The Transmigration Of Philip K. Dick
by Gary W. Wright
Taking a rejuvenating sip of rich Cali red, Lawrence Ferlinghetti reluctantly set the glass down and straightened up to address the exuberant throng inside City Lights Bookstore.
‘Thank you all for showing up on this beautiful Saturday morning!’ (Cheers). ‘I know you won’t be disappointed.’ (More cheers.) ‘For the author you are going to meet today is an extraordinary person who has not only single handedly created a new category of literature-literary sci fi, or sci lit, if you will-but is the only American author to win the ‘Pugo’-that is, both the Pulitzer and the Hugo awards-twice in the same year. So put your hands together, and give a big warm San Fran welcome to your inspiration and mine, Mister Philip K. Dick! Come on out, Phil! Get out here!’
Beaming broadly and turning his head to look back, Ferlinghetti loudly clapped exuberantly as a handsome, clean cut and trimmed Philip K. Dick, smiling shyly and sardonically but glowing with health, strength and virility, stepped out of the back of City Lights in custom canary yellow suit, psychedelic tie and solid gold Rolex to a roar of claps and cheers from the assembled admirers and chants of ‘PKD! PKD!’ from hardcore high school and UCB fanboys. Dick let them go for a minute, and then finally lowered his head humbly and raised and waved his hands for silence.
‘Thank you, thank you, you’re too kind, really’, he said when the boisterous crowd had finally quietened down. ‘Especially since I’m really just an ordinary person, just like you. The only difference is that no matter how many rejections and snubs I got in the lean years, I never stopped writing and I never stopped dreaming. That’s it! And if you want to succeed as a writer too, just keep on reading, keep on writing and keep on dreaming, and you will succeed one day, too!’
‘Now, I think I’ve got some Pugos to sign!’ he smiled.
Roars of delighted laughter, more cheers and clapping. Then Dick sat down at a table, the crowd formed a line, and he signed one copy of his novels after another. One shy but eager fanboy named Gabe also gave him a manila envelope with some of his own work that he wanted to Dick to read as well as the original paperback edition of his first Pugo winner, The Man In The High Castle. Dick humoured Gabe by promising him to look it over the first chance he got, and the fanboy walked away with his signed copy of The Man In The High Castle and a giddy grin on his face. Then the signing was over, Ferlinghetti was hustling him into the backroom to disappointed groans, and soon Dick was driving back to his Pacific Heights mansion in his gleaming and beloved ’62 Benz with a pleased smile on his face.
The next day, Dick noticed Gabe’s manila envelope on the counter when he walked into the kitchen for breakfast after a refreshing shower. Picking it up, he started to carry it to the garbage underneath the sink, then, remembering his own ardent fanboy youth and early writing, dropped it back on the counter. After breakfast, he took a cup of coffee and the envelope to the back deck to read its contents as he sat in a deck chair and enjoyed the early morning sun. Seating himself, he took a sip of coffee, put the mug on the deck table and opened the envelope. He pulled out a sheet of unlined paper with a magazine beneath. On the sheet were the words ‘Phil Call me at 415-717-6792 after you look at this magazine. We need to talk. Gabe’. Lifting up the sheet, he found a magazine called CINEFEX dated July 1982 with a picture from a film called BLADE RUNNER on the cover.
BLADE RUNNER? Wha-a?
Opening the magazine, he soon noticed that the film was supposedly based on a 1968 novel that he had never written called Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Even stranger, near the beginning of the magazine long profile of BLADE RUNNER there was a picture of an older, more grey, lined, tired and world weary of himself with the same ironically sardonic smile standing with the film’s director, one Ridley Scott. He stared down at the pic with puzzled disbelief, then flipped desultorily through the rest of the magazine, getting more puzzled by the second. Finally, he tossed the magazine on the table.
Time to call Gabe.
They met at the White Rabbit café near Haight and Ashbury. Dick found a favourite table for two hidden away in a back corner inside, and ordered organic tea. When it arrived, Dick looked up over the steaming mug into the eyes of Gabe with his right eyebrow querulously raised.
‘Well?’ wondered Dick, tapping a finger on the manila envelope with the BLADE RUNNER issue of CINEFEX lying on the table in front of him. ‘What’s this all about it?’
Gabe met his gaze and stared steadily back.
‘I’m going to give it to you straight up, Phil’, said Gabe. ‘There are two versions of The Man In The High Castle. The first ended with Mister Tagomi briefly leaving behind his alternate Earth where the Axis powers had beat the Allies and finding himself in another Earth where the Allies had won. After being shocked and confused by this experience, he then returned to his version of Earth.’
‘Yes’, said Dick. ‘The first version did end like that.’
‘However,’ continued Gabe, ‘correctly fearing that the mainstream would find the whole premise of the novel and its ending morally repulsive and shun the book, preventing it from becoming a bestseller and made into the first film based on your work, you decided with some misgivings to give the novel a happier ending that would allow the book to succeed with the mainstream and make you a wealthy author. In this second version of The Man In The High Castle, Mr. Tagomi was so pleased by the Allied world he mysteriously found himself in that he embraced it and essentially willed it into existence, sweeping away the Axis world forever and sending a very obvious message to readers that everyone had the power to change the world for the better, even minor functionaries like Tagomi. This positive feel good message worked, making the novel as popular in the mainstream world as in the small, rabid and insular sci fi world, garnering you your first Pugo and the first film based on your work, also a huge success, and making you a very wealthy man.’
‘Thank God for that!’ smiled Dick. ‘The starving artist gig was wearing thin-pun intended!’
