Faith of Our Fathers: The Utterly Mad Genius of Philip K Dick

dangerous visions

First featured in Harlan Ellison’s groundbreaking sci-fi anthology Dangerous Visions– all the way back from 1967 (years before I was even born), Faith of Our Fathers is a maddeningly brilliant short story that showcases Philip K Dick’s abilities to tell both an intriguing tale while warping one’s sense of reality- it’s like taking a literary drug and hallucinating on every page, leaving the reader bewildered and subjected to withdrawal symptoms long after they read it.

Who was Philip K Dick you say? Ever heard of the movies Blade Runner (and its awesome sequel) or Total Recall? How about Spielberg’s Minority Report or the TV show Man in the High Castle? Each of these shows were based on his stories. PKD died from a series of strokes back in 1982, just as he was on the verge of mainstream recognition when the Blade Runner movie was about to be released- sadly it wasn’t a box office hit, and who knows how he might have taken it.

200px-PhilipDick

PKD had a reputation as an acid writer, science fiction’s own version of Hunter S Thompson. In his most prolific years, he would take massive doses of amphetamines and lock himself in a room to bang out sixty pages a day in order to make deadlines. It’s even possible that PKD may have been mentally ill, for he experienced hallucinations and paranoia in key periods of his life and these affected his works very deeply. If the best writers are tortured geniuses, then PKD exemplifies this. Dick was always living at or near poverty, for being a full time sci-fi writer in those days meant a literal hand to mouth existence. He had dreams of mainstream literary success, but it all came to naught when his unpublished manuscripts were returned to him in 1963. After that, he wrote for pennies, because sci-fi was too niche for the likes of serious money.

Mostly, he wrote of themes centered on the perception of reality- a metaphysical question on whether one’s senses were truly telling them that what they could see, hear, or feel. Dick believed that one’s reality is based on perception; altering one’s senses will change the universe. In a way, each of his fictional protagonists would go on a quest to try and find the heart of the matter as to what they were experiencing. To PKD, everything one sees or interacts with may just be illusions or hidden beneath something else, this even includes the entire world. What you think is real can change at any moment.

Faith of Our Fathers starts out innocently enough as just another alternate universe story, in which a typical government functionary in a world where the communists won the Cold War- and are busy conquering everybody- is stopped by a street peddler, a disabled war veteran who forces him to buy a seemingly innocuous herbal remedy. What follows afterwards is not one, not two, but rather three upending  plot twists and ends up becoming so convoluted that I began to question my own sanity after finishing it.

PKD’s hallmarks of illusion and the warping of reality is on full display here, as the protagonist suddenly realizes the drug he took was in fact an anti-drug, an antidote to the hallucinogens he was already being exposed to from drinking the city’s spiked water supply that everyone consumes. This leads him to a meeting with the all-powerful Communist Party leader, who is at first suspected to be an alien, but is later exposed as God. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been worked to become as just a straight-forward story about the perils of a world being taken over by an oppressive economic and political system, but PKD didn’t stop there, he kept pushing it past the ordinary limit by introducing what could have been an extraterrestrial element before finally flipping the story on its head a third time by making the alien into the lord of all creation, and an evil one at that.

Its these kinds of mind-bending twists that PKD specialized in, and I believe this is why he is considered to be one of the all-time great sci-fi writers. Much of his work is being reprinted and digitized, so any serious fan of the genre should check them out.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Faith of Our Fathers: The Utterly Mad Genius of Philip K Dick”

  1. Please give me an address where I can reply to your emails.
    The address attached to your J Triptych Publishing email of Apr 05 last about a free ebook from Amy Duboff, Rumors of War was returned by Microsoft Outlook saying:
    in01-vb-dfw-sserv.mstrpce.com rejected your message to the following email addresses:

    J Triptych Publishing (john@johntriptych.com)
    Your message couldn’t be delivered because the recipient’s email server (outside Office 365) suspected that your message was spam. To fix this, try to modify your message, or change how you’re sending the message, using the guidance in this article: E-mailing Best Practices for Senders. Then resend your message. If you continue to experience the problem, contact the recipient by some other means (by phone, for example) and ask them to ask their email admin to add your email address or your domain name (the text after the “@” symbol in your email address) to their allowed senders list.

    To make things short, I said in that return email:
    Dear J. Triptych,

    Unless the free offer was on a very short while, I regret to inform you that Amazon did not receive the message that the book is supposed to be free and is charging $0.77 for it.

    Don’t worry, you’re not the only author to whom this happens. I have already written to at least two other writers this month about their offers not being free at Amazon when the authors say they are.

    I will let you sort it out with them.

    Thank you very much for the offer of a free book.

    Al

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s