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Publisher's Summary

Bob Arctor is a dealer of the lethally addictive drug Substance D. Fred is the police agent assigned to tail and eventually bust him. To do so, Fred takes on the identity of a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. And since Substance D, which Arctor takes in massive doses, gradually splits the user's brain into two distinct, combative entities, Fred doesn't realize he is narcing on himself.

Caustically funny, eerily accurate in its depiction of junkies, scam artists, and the walking brain-dead, Philip K. Dick's industrial-grade stress test of identity is as unnerving as it is enthralling.

©1977 Philip K. Dick (P)2006 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 10-29-11

A great introduction to Philip K Dick

This was my first exposure to Philip K. Dick, and he definitely lives up to his reputation as an author of dystopian visions, conspiracy theories, and mind-bending philosophical ideas. But he also turns out to be an articulate, witty writer with a lot of apparent first-hand knowledge of the drug culture he focuses on. Once you get past the dated 1970s slang, A Scanner Darkly is a pretty intense and darkly comic reading experience, capturing the madness and paranoia of drug addiction, and the suffocation and distrust that users feel towards "straight" culture. There's relatively little "science fiction" in the novel, but Dick uses a few clever futuristic inventions to heighten the trippy surreality of his novel, in which no one is quite who they seem, and as a springboard for musings about the morally ambiguous mirror-on-mirror relationships between doper and straight, police and criminal, watcher and watched, self and other, user and used, reality and delusion.

At times, the story gets a little incoherent, and action often takes a back seat to the ideas and observations Dick wants to share (often through dialogue). I think this is more a book to read for its most entrancing or insightful passages than, necessarily, the sum of them. But, if you like dark, cerebral speculative fiction whose alternate reality blooms from the author's own experience of a real-life dystopia, and don't mind unevenness and not-entirely-sane characters, there's much in A Scanner Darkly that still resonates.

PS. If you like this book, be sure to watch the Linklater film. I loved it.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lew
  • Cedarhurst, NY, United States
  • 12-24-08

Brillant Novel, Read to Perfection!

Paul Giamatti's narration of Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" is quite likely one of the best works by an actor of an unabridged audiobook that this reviewer has ever read. PK Dick will never be anyone's garden-variety Science Fiction writer. He deals with social, cultural and psychological complexities that some may find unsettling or even challenging. In the end, it becomes a matter of taste but "A Scanner Darkly" explores the decline and paranoia of a future drug culture as written in the early 70's. But somehow it works. It's offers a nod to Orwell's world of surveillance, deception, betrayal and sacrifice but woven with a thread of hilarious caricatures in a household of high-wired drug fiends and marginally sane confidants. But again, cudo's to Paul Giamatti for delivering this world with true theatrical perfection.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • JOHN
  • Plantation, FL, United States
  • 06-28-09

"Dark" is the operative word

I am not sure about this one. To be sure, Paul Giamatti's performance is perfect. This guy is quite a talent. However, the material he reads is bizarre, as I am sure Philip K Dick intended it to be. The story is a bleak depiction of the southern California drug subculture in the then future of the late 1990's (the book was written in the late 1970s). Many of the supposed "futuristic" devices employed are dated, which seem to add to the strangeness of the story.

As the main character, Bob Arctor, an undercover narc who becomes addicted to "Substance D" begins to move in and out of reality, the reader/listener does so right along with him. As a result, I found the experience strange and uncomfortable.

I believe this story was semi-autobiographical, learning a little about P.K. Dick, who apparently struggled with paranoid schizophrenia. This book will definitely provide a glimpse into that abyss.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 01-31-14

Paranoid road trip through the Hell of addiction

Be happy NOW, for tomorrow I'll be rewriting.
Take the cash and let the credit GO.
I'll write MY review tomorrow.
Let US all be happy.
And play AGAIN.


So, I wrote a review I was really proud of today during lunch. Four or five paragraphs. I liked it a lot. So, I was rather disheartened when my computer froze and I had to do a hard-boot to unfreeze it. Lost everything but the vague outlines of what I wrote. Even those vague outlines seem difficult to grasp right now. I'm kinda demoralized. Alas, I can probably make some bridge to how THIS loss of data...this unrecoverable review...this remorse over the ebbs of life dovetails quite nicely with some of the themes of 'A Scanner Darkly'. But right now I just don't care. I'm still pissed about THE loss (MY loss) and have a hard time seeing through the glass at all.

