This week the Science Channel’s new series Prophets of Science Fiction featured a science fiction writer who truly seemed to prophesy future events. With Philip K. Dick the series focus on envisioning the future couldn’t have used a more pervasive writer to make its point.
Ridley Scott serves as narrator for part of each episode, last week beginning with Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
With this week’s episode, we are shifted back and forth between a recreation of Dick’s life, segments on each of a half a dozen of his major works, and interviews with scientists describing how the author influenced or predicted modern technologies.
Beginning with his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the series discusses artificial intelligence and robotics, and how Dick asked the question: can a robot ever become sentient? Using interspersed visuals from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner to the current Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? graphic novels, literature experts speculate on Dick’s purported schizophrenia and drug use as impetuses for some of his more surreal story ideas.
His book A Scanner Darkly is used to show how Dick predicted modern surveillance equipment, ideas Dick contemplated resulting from his own paranoia of government conspiracies.
His Hugo Award winning novel Man in the High Castle, a story about an alternate history where Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated during the Great Depression and Germany and Japan conquer and divide the United States, serves to illustrate string theory and current physics theories about parallel universes.
The short story “Minority Report,” using images from the movie of the same name, serves to illustrate concepts of time and space, and along with Total Recall, the movie based on Dick’s short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” we see Dick’s descriptions of mankind being able to predict the future, and possibly even influence or change the past through memory manipulation. We are told research on this very subject is currently underway.
As part of the discussion of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the series discusses current android builders who have built a realistic android based on Dick himself (shown in the photo at the top of this story).
In thirty years Philip K. Dick wrote 44 novels, most science fiction, along with 120 short stories. The episode ended with discussions by scientists about Dick’s dark vision of the future as reflected in his work and his role in science fiction literature as cautionary prophet.
Although the episode only scratches the surface of Dick’s writing using only his most famous creations, it provides a basic introduction to the man behind the stories, inviting readers to pursue the full library of his work.