A Conversation With Philip K. Dick
By Richard A. Lupoff
[from: Science Fiction Eye, Vol. 1, No. 2, August
1987, pp. 45-54]
LUPOFF: A Handful of Darkness was your first
collection. Can you tell us the genesis of the book?
DICK: I had had a lot of stories published. In 1953 I
published twenty-seven stories and almost as many the next year. In June of
1953 I had seven short stories on the stands simultaneously, but no American
publisher had approached me to do a collection. This was before I had done any novels
and Rich & Cowan in England approached me with the idea of putting out a
collection of stories.
LUPOFF: Do you recall who your editor was, or your
DICK: No. They were incredibly primitive. I sent them
several fantasies that had been published in F&SF, but because the
stories dealt with children, Rich & Cowan decided they were stories for
children. By the same token I suppose Agatha Christie’s mysteries are for ax
LUPOFF: Who made the selection?
DICK: Well, I made the selection, by and large. Every
story that they looked at was one that I had submitted to them, rather than one
they found on their own. They continually kept rejecting stories and I kept
sending more. So it took three or four separate batches of stories before they
agreed on the contents. The contents was quite satisfactory to me at the time.
They were all early stories and they were all rather short.
LUPOFF: How do you feel about them now?
DICK: I feel that they are very minor works now. Looking
back on them, there is very little there of substance compared to later stuff.
LUPOFF: I still don’t understand how this thing
started. How did they contact you? Did they come through your agent?
DICK: Yeah, through Scott Meredith. They bought Solar
Lottery, my first novel, and brought it out as World of Chance. But
they brought it out in a truncated form. They insisted that a great deal be
deleted from it. I did, in fact, make a different version of Solar Lottery
for them. It’s quite different from the US version. But they just simply
contacted me through Scott, which was easy enough.
LUPOFF: At the time you had just gotten started. You
had just graduated from UC…
DICK: No, I didn’t graduate.
LUPOFF: You quit?
DICK: Yeah, I quit after a short while.
LUPOFF: What was your major?
LUPOFF: Okay, so you left UC and you sat down and
started writing. I mean, because you just sprang up – from somebody who had
never been published to somebody who, all of a sudden, as you yourself say, had
seven stories in one month; twenty-odd stories in one year.
DICK: Well, after going to Cal, I was working part-time in
a record store, and then went to work full-time, and finally I got to the point
where I was manager of the record department. I would work half a day, every
day, and then write the other half.
In November of 1951 I made my first sale to Tony Boucher and…
LUPOFF: Did you know Tony?
DICK: Yes, I had attended a writing course that he gave.
But that first one, I remember, was one of thirteen stories I submitted
simultaneously. I figured, you know, I stood a chance of selling one of the
thirteen – which is exactly what I did. But I had to revise it considerably for
LUPOFF: Ray Nelson is now running a class like that,
through the Unitarian Church, and one of his students is Anne Rice, who popped
up with Interview With a Vampire. Another of his students is a guy named
Robert Lee Hall, who wrote a book called Exit Sherlock Holmes, that’s
been through two or three printings and is quite successful. Ray seems to
attract people who really have made it.
DICK: I’m not sure writing can be taught. I didn’t get
much out of Tony’s class. I think that the best source for a writer, or a
person who wants to be a writer, is to read good prose models. There’s no
substitute for good prose models.
LUPOFF: Can you name a few examples that influenced
DICK: I liked the short stories of James T. Farrell very
much. They had a tremendous influence on me in the short story form. Then in
the novel form, the French realists like Flaubert and Stendhal and Balzac and
Proust. And then the Russians: Turgenev and Dostoyevsky and some of the
playwrights, like Chekhov, for example. I was very influenced by the French
LUPOFF: So you’re not one of these science fiction
writers who grew up reading “Doc” Smith and…
DICK: I did that too, but the culture in Berkeley, the
milieu in Berkeley at that time – in the late Forties – required that you have
a fairly good grounding in the classics. If you hadn’t read something like Tom
Jones or Ulysses you were just dead, as far as being a guest
anywhere. I mean, I had read lots of science fiction, but the pressure of the
milieu was overwhelming.
