Our first selection is the fantastic novel A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, a dark story of a drug war taken too far, set in the not so far off future of 1994 (the book was released in 1977, so it’s set in the future in the same way that 1984 is). We follow Bob Archter, a Narcotics agent who keeps his identity hidden even from his coworkers due to corruption in the police department, while he investigates a dangerous new drug called Substance D and the growing counter culture associated with it.
If you haven’t read this book yet, you are in for a treat. A Scanner Darkly is an intense read, vastly entertaining, and surprisingly deep, especially in regards to the themes of consciousness and identity and what happens when both go a little askew. If you want this novel to pack a little extra punch, do yourself a favor and research our current situation in the 30 year long Drug War the US is waging right now (it’s not working). In fact, just look up the death toll in regards to drugs in Mexico from last year, it will seriously open your eyes. Once you’ve done that, you will notice aspects of our current situation Dick called out in the 70’s. Though he offers no alternative to our current plight, he gives us some definite food for thought.
So, why this book to start? While A Scanner Darkly may not be the most accessible novel on the list from the Book of the Month Introduction (That would probably be Fight Club, or Catcher In The Rye), is serves a duel purpose. First, it’s a fairly simple read, and thus vastly more accessible than, say, a novel such as Steppenwolf. And second, it also deals with some heavy material, deep themes, dark atmosphere, and thus works as a bit of a preview of where we are headed in the future. If that excites you, be sure to check back every now and then for our next selection.
Fortunately, not only is the novel a great read, the film adaptation is phenomenal as well. It is directed by one of my favorite directors alive today, Richard Linklater (Waking Life, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused), and holds up very well to the story, though when portrayed on camera it’s a bit more confusing. I recommend reading the novel first, this clears up all of the confusion one feels on the initial viewing, but if you’re the type who is able to watch a movie multiple times, this one warrants it. The film’s visual style is also spot on.