At last, Philip K. Dick ascends to literary Parnassus: a handsome omnibus volume in the Library of America. In the New York Times, Charles McGrath commemorates the occasion by collecting the entire canon of cliches about Philip K. Dick and carefully stacking them in the middle of the floor. PKD was a “prince of pulp” who is now “legit at last,” he took lots of amphetamines, he was paranoid, his prose was uneven, he was different from other sci-fi writers because he wasn’t interested in futurism, in the end he was a “visionary,” and so forth. Terry Carr’s famous joke about how Don Wollheim would retitle the Bible is misquoted. We’re informed in an aside that the reason to read writers like Asimov and Heinlein is “for the science.” And of course no such extrusion would be complete without a classic Conquestism: Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, considered by many to be his best work, is—
barely a sci-fi book at all but, rather, what we would now call a “counterfactual”; its premise is that the Allies lost World War II and the United States is ruled by the Japanese in the west and the Nazis in the east.Dick is definitely a major SF writer, very much worth reading, and some of the standard cliches about him are surely true. But McGrath’s essay is an impressive example of the kind of normative blather dubbed “bookchat” by Gore Vidal, writing whose main purpose is to explain to anxious readers whether it’s socially acceptable to like this stuff or not.