Philip K. Dick: A 'Plastic' Paradox

The Los Angeles Times last Sunday featured a rambling, but interesting article about Philip K. Dick’s time in Orange County.  The article quotes the author’s wife and daughter, journal entries by a close friend and excerpts from Dick’s own novels to paint a portrait the last 10 years of his life.

Dick had been running with heroin addicts in Vancouver; he’d also tried to kill himself. John Birch Society or not, Orange County didn’t sound so bad.

Still, even after moving to Southern California, Dick often fell back on Bay Area reflexes. “He kept comparing Southern California to Disneyland,” remembers Tessa [his wife], “and said it was plastic, wasn’t real.”

Dick was aware of the cliché. In the novel “Radio Free Albemuth,” a narrator named Phil Dick speaks of Orange County, “far to the south of us, an area so reactionary to us that in Berkeley it seemed like a phantom land, made of the mists of dire nightmare. . . . Orange County, which no one in Berkeley had ever actually seen, was the fantasy at the other end of the world, Berkeley’s opposite.”

It’s neither a happy tale, nor a revelation, but “A ‘Plastic’ Paradox” does add interesting detail to his already much storied lore.

One of the people quoted in the articles is novelist Jonathan Lethem, author of Chronic City, The Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn and several other books I keep telling myself to read.  On his website, Lethem has posted a memoir, Crazy Friend, about his relationship with Dick, whom he never met but idealized as a young man.  It’s mostly a fanboy ode, but also very much worth reading, especially for writers.


A more detailed version of the article was published in three parts at the L.A. Times blog Hero Complex:

Part 1: in Orange County, a stranger in a strange land
Part 2: in the land of the John Birch Society
Part 3: an uneasy spy inside 1970s suburbia


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