Wednesday, January 16, 2008



Many science fiction authors have had curious encounters with the paranormal, but none quite as unusual as those of Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), long a fan favorite who, in recent years, has finally been coming into his own with the general public.

"On December 16, 1928, in Chicago, Dorothy Kindred Dick gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The babies were six weeks premature and very underweight. Unaware that she was not producing enough milk for both infants, and because no one--neither a family member nor a doctor-- suggested to her that she supplement their diet with formula, Dorothy undernourished the twins during the first weeks of their lives."

"On January 26, 1929, the baby girl, whom her parents had named Jane, died. She was buried in the cemetery in her father's hometown of Fort Morgan, Colorado. The little boy survived. His parents had his name, Philip, engraved alongside Jane's on the headstone; under his name, next to the dash that followed the date of birth he shared with his sister, a blank space was left."

"Not long afterwards, the Dicks moved to California."

"In Dorothy's case, the grief reaction was pronounced. In the first months of Phil's life, she kept a journal on his growth and behavior that testified to her love for the baby and nowhere focuses upon the death of the twin. But Dorothy's enduring anguish shows clearly in letters and conversations over the years dwelling on Jane's death and her role in it."

But, for her twin brother Phil, Jane just wouldn't stay dead.

"In his grade school years, Phil invented an imaginary playmate," a mysterious dark-haired girl who appeared repeatedly in his teenaged fiction. His imaginary playmate was a comfort "because he knew of Jane and yearned for her to be there, and if that seems strange--how could what had happened at his birth affect him so?--it can be corroborated by the testimony of anybody who has lost a twin."

Phil's father, Joseph Edgar Dick, was originally from southwestern Pennsylvania. He had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1916 and served throughout World War I. Afterwards, in 1920, he married Dorothy, put himself through school and got a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Phil "was five when his parents separated and divorced" in 1933. Five years later, Dorothy took her son to San Francisco, where she "took a job in the U.S. Forestry Department office located on the Berkeley campus of the University of California...A feminist and pacifist, a tireless proponent of progressive ideas, Dorothy blossomed in this academic enclave in which one could be both an office worker and a women's rights activist."

"Phil had asthma and episodes of tachycardia, and he took full advantage of his conditions to miss school at every opportunity. Even when she could tell he was faking symptoms, Dorothy," herself plagued by ill health, "played along and let him stay home." It didn't affect his academic performance. Phil was an A and B student all through school and, at an age when his classmates were reading the Hardy Boys or Don Winslow of the Navy, he was reading Immanuel Kant, William Burroughs, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita and Finnegan's Wake.

Phil "loved to tell the story of how he discovered SF: 'I was twelve (in 1940) when I read my first sf was called Stirring Science Stories and ran, I think, four issues. The editor was Don Wollheim, who later on (in 1954--J.T.) bought my first novel...and many since. I came across the magazine quite by accident; I was actually looking for Popular Science. I was most amazed. Stories about science? At once I recognized the magic I had found, in earlier times, in the Oz books...this magic now coupled not with magic wands but with science...In any case, my view became magic equals science and science (of the future) equals magic...'"

"He collected illustrated magazines with titles like Astounding! and Amazing! and Unknown! and these periodicals, in the guise of serious scientific discussion, introduced him to lost continents, haunted pyramids, ships that vanished mysteriously in the Sargasso Sea (now known as the Bermuda Triangle --J.T.). But he also read stories by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, the recluse from Providence, Rhode Island, whose protagonists face abominations too monstrous for them to name or even describe."

(Editor's Comment: Reading Lovecraft, eh? Poor Phil. In no time at all, like my friend Terry says, he'll be "slip-sliding down the toboggan slope of bass-ackward evolution.")

"From time to time, Phil saw his father, who had remarried and settled in Pasadena, where he worked for the (U.S.) Department of Commerce and became a regular on a local radio program called This is Your Government."

(Editor's Comment: A radio show called This Is Your Government!? Man, that's scarier than anything Phil ever wrote!)

In 1944, at age 16, Phil had his first paranormal experience.

"Phil began having a recurring dream in which he found himself in a bookstore trying to locate an issue of Astounding! that would complete his collection. The rare, indeed, priceless issue contained a story entitled 'The Empire Never Ended' that, if only he could get his hands on it, would reveal the secrets of the universe to him."

"The first time he had the dream he awoke just as he had worked his way down to the bottom of a pile of old magazines he was sure contained the prized issue. He waited anxiously for the dream to recur, and whenever it did he found the pile of magazines exactly as he had left it. Again he started rummaging through. With each recurrence of the dream, the pile became smaller and smaller, but he always awoke before he could get to the bottom of it."

"He spent days reciting the story's title to himself, until he could no longer distinguish it from the sound of blood beating in his ears when he had a fever. He could see the letters that formed the words of the title; he could picture the cover illustration. The illustration worried him, even though--or because--he couldn't quite bring it into focus."

