I’m in love with Philip K. Dick

Even though I consider this a “gaming” blog, I plan to digress periodically to discuss other recreational genres that have influenced gaming.  Science fiction, fantasy and military science have all had profound impacts on either tactical game settings, or the nature of the games themselves.  I love submarine movies, even though they’re rarely accurate.  I love historical war fiction and movies.  I’m a  Civil War buff.  I grew up on fantasy like Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien, and Star Wars.  But out of all of those pursuits, none has moved me more on a human level than science fiction.  People confuse science fiction with fantasy all the time.  They are not the same thing and I’ll leave that discussion for a future post.  But science fiction has had a strangle hold on me for a long time from Jules Verne to the Hunger Games.  This post is dedicated to a recent discovery of the fiction of one such author who touches me in an important way.

Philip K. Dick is a modern science fiction writer.  He died young in 1982, but left a legacy of dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories.   He’s responsible for the story behind a plethora of science fiction movies, including Minority Report, Total Recall, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, and Screamers.   Most people watch these movies and never realize that there was a science fiction genius behind them.  Dick was responsible for a plethora of storylines that have been made into successful films.  I’ve known for almost ten years that he was the brain behind these movies, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I started sitting down and actually reading his stuff.

Its just amazingly good.  I’m currently reading a commercial collection that I received as a present a few years back.  Yes, I’m sad to say that I’ve been just “thinking” about reading him for years, even having asked for an anthology as a gift, received it, and then to see it sit on the shelf as I read a wide variety of other fiction.  Shouldn’t have done that.

I’ve read Herbert, and Huxley and Vonnegut and Asimov and Haldeman.  Dune is easily in my top three novels period in what speaks to me.  I couldn’t slog through the third Dune novel because it is difficult for me to digest stories that span completely different characters across eons.  There I go getting off topic.

The collection I’m reading of Dick is called, quite lamely, Paycheck and Other Stories, and is a collection of his early short stories.  They’re short, and that’s ok.  Its a good kind of short.  Its a read-a-story-before-you-go-to-bed kind of short.  He deals with a lot of classic science fiction themes:  identity and self, artificial intelligence, memory, technology, the nature of being human, war, etc.  What has really amazed me about Dick, and this isn’t untrue of other 50s and 60s-era sci fi writers, is how easy it is to relate to concerns of the 1950s.  The language, the concerns, the daily routine.  Its frighteningly similar to how we live our lives today.  I’m not living under a rock either.  I’m typing this using technology that would have been unbelievable to them at the time.  The common thread is that the concept of future technology and human “progress” (term used very loosely) are at the forefront of the minds of people of both time periods.  What scares them isn’t dissimilar from what scares us.  What they struggle with is similar to what we struggle with.  Its eerily similar.  And many of the concerns of back then have become reality today.

I’m not even close to done on writing about science fiction.  Take the science fiction away and the game becomes less interesting to me.  I don’t know if Battletech would make it for me if it wasn’t a “future Terra” situation.  I’ll write about the relationship between story/canon and mechanics in a future post.  Time to clean the kitchen and make some dinner.  ;P

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