Review - A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

God, how dark it is here, and totally silent. Nothing but me lives in this vacuum…

Philip K. Dick’s darkly atmospheric novel about drug culture and how drugs affect society is a well written, impactful story. It’s a very realistic view of how drugs affect the mind and relationships.

The story follows the character of Bob and his friends, who are both using and selling a mind-bending drug called Substance D. We also follow Fred, a cop who works for a form of drug bust squad. The hook is that Bob and Fred are the same person. Substance D alters the mind so much that Bob/Fred’s personality fractures and that’s the main narrative that we follow.

Dick was a drug user himself. Because of this, he is able to paint a hauntingly realistic picture of the life of a drug user and the constant haze they live in.

Written in 1977, it still holds up today and points must go to Dick for one of the best titles for a book, ever.

Great opening

The opening sequence had me hooked. It’s a perfect example of how to draw in an audience. It starts by showing how drugs have pretty much demolished Jerry’s mind, a great introduction to the events to come.


Dick’s writing creates such a dark atmosphere. For me, it’s the best thing about this book. It sucks you in and you can imagine what it’s like in the situation the characters find themselves in. Dick also writes the tragic elements of the story very well.

Here are some of my favourite examples of what the writing is like in this book:

Happiness, he thought, is knowing you got some pills.

What did any man, doing any kind of work, know about his actual motives?

To see that warm living person burn out from the inside, burn from the heart outward. Until it clicked and clacked like an insect, repeating one sentence again and again. A recording. A closed loop of tape.

I resemble that worm which crawls through dust, lives in the dust, easts dust until a passerby’s foot crushes it.

Notable issues

The writing does ramble on in places. To me, I would have chopped some chunks out of this book to make it even shorter. His use of German irritated me whilst reading it also as Dick doesn’t always translate it into English. I know it doesn’t make a huge impact to the story and in fact it’s there to some something about the psyche of our main character but it irritated me all the same.

Final thought

A great book with a dark, ominous atmosphere which rolls off the page and into your head. The story is fascinating and echoes parts of the real world so closely that it’s scary! Highly recommended.




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