book. Definitely the kind you could read fifty times and still not completely understand. I've never done drugs, but if I had, I'm sure this book would describe the experience exactly. It's set in the future (the 1990's) and deals with a narc out to find drug dealers. Fred goes under cover as Bob, a drug addict. As part of his cover he must take Substance D, also known as Death, a powerful drug that has a side effect of splitting the mind into duelling consciouses. Slowly Fred (and Bob) lose the ability to distinguish reality. Worse, Fred's secret identity is a secret even to his police bosses, and they assign him to monitor and keep tabs on... Bob. Yeah, that's right, he's to narc on himself! Eventually Fred can't tell that he is Bob and the book gets really bizarre as paranoid Bob does things to avoid Fred and Fred does things to stop Bob... and they're the same person! Incredibly powerful book on the dangers of drug abuse, but Dick doesn't play God: he doesn't judge these people, but he also doesn't protect them from the consequences of their actions. From the opening line, "Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair," to the end, this book is a trip. In some places it was so funny I had to stop reading to literally wipe tears of laughter from my eyes (like the part where the druggies argue that they were cheated on the ten-speed bike they bought because it only has seven gears, a two-setting gear and a five-setting gear for a total of seven). In other places it was so hard to read I couldn't get through more than a few paragraphs without having to put the book down and breathe for a bit. The novel is hilarious, scary, and sickening, occasionally all three at once. It's also a profound exploration of reality, unreality, consciousness, perception, personality, identity, and the meaning of existence. Very complex, very bizarre, very sad. Dick had his own drug problems, so this book speaks from experience. At the end he includes a list of close personal friends effected by drugs (some forming the basis of various characters in the novel), all of whom are either dead or permanently damaged by their habit. Frightening. He uses the analogy of a group of children playing in the street, being smashed and slaughtered by cars that pass, yet the children keep playing in the street, mindless of the deadly consequences of their actions. They just wanna have fun. Chilling. Highly recommended.