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Philip K. Dick in the O.C.

May 24, 2010 |  7:22 am

Philipkdick_flowmytears He was a Berkeley bohemian who moved to what he called the land of plastic. Science fiction visionary Philip K. Dick spent the last decade of his life in the unlikely climes of Orange County, and a symposium on Friday looked back at his years there and the impact Santa Ana, Fullerton and environs had on his wildly unconventional later novels.

The UC Irvine panel, which included scholars and old friends, included discussion of his life’s ups and downs -- drugs, poverty, five wives, some acclaim -- his novels, which included "VALIS" and "A Scanner Darkly" and films such as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.”

But some of the most striking moments came from recollections of what it was like to hang out with "Phil."

James Blaylock, a fantasy novelist who spent evenings talking and drinking with the writer, often in the company of Tim Powers and K.W. Jeter, as a very young man, recalled Dick's conviction. "He would tell you things that were completely crazy to see your reaction. And he would tell you he was kidding two or three days later." So Blaylock and friends went several days thinking a car in the neighborhood was full of KGB agents.

"The flow of Phil's conversation,” said science fiction writer and UCI physics professor Gregory Benford, “was that 10 seconds later you'd be talking about another topic," whether women, time or the possibility of having two identities, all linked in the author's mind. "He had, shall we say, a continuity problem." Benford also described the writer’s generosity, after collecting film money, to those who were down and out.

The panel ended with some speculation on whether Dick deserved to be the first science fiction writer inducted into the literary temple of the Library of America series: An audience member and panelists suggested Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delaney and Robert Heinlein as more graceful writers. But others came to Dick’s defense, with UC Riverside professor Rob Latham suggesting that Dick’s work can only be appreciated with a knowledge of his life.

"The one person who would not have believed in the prominence of Philip Dick in our culture," Benford concluded, "was Philip Dick himself."

-- Scott Timberg

Photo: Philip K. Dick in the early 1970s with his novel "Flow My Tears the Policeman Said." Credit: Philip K. Dick Trust

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