For no real reason, I started reading A Scanner Darkly by Phillip K Dick this week. I typically don’t read fiction (actually I typically don’t read), but I was tired of the seriousness of the non-fiction genres. So I flipped through my fiction on my Kindle and this was the first one that didn’t feel boring.

A Scanner Darkly is about a cop in the near future, who is working undercover and hanging out with some druggies. The primary drug is Substance D and prolonged use of it causes the two hemispheres of your brain to get out of whack – you start hallucinating and losing rational functions. As he does undercover work, he starts experiencing the effects of Substance D and eventually (in his mind) becomes two people – the narc and the druggie.

Although Dick is a science-fiction writer, this novel is not really science fiction (sure that are some gadgety aspects, but it could have been written without them). Instead, it is a story drawn from Dick’s own drug usage experiences. It’s also quite interesting in a English-class type of way, trying to understand the metaphors that are present in the story. The latter half of the book becomes plot-driven, but there are some good thought questions along the way which makes this an enjoyable read.

I then followed up the reading with a viewing of the movie. The movie stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder; except it’s done in a weird style where they filmed the actors but then animated over top of it. My guess is that was done for budget reasons (so they didn’t have to build any sets), but I just found it odd and distracting. The movie stays faithful to the book in many parts – I remember the lines well having just read the novel, but I thought the movie was quite poor. It had all the necessary scenes, and I understood what was going on, but things were disjointed. A large part of the story is the development (or destruction) of the protaganist’s mind, where he starts becoming paranoid and schizophrenic. That’s not captured or conveyed in the movie. Without that, I think a stranger to the book would be thoroughly confused as to the motivations of the main character. And if, like me, you knew the book you would think that the movie is just a plot summary of the plot. I give the movie 2 stars out of 5.