It’s always a little daunting to get up in front of an audience – especially a savvy group like the good people here at The Solute – and start talking about Dick. I’m sure most people reading this will have encountered at least a little Dick – I’m anticipating at least a working knowledge of the movies. But there’s a big difference between seeing Dick on screen and holding the full weight of one in your hands…
…I’m sorry, I had to get a few of those out of my system. But I do have a real point to make! Like most modern audiences I had seen at least a couple of Philip K. Dick movie adaptations before I read any of the books. My reading habit tends to oscillate wildly between obsession and complete disrepair, but one of the big comeback periods found me digging into golden-era science fiction, and I had a blast exploring the genre. Some of it holds up well, some doesn’t – in particular I found myself developing a fondness for the short fiction of Theodore Sturgeon. But it was when I started to really dig into Phil’s work that I felt like I’d found a favorite for life. Many of the films are good (many are not) but nearly all of them take huge liberties with the source material. I expected to find some rich sci-fi concepts, and I did, but as I dug deeper into his bibliography I found sprawling psychedelic voyages and a rich sense of humor that the movies had not really set me up for.
Sure, Total Recall is funny, but it’s funny in a very Verhoeven kinda way (with some Schwarzenegger one-liners sprinkled in for good measure). Dick’s writing is funny in more of a sprawling, convoluted kinda way – he has fun with language, he conjures up spectacularly ridiculous images and he delights in some truly pathetic characters. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Galactic Pot-Healer but I remember it being one of his more out-there stories – the basic framework is a sort of “extremely average man goes on a cosmic adventure” plot that isn’t a mile away from previous Solute Book Club pick The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, introducing a depressed, divorced man stuck in a dead-end career, within a bleak totalitarian society, only to then show him the wonders of the galaxy whether he wants to see them or not.
Galactic Pot-Healer was published in 1968, towards the end of Philip K. Dick’s hugely prolific period – he was writing multiple novels a year throughout most of the 60s (aided and abetted by a serious amphetamine problem) before a variety of health, money and relationship issues (see: serious amphetamine problem, above) caused him to slow down and shift into more paranoid territory (once again… amphetamines) during the 70s. While I don’t remember much about the story, I do remember loving this one when I first encountered it – along with the similarly wild Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb – and I’m excited to revisit it and see how well it lives up to my less-than-total recall.