‘Unfortunately, Phil, the second version of The Man In The High Castle and all of the rest of your equally feel good sci lit novels of the Sixties and the early Seventies contributed to a sense of peace and harmony that discouraged Americans from questioning the establishment orthodoxy and changing the country and the world for the better. In fact, Americans became so complacent that they did not protest when Nixon and Kissinger stepped up the war in Vietnam after their election. Americans also didn’t wake up when the Chinese began complaining early in ’75 that the US Air Force was secretly bombing targets in southern China in retaliation for Chinese support of the North Vietnamese. For six weeks, the White House denied the furious complaints and continued the secret bombing campaign. Finally, the Chinese decided to take matters in their own hands, and launched a nuclear attack on the United States. As the missiles were in the air and all was lost, Nixon and Kissinger retaliated by not only launching a nuclear attack on China, but also targeting the USSR, so that the Soviets would not be able to take over the world after the US was destroyed. As the first Chinese missiles took out Washington and other targets across the US and American missiles closed in on the USSR, the Soviets responded by launching their missiles at the US. This devastated the US again soon after the USSR was destroyed by the US, turning most of the US into an irradiated and rubble strewn wasteland. Curiously, San Francisco is undamaged, as it was apparently forgotten by Chinese and Soviet military planners. And so, shocked and horrified by the nuclear apocalypse, you continued to write in the ruins.’
‘All this happens in early ’75?’ cried Dick. ‘Jesus! That’s only months away!’
‘It all could happen, Phil, if you don’t stop it’.
‘But how can I stop it?!’
‘By sitting down and rewriting the end of The Man In The High Castle, Phil, and giving the novel its original unsatisfying ending. This unpleasant ending and the rest of your equally cantankerous novels of the Sixties and early Seventies will not only save your art and your soul, but will create an itch in the zeitgeist that people cannot scratch, causing them-particularly young Baby Boomers-to be just as questioning and establishment challenging as yourself, rising up to protest racial and sexual inequality and the Vietnam War and forcing Nixon and Kissinger to end the war. In short, and ironically, by sticking with the original end of The Man In The High Castle, you affirm that one person, however small and unimportant, can make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, the facile message of the second feel good ending of The Man In The High Castle.’
Dick smiled wryly.
‘The tiny insignificant sci fi writer saves the world, huh? And what happens to me?’
Gabe sighed, looked down into his drained coffee mug, and then back up into the eyes of Dick.
‘I’m not going to lie to you, Phil’, he said. ‘I’m going to give it to you straight up again’.
‘Oh oh!’ said Dick.
‘Yes!’ said Gabe, grimacing. ‘It’s not pretty. You continue to labour in poor obscurity like you did before The Man In The High Castle for the rest of your life. You get very depressed and become very addicted to drugs, and it is at this time that you write Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, which drew upon subconscious memories of the nuclear holocaust on the alternate Earth. In 1970, you decide to leave behind the drugs and your miserable life in San Francisco by accepting an invitation to speak at a sci fi convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, in hopes of starting over again and maybe even succeeding in Canada. Instead, you get even more depressed, and within six weeks attempt suicide. When you are finally released from the pscyh ward, you fly back to Cali and take up residence in the Southland. In early 1974, you experience a series of puzzling mystical visions that you spend the rest of your life puzzling over and writing about in the third and last distinct stage of your literary career. In early March of 1982, you have a stroke, fall into a coma and die a few days later in hospital, poor, alone and forgotten. As a result, you never get to see BLADE RUNNER’.
‘Figures!’ snorted Dick sardonically.
‘But after you die a miracle happens, Phil! Suddenly people around the world recognize how important you and your work were, and you quickly become the bestselling author you always wanted to be. In fact, you go on to become perhaps the bestselling sci fi writer ever!’
‘Oh, Lord!’ groaned Dick.
‘No! It’s true!’ insisted Gabe. ‘And this helps your children immensely, Phil. Because they become very wealthy as the executors of your estate, and go on to live very happy and comfortable lives.’
Dick sat up straighter and his eyes blazed into the eyes of Gabe with a fierce and misty fury.
‘Well, why didn’t you say so? I’d do anything for my children’, said Dick grimly. ‘Time to write’.
Taking the Ace paperback first edition of The Man In The High Castle down from the bookshelf containing all of his first editions in chronological order and wandering over to his large oak desk in his airy and bright writing room/study, Dick sat down with a sigh in front of his carefully maintained ’61 Underwood typewriter, his Andy Warhol portrait staring with its usual querulous amusement down at him. He flipped through the paperback to the end of the novel.
‘Now…let’s see where we left Tagomi-san…ah yes, here we are…’
Dick read for a few minutes and then nodded, putting the book down beside the Underwood. Taking a clean sheet of blank white paper from the top of the pile beside the typewriter, he lifted the paper holder, fed the sheet into the typing cylinder, rolled it forward until it was perfectly aligned, and then let the paper holder fall back down with a clack.
‘OK!’ he roared to Gabe. ‘Let’s rock!’
Cracking his knuckles, Dick flexed his fingers and then began to type.
Dick woke with a start into utter blackness.
He fumbled for the switch of the lamp on his desk and then stopped in amused surprise.
Lamp? I don’t have a lamp on my desk!
Standing up from his chair, he walked through the darkness of the room and flikked the light switch by the door. The light came on, illuminating the disheveled guest room in his Marin house that he used as a writing room, piles of books and manuscripts everywhere. Returning to his desk, he pulled up the paper holder, wound out the page sticking out of his beat up ’56 Underwood, and frowned down at it.
Ah! The final page of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE! So it’s finally finished! !At last!
Smiling and chuckling wryly, he sat back down in his chair and lay the final page across the top of his typewriter.
Well, I have a good feeling about this one. I did so much research, worked so hard, took my time writing it. I think it will do well. Hopefully the Hugo-and who knows, maybe even the Pulitzer.