Teaser Tuesday: “A Scanner Darkly”

So this week I was reading A Scanner Darkly, a shortish dystopian novel by some guy named Philip K. Dick. Maybe you’ve heard of him. If not, you’ve almost certainly heard of the movie Blade Runner, which was based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?*

PKD: Not an acronym for a medical condition.

The basic premise of A Scanner Darkly is that there’s a new drug on the street, called “Substance D”, the use of which causes damage to the corpus callosum and eventually produces severe dissociation in its users. The main character is an undercover narcotics detective trying to track down the producers of Substance D. His investigation not only requires him to distribute Substance D, he’s also compelled to use it, and begins to suffer some of the dissociative effects of it. On top of that, he’s so far undercover, in fact, that not even the police department for which he works knows who he really is. So when his superiors assign him to investigate his own undercover persona … Well, as one might imagine, hilarity does not quite ensue.

What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me—into us—clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

Like several other PKD properties, Hollywood got hold of A Scanner Darkly, too.

This time they didn’t change the title, because, really, why would you change a title that cool? But they did take the interesting step of using rotoscoping on it, essentially filming the movie, then turning it into a cartoon.

Whoops, sorry, that’s a different (and probably more famous) use of rotoscoping. Here’s the trailer for A Scanner Darkly:

Looks like a fun world to live in, no? Oh, wait, we are living in it.

Incidentally, while putting this post together, I noted that Philip K. Dick passed away in 1982 as the result of a stroke. From the linked page:

A few weeks after his interview with Lee, Dick mentioned to his therapist that he was having trouble with his vision. Despite the doctor’s urging him to go to the emergency room, Dick returned home to rest. The next day he was found there, on the floor, having had a stroke. A few days later, now in the hospital, he had a second stroke and became brain dead. Five days later, he was taken off life support and died on March 2, 1982.

I couldn’t find anything that said for sure what the cause of the stroke was, but that sounds an awful lot like a subarachnoid hemorrhage (possibly with a sentinel bleed) followed by either a re-bleed or its most serious complication, vasospasm. So … yeah.** Rest is a good way to deal with a regular headache. A sentinel bleed headache, not so much.

And now, on a lighter topic, here is this week’s Teaser from one of my own books! The Gods of Randomness decreed that this excerpt would come from location #44 of Shards, which is well towards the beginning, before anyone has even gone to another dimension or anything.

She studied the display, wondering how to get a pulldown menu or back to the initial screen.  Bernard watched her.  At length he said:  “Do you actually know how this game works?”

“Not really, no.”  She started pressing keys.

“Maybe you could, um, read the manual.”

“It didn’t come with a manual.”

“What sort of game doesn’t come with a manual?”

James V. Viscosi, Shards

You know how you can tell that Shards was originally written back in the 90s? Because one of the characters could say, with a straight face, “What kind of game doesn’t come with a manual?” Now, of course, the answer would be, ALL OF THEM:

But back in my day, you would often get a manual the size of a paperback book with your game. Sometimes the manual in fact was a paperback book that you could read like a novel. And then there was Infocom, purveyors of classic text adventures such as Zork and Planetfall***, whose packaging was not only famously elaborate but also, often, key to actually being able to complete the adventure. In this respect it was not only part of the game experience, but also a form of copy protection. Not gonna get very far solving your mystery without your packet of clues, are you, detective?

* Not much of a surprise that Hollywood changed the title of that one.
** You know how once you own a Volkswagen Beetle you start seeing Volkswagen Beetles everywhere? Same thing with SAHs.
*** Planetfall included a very well-known sidekick, Floyd the Robot, who, when he would return from a mission or whatever, would always announce himself by saying “Floyd here now!” This earned our old cat Pooh Bear the nickname “Floyd” because she, too, would also announce herself every time she jumped into your lap or came into the room. She did not, however, say “Are we gonna do something dangerous now?” every time you saved the game.

5 thoughts on “Teaser Tuesday: “A Scanner Darkly”

  1. Surviving an aneurism rupture is not something you forget easily, is it? (you even use the medical terms). I checked your links, but didn’t stay there long…


  2. A-ha’s track, that’s a classic. I never knew the effect was called rotoscoping before so I’ve learned something new here. Ditto with Dick as I didn’t know his cause of death before nor the possibility of hemorrhage. It’s worrying how many of the more serious incidents are brushed off as ‘just’ headaches and migraines, isn’t it?

    As for A Scanner Darkly, I’ve seen the film but it was so long ago that I definitely need a re-watch. I’ve not read the book, however, but I’m tempted now. I’ll put it on my to-read list if it’s worth a go. I’ve not read the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep one either. Would you recommend both?



    1. I actually haven’t gotten to “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” yet, but I would definitely recommend “A Scanner Darkly” ― it shows its age a bit here and there but I really liked it. Very moody. Plus of course I recognized some of the locations in which it took place here in Southern California! 😉


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