Friday, February 16, 2007
03.42 What If Our World Is Their Heaven?
What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick
Edited by Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter
Philip K. Dick is my favorite science fiction writer. Philip K. Dick is a lot of people’s favorite science fiction writer. I don’t know if it’s because he flatters the reader’s sense that no matter how lost they feel their lives serve a greater purpose or because his great theme was the way in which an individual’s sense of reality may not correspond with everyone else’s. Maybe it’s because he’s less concerned with those who invent shiny rocketships than with those who have to clean them. Regardless, he’s one of the few science fiction writers who is taken seriously by those who don’t read science fiction and with good reason.
What If Our World Is Their Heaven is a collection of interviews Dick conducted a few months before his death. Knowing that he died a few months later adds a special poignancy to the proceedings, whether he is enthusiastically discussing the first big budget film based on his writings (Blade Runner) or describing a fictional character who willingly gives up his life in exchange for spiritual revelation. Beyond that, the book is an interesting example of a mind at work, or, as Robyn Hitchcock once put it “the odd act of a mind trying to explain itself.” Dick describes a novel he would never live to write, working it out while talking about it -- it’s fascinating to witness a writer at work. The novel concerns an alien from a world in which they communicate through color / light frequencies rather than sound, so that when one of them arrives on Earth and confronts sound for the first time, he has no concept of it and is convinced that he is having a religious experience. (Hence, the title of this book). This alien mind invades that of a hack composer who experiences truly beautiful music for the first time, and is willing to give up his life for more.
Dick was adept at talking about epistemology and philosophy, about how we perceive light and sound or the history of ancient religions, all without losing his sense of humor or wonder. Hearing his voice directly, without the filter of his fiction, is a treat for his fans or anyone interested in the “oh, wow!” aspects of science.