You have to bear in mind that at that time science fiction was so looked down upon that it
would have been tantamount to suicide to, in a group of people, come forward
and say “Boy did I read a marvelous story recently,” and they say, “Well, what
was it?” And you say, “It was ‘The Weapon Shops of Isher’ by A.E. Van Vogt.”
They would have just pelted you with grapefruits and coffee grounds from the
garbage. (laughter) If they could have deciphered who you meant, anyway. They
didn’t even know the name.
There wasn’t anybody who read both. You could either be in with the group of freaks who read
Heinlein and Van Vogt and nothing else, or you could be in with the people who
read Dos Passos and Melville and Proust. But you could never get the two
I chose the company of those who were reading the great literature because I liked them
better as people. The early fans were just, you know, trolls and wackos. I
mean, being stuck with them would be like something from the first part of
Dante’s Commedia – up to your ass in shit. They really were terribly
ignorant and weird people, so I just secretly read science fiction.
LUPOFF: Those were the days when you hid this month’s
issue of Startling Stories inside a copy of whatever…
DICK: Of War and Peace, yeah. There was a kind of
an embryonic, you know, fetal fandom coming into existence, because there was the
Little Men’s Marching and Chowder Society and I knew the people in it, but they
were all real weird freaks. They were unpalatable to me because they did not
read the great literature.
LUPOFF: What you said about the trolls is true. I mean,
there were some nice people, it’s not that I would unanimously consign these
people to the Pit – if I were consigning people to the Pit. But I would say
that an inordinate proportion of them are pretty bizarre and essentially
unsavory kind of characters. Not unsavory in the sense of being nasty or
violent or destructive types, but…
DICK: Yeah, losers. I rejected the ghetto concept of
science fiction right from the beginning of it. These people seem to prefer the
ghetto. They want it to be a separate thing from mainstream life and mainstream
fiction both. This has certainly had tragic repercussions for the growth of the
field, because this mentality has continued.
LUPOFF: Well, you know Larry Niven’s theory? He
maintains that it is not a ghetto, it’s a country club. It’s an exclusive and
luxurious domain. Of course, Larry Niven inherited a huge fortune. He has oil
money, so he’s been able to take that attitude right from the outset.
DICK: It’s a ghetto in the respect that most science
fiction fans are ignorant of great mainstream literature of the past. I mean,
very few of them have ever read War and Peace, but all of them have read
The Hobbit trilogy. I’m not putting down Tolkien, because I’ve read the
trilogy too, but I would hate to have missed out on great books like War and
Peace. I’m glad that the Berkeley of the late Forties/early Fifties forced
me to read things like The Red and the Black and Madame Bovary
and others because those are really great books and they taught me a lot about
writing. They taught me a lot about how to write a novel. Maupassant taught me
a lot about how to write a short story. So did James T. Farrell, and some of
the New Yorker short story writers.
But when I started to write science fiction, the people in Berkeley would say, “but are
you doing anything serious?” That used to make me really mad. I’d get really
mad and I’d, all of a sudden, just drop my posing and get really furious. And
I’d say, “my science fiction is very serious.” If I said anything at all. I
usually just got so mad I couldn’t talk.
But the science fiction I wrote before I sold I took as seriously as the experimental
stuff I wrote. I wrote a lot of experimental short stories.
LUPOFF: Did you sell any of them?
DICK: No. I submitted them to, like, Tiger’s Eye,
but I was never able to sell any of them
LUPOFF: Are any of them still around?
DICK: No, they’re destroyed. All the manuscripts were
LUPOFF: That’s too bad. Do you have any idea how many
DICK: Oh, thirty maybe. And I wrote eleven experimental
novels. They’re still around. They’re over at Cal State Fullerton.
LUPOFF: Do they include Crap Artist?
DICK: Confession of a Crap artist was one of them,
but that came in 1959, that was later. That came before Man in the High
Castle. That’s really the bridge between my Ace Double science fiction type
of writing and Man in the High Castle. Actually, if you read what I
wrote for Ace prior to Putnam’s buying Man in the High Castle, you
cannot account for Man in the High Castle. It doesn’t seem to come out
of Ace Books. But if you read Confessions of a Crap Artist and date it
as 1959 and 1961 for Man in the High Castle, you can bridge the gap
between the two.
