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Hear Philip K. Dick Talk About SF And The Mainstream In 1976

Well, science fiction has changed a lot in the last few years. It's coming out of the ghetto. But all that's done is make it worse. I mean, the writing is worse, now that it is coming out of the ghetto. Instead of getting better it's getting worse because it's losing its identity, it's losing its shape. It's becoming like silly putty. I mean, you can now call anything you want science fiction or you can decide not to call it science fiction.

I have a book coming out. The hardcover edition of it will be called mainstream and the paperback is going to be sold as science fiction. If you buy the hardcover you're reading a mainstream novel. If you buy the Ballantine paperback you're reading a science fiction novel. But the text is identical in the two. And they were bought simultaneously by Doubleday and Ballantine working in tandem... Now, if you'd read the Ballantine paperback edition I'd say, yes, that was a great science fiction novel. And if you'd read the Doubleday edition I'd say, well, that was a great mainstream novel, wasn't it?

We're not talking about packaging and marketing. We're not talking about content at all. Like Sharon Jarvis at Doubleday read its first eighty pages. She says, well, there's no rocket ships in this book. It's not science fiction. I'm going to throw it down the hall to the other editors, the trade editors and let them market it. And Ballantine looked at the manuscript and said, hot dog, this is wonderful science fiction. We're going to make millions. And then I said, you guys better get together. So I really don't know. I mean, it came out of the ghetto in the hardcover edition and it went right back into the ghetto in the paperback edition.


Just months before the release of his seminal novel A Scanner Darkly (1977), Philip K. Dick talks about his career with Mike Hodel on the legendary SF radio show, Hour 25. (It's still around today!) Topics include "mainstream" literary fiction versus "ghetto" science fiction, Samuel Delany's Dhalgren (he and Harlan Ellison thought it was a "trashy book"), the proper pronunciation of "Ubik," the I Ching, Dick's first novel (a modern sequel to Gulliver's Travels) and making a living as a genre writer, including film sales. He also talks about the SoCal drug culture and its influence on Scanner, from which he reads an excerpt. It's a remarkable interview, and it's amazing to see how much (and how little) has changed in forty years — at times you might forget that you aren't listening to a contemporary podcast. (One wonders what PKD would have made of that word.)

Also, this throwaway dig at Tolkien reminds us that the schism between SF and fantasy is nothing new:

I have a great anxiety about the future of science fiction. And when I wrote to Publishers Weekly I took a very negative view of the future of science fiction. I contrasted the hopes and dreams that we'd had for it with now people writing about sword fights and little fellows with fuzzy turned-up feet. What is it, Draino and Fredo and other -

Hodel: Dildo -

Yeah. You can't parody science fiction anymore because it's becoming a parody of itself. You know people think science fiction consists of guys putting on funny looking old fashioned costumes and whacking each other over the head with swords. And that's not science fiction. Science fiction is stuff like 1984, to me, dystopias.


Short on time? Here's a transcript from a PKD fansite.

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