Although I’ve been well and truly corrected on the way PKD writes, I still find it a little difficult to deal with. A Scanner Darkly is one his least pulpy novels, but is crazy beyond explanation. The story is obviously developed on the fly, and centres on a few ideas about perceptions and their twisting by drug use. So, this is interesting stuff, right? Perhaps. But it doesn’t make a coherent plot or storyline. Like other books of his I’ve read, PKD just starts the ball rolling, kicks is along a bit, gets bored or loses the track, and starts on a whole new idea.
All these complaints out of the way, I’ll admit that the novel is interesting in a quirky way. This is because he makes an excellent attempt at capturing the insanity that is drug addicts lurking in dives. The characters in this book are dark and hilarious in equal amounts, and appear to have the kind of messed-up conversation you’d easily hear from half-intelligent stoners mooching about the house. Assuming you’d actually met or been one of these kinds of people… The only difference you can see between these 70s freaks and today is the now-ubiquitous console games. In the 70s they only had their tripped-out imaginations…
What PKD attempts in A Scanner Darkly is to provide layers in the form of perceptions. The main character is a NARC (narcotics officer) who is undercover among some down-and-outers. But, in order to maintain his anonymity he is provided with a special suit that prevents other NARCs from identifying him when he’s back at the station. So then you have the irony of the suited NARC watching himself on some scanners placed in the flat he’s surveilling, and he’s not actually sure which one he is. And on and on it goes.
It’s at this point that I could get philosophical about the deeper meanings and alternate realities this establishes… but… I can’t be stuffed. The book is an interesting play, but is ultimately meaningless and completely devoid of direction.
Read if you’re a fan.