Adapting Philip K. Dick

This week on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I jump ahead from some of the older stories to a very modern author: Philip K. Dick and the adaptations of his works.

This was an interesting article to write, because I wanted to tie it in with the upcoming movie release of Total Recall. Prior to writing it, I was able to find a number of the films and watch through them over the course of a weekend, to get a sense of how they were adapted. Some were a pleasant surprise: Total Recall and Screamers were two that I particularly liked. Others, like Paycheck and Next, I didn’t like very much.

Dick’s works have translated interestingly into film, I suspect because the premise that he’s really known for – this world is not correct – is something that’s easy for a film to capture and challenge its characters with in ways that audiences can easily understand.

Here’s the sources that I used for this piece:

The Library of America Series (Four Novels of the 1960s, Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s, and Valis & Later Novels): This series examines notable works from American authors, seldomly looks at Science Fiction. These books are fantastic examples of the author’s works, but are also excellent for their in-depth chronological look at Dick’s life.

Minority Report Special Features: This is something that I watched way back, when Minority Report was the first DVD that I ever owned. It’s an excellent collection of special features, not the least of which the one that talks about the adaptation of the story and how it came to be.

Prophets of Science Fiction: Philip K. Dick: This was a really neat one to watch, even as it glosses over much of Dick’s life and dramatizes some of it. The most interesting thing was Ridley Scott’s impressions of the man, whom he met at a screening. There’s also some interesting points about how Minority Report was going to become a sequel to Total Recall.

Internet Speculative Fiction Database: This large archive was useful for tracking down the original publications of each of the stories, which allowed me to string them out in publication order.

The films: I was able to track down almost all of the films, with the exception of A Scanner Darkly and Radio Free Albemuth. Watching each (and reading most of the stories that they were based on) really helped to see what exactly was adapted.

Usual Suspects: The Stuff Dreams are Made Of, History of Science Fiction and Trillion Year Spree each have sections about Philip K. Dick and his works, which provide good background material on the life of the author and his contributions to the genre.

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