LUPOFF: So, anyway. There you are in 1953 and all of a
sudden you sell your first story to Tony Boucher. Do you recall which story
DICK: “Roog.” It’s about garbage men. It’s about a dog who
can sense that the garbage men are predatory carnivores from another planet,
who accept the garbage each week as a propitiatory offering in surrogate for
the people themselves. But eventually these garbage men will tire of accepting
these surrogate offerings and take the people in the houses and eat them. And
that is how the dog sees the garbage men. The story is from the dog’s point of
view and the garbage men are seen as only quasi-humanoid. They have thin necks
and their heads are like pumpkins and their heads wobble.
I remember that Judith Merrill saw the story and refused to anthologize it because she
said that garbage men don’t have thin necks, and wobbly heads, and so on. It’s
not true. So I wrote her a long letter explaining to her that that’s the
way the dog saw it and she would have to accept the dog’s viewpoint. But she
still wouldn’t accept the story for anthologizing because she said it just
wasn’t true. Garbage men aren’t that way.
So I said to her, “It’s a fantasy, Judy. A fantasy. Do you understand what is meant by a
fantasy?” But she said, “No, a fantasy is a story with a fantasy premise, and
then it’s realistic from then on.”
So I said that in this story the fantasy premise is that the dog has a different point of
view from us and that everything is predicated on that. But I couldn’t convince
her. The story is still in print. Bob Silverberg reprinted it recently in one
of his collections, Science Fiction Bestiary, so it’s still in print.
LUPOFF: She couldn’t grasp that it was make-believe, a
DICK: Yeah. I ran into a lot of opposition because my
early fantasy stories were essentially psychological stories. They were heavily
into anxieties such as animals or children feel, in which the thing that was
feared would actually come into existence and was treated objectively.
I just gave up writing them, finally. People would make that kind of criticism. They would
say, “There’s no such thing as…” Their sentences would begin that way. So
finally I just gave up and went over and wrote science fiction and abandoned
the fantasy format. Because what I meant by a fantasy was evidently not what
other people meant by a fantasy. My idea of a fantasy was where the archetypal
elements become objectified and you have an exteriorization of what our inner
I remember I had a term I used to defend this kind of internal projection stories. Stories
where internal psychological elements were projected onto the outer world and
became three dimensional and real and concrete. Scott, my agent, wrote me
incredibly long letters saying that there was no such thing. There was the
inner world of dreams and fantasies and the unconscious and then there was the
objective outer world, and the two never mixed. So I gave up.
Later, when I’d established myself more securely in the field, I began to go and do it in
such books as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I reverted to what
I wanted to do and had the nightmare inner content objectified in the outer
world. So I slowly began to reintroduce those elements into my writing.
LUPOFF: Do you do any fantasy now?
DICK: No. No I don’t. It pretty much cured me of trying
LUPOFF: Let me tell you. I wrote a story about a woman
who can see into her husband’s dreams. She wakes up in the middle of the night
and can see, in sort of a cloud over her husband’s head, what he is dreaming.
It’s not a good marriage and he has essentially retreated – his life is really
drab, anyhow. He could be one of your garbage men. We really never do get to
know his job except that he works at the plant. So he drinks a lot of beer and
watches a lot of television and daydreams and dream dreams. These actual
sleeping dreams are his last avenue of retreat from an unpleasant, though not
directly threatening, environment. He lives adequately, but he’s not happy.
So his psychic energy goes into his dreams and she succeeds in invading them, they
were his last refuge.
DICK: Oh, that’s a terrific idea.
LUPOFF: It was written for Heavy Metal, of
course. Because they are French in orientation and erotic and morbid; their
three themes. Gallic culture, eroticism and morbidity. So the name of the story
is “Mort in Bed.”
DICK: Ursula LeGuin in The Lathe of Heaven gets
into the idea of dreams being somehow objectively real.
LUPOFF: Yes. Effective dreaming.
