To start, I'd just like to say I'm continually amazed at the versatility of Phillip K. Dick. I haven't dug deeply into his archive yet, but I have begun to notice that each book isn't just a different style, it's like a different author. Galactic Pot Healer seemed more like a Heinlein to me than a PKD book. This one seemed completely different, making it increasingly difficult for me to tell exactly what PKD's style really is. When I read other authors like Gibson, Stephenson, and Gaiman, I have an idea of what to expect, that the interest is in the places they take me. Similar to Sterling, PKD book surpise you not just by where they go, but how they take you. Sterling's Zeitgeist, for example, tells a story that the characters are aware of, and through that awareness seem to be the one's actually shaping the story instead of the author.
A Scanner Darkly achieved this kind of uniqueness by merely being a PKD book on the surface. I expected the trademark conceptual leaps, the plot twists beyond what Hitchcock could imagine, and the casual insertion of innovative and often frightening future technology. The difference is that these elements are not what supports the themes of this book. At the surface, this is a book about a narc that goes undercover as a drug dealer. To reinforce his cover, he becomes a user and the drug slowly starts to destroy his brain. Because of security, his cover is unknown to everyone, including his superiors. By chance, he is then assigned to perform surveillance on himself. As the drug continues to eat brain cells, he forgets that he is the subject of his surveillance and thinks of subject as a completely different person. Pure PKD, you say. Well, yes, I thought so too and waited anxiously for the great plot twist that I was sure would come. By the time it did, I was not engaged in the plot as he had cleverly built up your sympathy for the main character. "How can you be sympathetic towards a drug abuser?", you say. "They choose their lot, right?" Sure they did, but did they really deserve the punishment of psychosis, permananet brain damage, or death? THIS is the theme of the book, which Dick reinforces with an emotional end-note, dedicating the book to friends that he had lost as a result of wanting to have too much fun. This is an anti-drug-abuse book, and a brilliant one at that. Want to reduce drug abuse? Toss out "just-say-no" and all the other bullshit "statistics" designed to scare and have teenagers read this instead. Who would you trust, an anti-fun ninny parroting prevaricated talking points or an intelligent, personal writer who has been there and seen the damage firsthand, barely escaping with thier own sanity? IMHO, only the latter has credibility.
I orignally picked up this book because I wanted to read it before the Richard Linklater film came out. Especially since I heard that Ted, er Neo was starring in it. After seeing the production stills and the trailer, I was a bit more relieved. I'm not sure that it will really explore the anti-drug-abuse theme of the book as they seem to be playing up the hypersurveillance angle, which I think has been done sufficiently before. I still think it will be a pretty good film, as the rotoscoping animation style can better allow the filmmaker to visually depict the main character's slide into insanity. No specifi release info yet, just "March 2006". I'm not eager to travel too far to see it, but luckily if the limited release doesn't lead to a widespread release it will go to DVD quicker like Ghost in the Shell 2 did.