Philip K Dick may not be the father of modern science fiction, but he’s probably its crazy uncle.
His influence extends throughout science fiction, largely because of the many film and tv adaptations of his work. He has become synonymous with mind-bending and hard to comprehend literature. But he also has a wicked sense of humour and the ability to convey the trials and tribulations of the everyday person in aching detail.
He was a prolific writer that published a large number of novels and short stories in his lifetime. The below are the eight Philip K Dick Books we think qualify as must read.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
A book that’s probably best known for spawning the movie Blade Runner, but it deserves to be recognised as a great work in its own right.
Do Androids Dream is the story of a Rick Deckard, who is tasked with killing six replicants in a single day. The background of the plot is a tired, dying, world. A world already abandoned by its best and brightest.
In this novel, Dick ruminates on the difference between what it means to be real vs artificial and the nature of empathy in humans.
You can read our full review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The Man in the High Castle
Possibly the best known of Philip K Dick’s work, The Man in the High Castle is far better than the Amazon show it inspired.
The novel is set in an alternate timeline where the Nazis won the Second World War and the USA has been divided up between Japan and Germany.
The Man in the High Castle both shows how real humans would react in impossible circumstances and interrogates our relationship with reality. Two of Dick’s greatest strengths as a writer.
You can read our analysis of the novel here, although it does contain spoilers.
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Joe Taverner, a celebrity in a dystopian future, wakes up to find that he has been erased from existence casting Joe adrift in a hostile reality that no longer knows him.
Although this is perhaps one of the more easily digestible Philip K Dick books, it still manages to blur the boundaries between perception and reality. Often through a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of recreational drug use.
Dick himself saw the work as having strong religious undertones regarding the judgement of the powerful and rich.
Joe Chip works for a prudence organisation, which ‘protects’ normal people from telepaths and others with special mental abilities. We follow Joe as the world inexplicably starts to regress in time around him. His only guide being cryptic messages from a boss he assumed to be dead.
As the world slips back in time Joe gets in a battle for his existence. His only weapon being the strange and varied substance Ubik.
Another of Dick’s novels set in a malleable reality with strong religious undertones; Ubik is a challenging but ultimately rewarding read. You can read our review of the novel here.
A Scanner Darkly
The battle against drugs has been ultimately lost to a reality bending hallucinogen called Substance D.
Detective Bob Arctor is an undercover policeman who has managed to infiltrate the drug underworld. Unfortunately in doing so he has developed a serious addication to Substance D.
As the novel progresses Arctor slowly loses his mind, making it impossible to discern the reality behind his drug addled perception.
The Novel draws heavily from Dick’s own experience of serious drug addiction and of being part of a drug dependent sub-culture. While not as heavy handed an anti-drug novel as sometimes depicted, Dick himself said it was a novel about “people who were punished entirely too much for what they did.”
Despite the dark subject matter, A Scanner Darkly still manages to show off Dick’s often underappreciated sense of humour. True, it’s a pitch black humour but it’s still funny.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Of all of Philip K Dick’s novels, the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is perhaps his most horrifying work.
A novel set in the 21st century, where humanity has populated every habitable planet and moon in the solar system. The novel follows a group of Martian colonisers who’s only respite is through a drug that creates shared hallucinations amongst its users.
When the titular Palmer Eldritch brings back an improved version of the drug, it has catastrophic results.
What makes this novel stand out in Dick’s cannon is its depiction of working class people trapped in a situation they can’t control or escape.
Time Out of Joint
Imagine if The Truman Show was a much darker, much stranger and much more intense movie. Then you may have some understanding of what reading a Time Out of Joint is like.
Ragle Gumm is living a quiet life in an American suburb. The most unusual part of his life is his occupation, he routinely wins a regular competition in his local news called “Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?”
What follows is a novel that examines themes common to Dick’s work. Namely a regular guy finding himself in a reality that’s breaking down. Everyday objects start appearing and disappearing, magazines feature Gumm on the cover and radio broadcasters start referring to him by name. Causing Gumm, and the reader, to realise reality cannot be trusted.
Better than both the movie and TV series that it spawned, Minority Report is a short murder mystery with a twist. The murder hasn’t actually been committed yet.
John Anderton is in charge of the PreCrime Division, a division of the police that relies on three mutants to deliver reports of crimes yet to be committed. When Anderton receives a report that states he is going to murder a man he’s never met, he believes a conspiracy has been hatched against him.
What follows is a short story that intertwines the theme of predestination in a fun mystery.
If you enjoyed this list, you will probably be interested in some of our other best of science fiction lists. Such as our top ten cybperpunk novels, our best hard fiction novels and our ultimate science fiction reading list.