DICK: I was fascinated by that. There is, of course, a
contemporary heretical sect of scientists and laymen who, based on Jung’s
theory that UFOs were projections from the collective unconscious, that have
begun to talk about mental contents as being actually objective. This is the
Tulpa theory that they can be projected into the outer world and even be
photographed, and are sensible objects. They are objects of our percept system
and are projected from the unconscious – which is just one step further from
Jung’s idea that an individual will project elements of his unconscious. Now we
have the collective unconscious of a number of people being projected and forming
Tulpa objects. I’ve read some interesting material on that. It’s also connected
with the weird scientific discovery that the observer influences the
performance of sub-atomic particles.
Now one of the basic psychotic ideas is that you can affect objects by just thinking about
them, and yet this has crept into quantum physics. By picking up the Jungian
thing we arrive at the conclusion that we can and do project a lot of our outer
reality. This is exactly what I was trying to do in my early stories.
LUPOFF: Were you reading Jung then?
DICK: Yes. Yes, definitely. He was a major influence on
LUPOFF: Can you recall specific works?
DICK: Psychological Types would be one. I read all
the Jung that was in print in English at that time, but not very much was
in print in English. Since then I’ve read so much more because the Pantheon
Press people have published all of Jung in English. I can’t remember which ones
were in print in English then, except Psychological Types. Most early
LUPOFF: I came across an article the other day by a guy
who was as unintellectual and unsophisticated as can be. He was just a huge
pulp fan, but he somehow came across the concept of Tulpas. He maintains that
in the apartment in Greenwich Village where Walter Gibson lived in the 1930s,
when he was writing The Shadow novels – two a month – that the fellow who lives
there now can see this vague figure moving around the apartment all the time.
And the figure is Lamont Cranston.
He didn’t know anything about the history of the building. He discovered that Walter
Gibson had written all those Shadow novels in that apartment and he deduced
that Walter Gibson had created a Lamont Cranston Tulpa by writing all those
books in that room, and that that figure is still there.
DICK: That’s very interesting. Back at the time I was
starting to write science fiction, I was asleep one night and I woke up and
there was a figure standing at the edge of the bed, looking down at me. I
grunted in amazement and all of a sudden my wife woke up and started screaming
because she could see it too. She started screaming, but I recognized it and I
started reassuring her, saying that it was me that was there and not to be
afraid. Within the last two years – let’s say that was in 1951 – I’ve dreamed
almost every night that I was back in that house, and I have a strong feeling
that back then in 1951 or ’52 that I saw my future self, who had somehow, in
some way we don’t understand – I wouldn’t call it occult – passed backward
during one of my dreams now of that house, going back there and seeing
myself again. So there really are some strange things…
That’s the kind of stuff I would write as a fantasy in the early Fifties.
LUPOFF: Who were the editors you were dealing with and
selling to back then?
DICK: Tony Boucher for F&SF, Horace Gold for Galaxy
and Beyond, Bill Hamlyn at Imagination, and the editor for Fantastic
Universe, Hans Stefan Santesson. That’s all I can remember. Any magazine
that was extant in 1953 I was dealing with. Except for Campbell.
LUPOFF: You never dealt with Campbell?
DICK: Well, he just said my stories were nuts. He said
they were crazy. He bought one story.
LUPOFF: What was that?
DICK: That was “Imposter.” He said that psi was a
necessary premise for a science fiction story, and I had a very strong
prejudice against psionics. I thought it was a form of the occult and should
not be allowed to invade science fiction. I’ve changed my mind since, but at
the time I thought of it like witchcraft and stuff like that. Superstitious.
LUPOFF: What made you change your mind?
DICK: I think the powers actually exist. I think they’re
LUPOFF: Now these editors you dealt with – Boucher
lived in Berkeley, and you were in his group – but did you have any direct
contact with these others, or was it all through Meredith?
DICK: Well, Horace Gold and I wrote back and forth quite a
bit. I met Evelyn Page Gold, who was then married to him, in ’64. Howard
Browne, editor of Amazing and Fantastic, was very nice. He was a
lot of help to me. Howard Browne was a very good editor.
LUPOFF: What did he do for you?
DICK: He defined the type of story he felt I could best
write, and he was quite correct. I did a lot of stuff for him.
