The other day I finished A Scanner Darkly.
I know it captivated me because I got through it so quickly, reading for maybe two hours each night (unlike the previous book that was on my bedside table, Frangipani Gardens, which sat there for nearly a month because I would nod off after no more than half an hour of it each night).
It shares many common Dick elements, like the intense paranoia and deteriorating sanity of the protagonist, and yet at its core it felt somehow different from the other Dick novels I’ve read. It wasn’t until I read the afterword that I understood: A Scanner Darkly was written in 1977, after he got “clean” (for some definition of clean) and much after the mind-bending freakouts that were his earlier novels of the sixties. The book was also deeply personal — an expression of regret and sorrow for the devastating consequences which many of Dick’s generation endured for the drug abuse they engaged in — and that resonates throughout the book, particularly in the final section after Fred is suspended from duty.
That was probably also the most sinister, frightening part of the novel: when New-Path’s true role is hinted at, and then finally revealed by the mysterious Executive Director’s comment to “Bruce” in the last pages. It was a surprise, then — perhaps a pleasant one, I’m not quite sure — and quite atypical compared with other Dick novels I’ve read, when in the final paragraph some glimmer of hope is revealed, and we learn that Bruce’s sacrifice was perhaps not entirely in vain.