Fiction Reviews


Counterfeit Worlds - Philip K Dick on Film

(2006) Brian J. Robb, Titan Books, 16.99 / US$19.95 / Can$27.95, trdpbk, 317pp, ISBN 1-840-23968-9

 

Having seen nearly all of the cinematic adaptations of Philip K. Dick's stories to date -- Bladerunner, Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report, Paycheck and Imposter -- I was only mildly interested to learn what someone else thought of them.   If perchance you were not aware that all the afore were inspired by the works of one author, Philip K. Dick, then be advised that this is so, and that Philip Dick was a remarkable SF writer whose impact on the genre in the 20th century is up there with John Wyndham and H. G. Wells, though Dick's stamping ground was a few decades later than the latter. For a Dick enthusiast (one should refrain from the occasional fan term 'Dick head' which in the UK has an unfortunate connotation) such interest might be enough motivation to seek this book out, but possibly not for a more general SF aficionado. However more broad-based genre enthusiasts should take note that Brian Robb has not just reviewed the Hollywood releases of Dick adaptations. Oh no, he delivers much more.

In addition to the obvious Hollywood reviews, Robb sets these releases in the context of Dick's life as a whole. Furthermore he briefly looks at the original stories and at what Dick was doing in his life specifically when he wrote them. Add to this a good bibliography of Dick's novel fiction and some (recent) collections, not to mention some other non-fiction books on the great man, and this book becomes quite a resource. This makes Counterfeit Worlds of some academic value. However there is more, and I've saved the best till last...

If all this was not enough Brian Robb has pulled together a number of Dick's script submissions to TV and radio series, many of which were never used. Thrill then to outlines of the arc episodes Dick suggested for the 1960's TV series The Invaders: had they been taken up the series would have been something more. And even the c find out that even the concept basis of some more recent series, such as Quantum Leap, were in no small part based on an outline first suggested by Dick. And then there are mentions of the stage adaptations of the man's work. Ryman's treatment of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1984) is cited to give you an idea of the completeness of Robb's listings. (I was there for one of its performances; fortunately Robb skips such trivia.)

It has to be said that there are some absolutely dire non-fiction books on science fiction out there: including one or two that have won major awards. Not to mention a small industry of some university based academe in which the very good and worthy is muddled in with the superfluous and even the downright specious. But Robb's book is not so much opinion based but delivers a solid package of facts about Dick the writer, his works and what might have been. Take all this together and this is a most useful reference to the influence of Dick's works beyond the printed page. Amply illustrated with b&w photos and drawings and written in an affable style, this deserves space on every serious SF book reader's shelves as well as those of fantastic film buffs. Kipple it aint.

Jonathan Cowie


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