LUPOFF: This was all by mail?
DICK: Yes, though I did meet him in 1964 and liked him
LUPOFF: I never met him, but I had an interesting
letter from him. I wrote a book about Edgar Rice Burroughs – the first thing I
ever wrote – and I mentioned people whose work resembled Burroughs or might
have influenced Burroughs or been influenced by him. I mentioned a couple of
books by Browne, Warrior of the Dawn and The Return of Tharn. And
Browne wrote me a letter and said that as a matter of fact, Burroughs had read Warrior
of the Dawn when it first came out in about 1940. And Burroughs had said,
“Dear Mr. Browne, I really enjoyed Warrior of the Dawn and it is one of
the best books I ever wrote.”
DICK: Howard Browne was a very nice guy. I later had a
terrible fight, in 1954, with Horace Gold because Gold would change parts of
your story and add whole new scenes and characters without telling you,
and publish them. And you would suddenly discover that you had collaborated
with Horace Gold. I just got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. I
told him I wouldn’t submit to him as long as he was going to take out scenes
and put in other scenes. So I did not resubmit to Galaxy until he ceased
to be the editor of it. That was my main market at the time, and I took a
tremendous financial risk by doing that, but by then I was going into the novel
form. But that was one of the reasons I went into the novel form, and then I
started hassling with Donald Wolheim, so I didn’t gain a thing.
LUPOFF: How come you went to work for Ace Books, of all
DICK: Scott did the marketing. I had nothing to do with
that. There really wasn’t much else of a market.
LUPOFF: Ballantine was starting up about that same
DICK: Yeah, that’s true, but Scott kept selling to Ace. I
had no control over that. Sixteen times we went with Ace.
LUPOFF: Did Wolheim mess with your copy?
DICK: Never. Oh, once with Dr. Futurity. He made a
lot of cuts in Dr. Futurity, but outside of that he never messed with
LUPOFF: He didn’t monkey with any of your other stuff,
why did he cut Dr. Futurity?
DICK: Because in Dr. Futurity I had Christianity
dying out and interracial marriages. Don disapproved of Christianity dying out
or talk of it dying out. And he definitely disapproved of the interracial
LUPOFF: He’s so scared about treading on toes. I’ll
give you a Don Wolheim story. My first novel, a book called One Million
Centuries – bad book, but what the hell, we all write first novels. I sent a
portion and an outline to Terry Carr, who was then working for Don. And Terry
said, “Hey, I like this. I’d like to buy it, but I need Don’s approval.” This
was before the Special series, and he didn’t have the clout to buy a book
So he turned the proposal over to Don who held it for quite a while and finally bounced it
and sent me a rejection slip – which is somewhere in my house, and I’d pay
twenty dollars if I could find it because he listed his objections to it.
But the major objection was that the hero was black, and he said, “Surveys indicate that most
of our readers are white and that most black people don’t read books, or at
least not science fiction. So nobody would want to buy this book, so I don’t
want to publish it.”
I’m inclined to believe that these are less of Don’s personal prejudices and convictions
than they are very calculated commercial considerations.
DICK: That could be, yeah.
LUPOFF: God knows he’d have no objection to a novel
about Christianity dying out – not being a Christian. First of all, he’s Jewish
by birth, and he’s a sort of radical atheist.
DICK: He was supposed to be a communist for a while.
LUPOFF: Oh, yes, he makes no pretense about it. In
fact, I asked him about it for an article I was writing about social and
political attitudes in science fiction for Ramparts. I asked him a few
questions and he said that back in the late Thirties/early Forties when it was
fashionable to be a communist, a bunch of science fiction fans – including
himself – had a contact with some recruiters from the Communist Party USA. And
the “real” communists wanted nothing to do with the science fiction fans
because they thought that science fiction was too far divorced from immediate
reality. It was utopian and fantastic and what these people should do is
abandon science fiction and then they’d be acceptable as recruits for
communism. But they didn’t want them as long as they were going to be science
DICK: Yeah, I remember an article in The People’s World
after World War II in which science fiction was denounced as a reactionary
tool of the Imperialist, Fascist powers. Then, as you know, the party switched
its mind on science fiction and became pro science fiction. I think they
changed over about the time of Sputnik.
