A Scanner Darkly

Another Philip K. Dick? Yes, I’m really getting into his weirdness now.

A Scanner DarklyNeil and I rented the film A Scanner Darkly not too long ago — I wonder if my mother’s seen it, she has the most inappropriate crush on Keanu Reeves. Linklater’s film sticks reasonably closely to the novel, which is the tale of undercover operative Fred (or Bob Arctor) in California in 1994.

A Scanner Darkly was written in the 70s, so for me reading it now, it’s kind of like an alternate past. Substance D has taken hold, and addicts could be hooked on that, as well as cocaine, crack, heroin, or pot. The major downside of D is that it severs the connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, turning users into wacked out weirdos. Fred is trying to flush out the big-time dealers, and hopefully even the source, of Substance D — he lives in a house with two other users, Luckman and Barris, taking and buying Substance D regularly. His main dealer (and potential squeeze) is Donna.

I know from watching the film that Dick was convinced he was being watched by the authorities during this time. This paranoia comes across in A Scanner Darkly, where Bob begins to disconnect from Fred (and vice versa) and the former fears he is being watched, while the latter starts to question what the former is up to. Add to that Barris’ odd behaviour and Donna’s Ice Queen act, and Bob’s life really begins to unravel.

This book is about what drugs can do to a person — physically, emotionally, morally — and it’s also about surveillance, something that is incredibly relevant in the UK. People are now being encouraged to dob others in for any variety of infringements (whether or not I agree is irrelevant) and practically everything we do in public is recorded by CCTV. Do we view ourselves through a scanner darkly?