"Over the course of weeks, Phil's desire to find the magazine turned into anxiety that he might actually do so. He knew that if he read 'The Empire Never Ended' the world's secrets would be revealed, but he also understood the danger of such knowledge. He had read it in Lovecraft: if we knew everything, we would go mad with terror."

"Eventually, Phil began to see his dream as a diabolical trap. The buried issue was lying in wait, ready to devour him whole. Instead of tearing through the pile of magazines as he had at first, Phil tried to slow his fingers as they pulled one magazine after another from the pile, bringing him closer and closer to the final horror. He became afraid to fall asleep."

"Then, for no apparent reason, he stopped having the dream. He awaited its return, first nervously, then impatiently; at the end of two weeks, he would have given anything for the dream to come back."

(Editor's Note: Eventually, it did--over 30 years later, in 1977. But that's another story.)

Phil wondered if he had some sort of psychic link to his dead sister. Or, even more amazingly, what if Jane were still alive and well and living in another world, a parallel universe containing a "twin" of our Earth?

On "our" Earth, Jane Charlotte Dick had died on January 26, 1929, and Phil was the surviving twin. But what if things were reversed on that "other" Earth? What if Phil was the one who had died in 1929? What if there was another Jane living over there at right this moment, a dark-haired teenaged girl with the same interests in typing, reading and listening to music? What would that Earth be like?

The idea simmered as Phil matured as a popular sci-fi writer in the 1950s. By 1957, he was contributing one short story per month to five different magazines. Finally, in 1962, the idea found expression in what Phil intended to be his first "mainstream" novel--The Man in the High Castle.

In the "alternate history" of Castle, "after their final crushing victory over the Allies in 1947, the Axis powers divided up the world between them. The Third Reich has Europe, Africa and that portion of America east of the Rocky Mountains, while Japan rules Asia, the Pacific and America's western states. Chancellor Martin Bormann continues his predecessor's policies, turning an appreciable percentage of the Reich's subject populations into bars of soap and the African continent into...well, no one knows for sure, and no one really wants to know. The populations ruled by Japan, on the other hand, bear a more humane yoke of oppression--no concentration camps, no police terror."

The setting is San Francisco, and the heroine is Juliana Frink--a thinly-disguised grown-up version of Phil's sister Jane. Indeed, "Juliana" even has the same job Phil had in the late 1940s and early 1950s, managing an antique store in the city with a sizable jazz collection.

"There is, however, another text that exceeds even the I Ching in plot prominence--The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel-within-a-novel in which the Allies, not the Axis, prevailed" in World War II. "In this twist, Phil was influenced by Ward Moore's (1953) novel, Bring the Jubilee, in which the South has won the (American) Civil War."

"So threatening is its premise that Grasshopper is banned," and sci-fi writer Hawthorne Abendsen, the author, is forced to go into hiding in Cheyenne, Wyoming to avoid the Gestapo, which now operates on a global basis.

Strange things start happening when Juliana finds a weird silver triangle pendant in her store. People begin slipping from her Earth into our world, as Phil chillingly describes in the case of Japanese official Nobosuke Tagomi.

"Sitting on a bench in a public park in San Francisco, Tagomi distractedly takes a piece of (Juliana's) jewelry, a silver triangle, out of his pocket, and begins to rub it, then examine it. The silver catches the sun's rays."

"Tagomi leaves the park, lost in thought. He tries to hail a bicycle taxi--a 'pedicab'--and is surprised to find none around. On reaching the waterfront, he is amazed by the spectacle before him: a gigantic swath of concrete stretches as far as the eye can see along the edge of the bay. It looks like a midway ride on a monstrous scale, swarming with strange-looking vehicles. He has passed here on any number of occasions and never seen this futuristic-looking structure that must have taken months, perhaps years, to build. He shuts his eyes and opens them again, but the apparition remains. In a panic, he stops a passerby and asks him to explain what this monstrosity before them is. The man's reply, that Tagomi is looking at the Embarcadero Freeway, fills him with confusion and dismay."

"He goes into a coffee shop to seek solace, but the lunch counter is full, and none of the people there--all Caucasians--will give up their seats for him, even though as a Japanese" and an Occupation official "he should be shown more deference. He feels as if the earth is giving way under his feet. What nightmare has he fallen into?"

Moments later, the silver triangle twinkles again, and Tagomi is returned to his familiar San Francisco, with its rickshaws, tea houses, geishas, miniature electronic devices, pedestrians and off-duty Japanese soldiers.

The Man in the High Castle turned out to be a home run for Phil, winning him the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963 and launching him into the front rank of American science fiction authors.

Phil passed away on March 2, 1982. His father "Edgar Dick, very old now, came to retrieve his son's body and took it to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where Phil's gravesite had been waiting for him for fifty-three years. Only the date of his death needed to be engraved on the stone. When Phil was laid next to Jane, the old man, who until then had shown no emotion, saw the tiny coffin again and burst into sobs."

Ever wonder what happened to the "other" Jane?

Maybe we should pop over to that alternate Earth and have a look at the Neue Amsterdammer Zeitung for September 11, 1983.

Extracted from "The UFO Files"

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