LUPOFF: Yeah, science fiction is considered acceptable
in the Soviet Union. They publish a good deal of it. Have you had any works
published in Russia or other Socialist countries?
DICK: Well, Ubik has appeared in Poland in a very
nice edition, and they’re bringing out Solar Lottery and Man in the
High Castle in Poland. They’ve purchased them, but haven’t paid me for them
yet. And I’ve heard that I’m the third most published American science fiction
writer in Russia, but I don’t receive any royalties.
LUPOFF: Who are the other two?
DICK: Heinlein and Asimov. Heinlein is very popular in
LUPOFF: (laughs) That’s amazing. I wonder what he
thinks of that?
DICK: I don’t know. That’s his problem. I don’t even know
if he knows, because it was even hard for me to find that out myself. I was
trying to find out if I had any substantial royalties in the Soviet Union, and
I did find out that my books are published there.
I had a story pirated by their leading literary magazine and published in the Fifties. The
magazine, Ogonek, had a circulation of a million, five hundred thousand
copies. It was the magazine equivalent of Pravda. I wrote them and they
paid me out of an account in a Wall Street bank and they sent me a copy of the
magazine, but it was confiscated by the US Postal authorities as communist
propaganda. (laughter) That’s really true.
LUPOFF: What was the story?
DICK: “Foster, You’re Dead,” which Ballantine printed in
the Star anthologies. The Soviet magazine ran thirty-two pages – the
pages being the size of Life magazine – and five pages was the story and
illustrations and everything. They asked me to submit stuff directly to them,
but I never did. They paid me exactly three and a half cents a word, which is
what Astounding and Galaxy were paying at that time. They knew
exactly what the rates were in the United States. (laughs)
LUPOFF: I was pirated by a magazine in Spain, a big slick
Life magazine type magazine. They took an article I wrote about Janis
Joplin for Ramparts. I only found out about it because I happened to see
a copy of the magazine. So I wrote them a letter. I told them I had mixed
feelings about what they had done. I was flattered that they thought so highly
of my stuff and went through all the trouble of getting it translated and put
in this beautiful format in this plush magazine, but it would be nice if they
had paid me.
DICK: I find I just don’t write short stuff anymore. I
can’t even come up with a final draft of this novel for Bantam because I’m
doing so much research on it. I now do so much research that I just don’t have
time to write. Sometimes I work until five in the morning on research. I don’t
ever want to have happen what happened on Deus Irae where I started a
book and found out I didn’t know enough about my subject matter to do the book.
I didn’t know enough about Christianity. So I’m trying to avoid that particular
But it’s really funny. Roger [Zelazny] and I have just cleaned up on Deus Irae.
We made a mint on it.
LUPOFF: It must be the authors, because in all honesty,
I like your books better than that, and I like Roger’s books better than that.
But a shared byline by two people who both pack a wallop can’t miss.
DICK: I called Roger the other day about Deus Irae.
This just tripped me out. My ex-wife Tessa brought me a copy of the first
paperback of Roots. Roots went into paperback as of this month,
November 1977. And she said, “Here’s the paperback of Roots.” I said,
“Fine. Are you giving this to me?” She said, “Look in the back.” I looked in
the back and there was a full page ad for Deus Irae.
So I called up Roger and I said, “Roger, I want to approach what I have to say this way.
Now that Roots has finally come out in paperback, by Dell, how many
copies do you think the first printing would run?” And he said, “Well,
somewhere between one and two million, I would guess.”
“Fine,” I said. “There are between one and two million ads for Deus Irae, which
includes a coupon you can clip out and send in.”
LUPOFF: Oh great.
DICK: It’s the greatest advertisement we’ve ever had.
Isn’t that incredible?
editor Richard Lupoff has written a variety of books, including Circumpolar
and the ground-breaking Space War Blues. He has recently finished a
mystery novel. His upcoming contributions to these pages include a short story
in EYE #3 and whatever else he can find in the bottom of his filing cabinet.
(Thanks to Frank Bertrand for contributing this article.)