So, I'm going to give my review resurrection a shot:

'A Scanner Darkly' fits well on the addiction/drug/alcoholism as literature shelf. It needs no subsidy to sit next to Infinite Jest, Tender Is the Night, Under the Volcano, Less Than Zero, Naked Lunch, On the Road and the rest. This list is basically unending.

It seems like all novels about drug abuse, alcohol addiction, etc.., inevitably become a form of science fiction. They surf those disjointed, dream-like spaces -- seducing man from the first time he got buzzed from eating, drinking, or smoking something deliriant. These dope trips aren't rational, they aren't lucid, etc., but they still have a certain narrative coherence. It is like science fiction was created (... and in the beginning) by some belladonna-infused deity and formed into a perfect literary template to explain/capture all the paranoia and weirdness of the trips highs and lows.

It is impossible to read a novel about addiction without recognizing the author's fingerprints all over it. These novels are all memoirs of sorts. Their pages hold more truth than the Library of Congress. They are funky road trips through hell and PKD is the perfect acid artist for this vicious trip.


As I read 'A Scanner Darkly', I was haunted by the open wounds in the dialogue, the festering beauty of PKD's prose. These weren't scenes created ex nihilo. These pages all resonate like some haunted Totentanz. They chill like a Vanitas dream you can't quite escape. I can't remember what I wrote. The words, the melody, even the beat of what was once alive is now dead... and waiting for a trippy ressurection.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

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70's drug scene, eerily prescient of today

Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly is a haunting tale of the drug scene in California set in a future in what at the time (late 70's when the story was released) seemed distant, the 90's. An uncover agent who is so undercover that no one in law enforcement knows even what he looks like, gradually succumbs to drug abuse as he adopts his alternate persona a bit too realistically. As a result, his minds splits and he can't keep straight his real versus undercover identity and begins to stakeout himself.

Dick employs minimal sci-fi elements to craft an engaging tale that is both compelling and eerily reminiscent of today's societal drug problems. As a result of undercover agents wearing "blurry" suits when off duty, no one in law enforcement knows his true identity. As the undercover agent successfully infiltrates the drug operations, he gradually ends up staking out himself as the sting target. Dick relies on what at the time was emerging science of split brain experiments to generate his condition. In addition, there are multiple players in the undercover game from various agencies all operating independently of one another such that most of the illegal drug activity is largely elaborate sting operations. The final element is the involvement of an entire legal industry involved in production and rehabilitation at the same time. Surprisingly, Dick's tale accurately predicts today's opiod crisis.

The narration by Paul Giamatti was a joy to experience. In addition to gender and character distinction, pacing, along with tone were ideal for the mood of the story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Rob
  • Warnbro, Australia
  • 11-08-14

Wow, and I thought the movie was good

Philip K Dick is one of the most engaging sci-fi/fantasy writes i have ever read. I have yet to be disappointed.

I was completely drawn into the story, the characters are written with such faithful emotions and motivations.

One of my most favourite books in my collection. Great Story, and narrated perfectly by Paul Giamatti.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great pick

I saw the movie first. I really liked the movie, but found it a little hard to follow. While listening to the book I couldn't help but see the images put forth in the movie, but I was able to follow the story line much easier. Robert Arcter and his crew could easily be friends from my past. I find it sad, the points in the story about the toll living in a drug infested world can take on a person and the soul. It really made me reflect on my past and my friends from long ago.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I can't say enough good things about "A Scanner Darkly" or about Giamatti's narration. Note that this story is pretty hard going. If you want a less sad and heavy introduction to Dick, try the "Minority Report" short story collection.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Baron
  • Bellevue, WA, United States
  • 09-15-06

Disturbingly Real

I enjoyed this book very much.

PK captures the ethos and ecology of the '70's drug culture very well.

The conversations between the mind-altered denizens are the best part of the book.

This book also asks questions of personal identity and values.

This is all enclosed in a Dickian envelope of paranoia and deception.

Paul Giamatti does an awesome job reading this book. He is a very good Actor! Who knew? It gave me a new-found appreciation of him.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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That was one weird trip, man!

This is really a disjointed, crazy, drug-induced trip for much of the book, and for me that was where it failed. A little of that can go a long way, but there was too much here. The core idea - an addicted world where an undercover narcotics agent has an unusual reaction to the drug he's using and becomes a "split" personality who is actually investigating himself - is a good one, as is the conspiracy theory of a government that's addicting the people it then purports to help cure. But along the way, the undercover persona (Bob) and his drugged-out friends trip along in crazy ways with long meaningless conversations for far too long and for far too much of this novel.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful