Why Philip K Dick’s canon is so often plundered


Image : Pixabay


We recently signed up for Amazon Prime.

Amazon are not one of my favourite companies. Any global big business that has such a massive slice of a particular market – that has changed the way the world shops – is doing something right in monetary terms, whilst simultaneously doing something very wrong for every independant bookshop / high street retailer.

And that’s before we even approach the topic of authors’ pay, the way the company has tried to hold both publishers and authors to ransom in order to prioritise their own profits … 

A could go on, but it’s Sunday and I’m sure you have family to spend time with and dogs to walk, so I’ll shut up before I scare you away.

So why, might you ask, have I allowed this beacon of capitalism into my home? Well, you see, I live with an enormous film buff. Allow me to rephrase that. He’s not enormous – it’s the scale of his filmbuffery that’s huge. Where I squirrel away books, stealthily slipping them into the house under my coat, he does the same with DVDs. Our shelves are a mosaic of brightly coloured cardboard, paper and plastics.

Fulfilling his need for celluloid (no, I know – pixels then) used to be simple. We’d got to the cinema (we were the young couple who, early in our relationship viewed a late night double bill of The Exorcist and some schlocky horror I can’t remember – for a Valentine’s Day treat). And for home consumption there was Blockbuster.

Ah, Blockbuster. I still recall the dusty shelving, the slightly sticky carpets, the caged popcorn (two sacks for the price of one!), and their line in surly, dishevelled just-got-out-of-bed-at-11-am staff members was second to none.

What those guys couldn’t be bothered to tell you about film wasn’t worth not listening to.

Their stores may have had the air of neglected charity shops, but for a reasonable sum, you could rent any recently released DVD on the market.

Of course, Blockbuster has pretty much gone the way of Woolworths, ra-ra skirts and pedal pushers – extinct, never to be resurrected. Which has left the other half in a quandry when it comes to accessing filmage. We’ve tried Netflix, but he exhausted their range a while back, hence the move to Amazon Prime.

And on Amazon Prime we found The Man in the High Castle.

The quality of the dialogue isn’t the highest – you can almost hear the cogs grinding, it’s so clunky. And the acting … Well, there’s a lot of staring into space looking pensive and the main female character only has two expressions – shocked and blank. But it’s a high-concept, alternate history thriller, set in a 1960s America in which the Axis nations won the Second World War and the States were split between Germany and Japan – nuance is not what we’ve tuned in for.

The most surprising thing for me about The Man in the High Castle is that it’s based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. I suppose I associate Dick with full on flying car, Mars settlement, implants in the brain sci-fi .

I’m sure I’m wrong, but it seems everything that tripped from Dick’s typewriter or slipped from his pen has been adapated for the big screen: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, the rummaging through his canon for cinema fodder knows no bounds.

Which made me wonder which author holds the record for the most adaptations of their work on the big screen.

Well, I did a bit of googling and although there’s some debate on the subject, there are some names you’d expect to see – and some you really wouldn’t.

Shakespeare and Dickens are first and third – no great surprise there. Ian Fleming makes an appearance for the James Bond books, of course, along with Stephen King, Arthur Conan Doyle, Stan Lee and Robert Louis Stephenson – genre books make great movies after all.

Surprises? Well, according to this list, Anton Chekov is in at number 2. Seriously? You don’t generally see versions of The Cherry Orchard rubbing shouders with the latest Avengers movie down the local multi-plex. Moliere is also there, with 208 writer credits according to IMDb – apparently.

So, what have we learnt from this list? 

That having a long career and writing a ton of successful genre fiction is one way to adaptation success. Being a dead literary giant helps. But sometimes just writing one really good yarn – say Don Quixote if your Cervantes (101 adaptations, mainly of this one text) – can be enough.

And the other thing I’ve learned? That not all Philip K Dick adaptations are equal.


Have you been watching The Man in the High Castle? What do you think? Do you agree with the Slate list? Who do you think is the most regularly adapted author?




Wednesday Word Tangle: Why NASA may have just ruined James Cameron’s career

'Brain the size of a planet' Image: Pixabay

‘Brain the size of a planet’
Image: Pixabay

With apologies to the uninitiated, but this post is pretty sci-fi heavy. However, it does include lots of links to explain what I’m banging on about, so fasten your Kuiper belts, we’re going boldly where this blog has not been before …

When I was a kid, repeats of the (original) Star Trek series were a regular feature of my Sunday, for it’s a proven, scientific fact that nothing aids the digestion of gravy, mashed potatoes and roast beef better than low budget sci-fi. Each episode would feature old James Tiberius staring fixedly into space just to one side of the camera, an invasion of Tribbles and a slinky, dancing green lady – or so it seemed to me. (Though, of course, the best part was the theme tune. If you’re not singing that mad falsetto for the rest of the day … Altogether now ‘Ahh-ahh, ahhhh, ahh-ahh, ahh-ahh, ahhhhhh!’)

I wasn’t a massive fan, but despite William Shatner’s ponderous (then rushed, then back to ponderous) delivery of dialogue, and polystyrene rocks and knowing the member of the cast you didn’t recognise is going to get zapped / gunked / sucked to death on the exploratory trip to a dangerous planet, it was good fun and preferable to tidying my bedroom.

So if this was my introduction to sci-fi, I really preferred the stuff I watched as a young adult: Terminator (well, the first couple, before we all realised that Arnie’s wooden delivery and glazed expression were to be the height of his acting prowess), Alien / Aliens, Blade Runner … I may be (read that as ‘I am’) biased, but I do think it was a pretty good time for the genre – you know, before all movie directors became obsessed with using CGI, even if it doesn’t particularly enhance the story (for shame, George Lucas) and before James Cameron became convinced he was ‘king of the world’ just because he could sink a big boat and tip gallons of cyan paint over some lanky cat people. (I don’t know about you, but I almost cheered when that ship began to sink. ‘Draw me like one of your French girls.’ Oh, please, Miss Winslet, put them away, it’s chilly out there.)

Sorry, back to aliens.

The premise that Star Trek, Avatar and even Aliens worked on is that aliens, when we meet them, will be basically human-shaped. Okay, so the Na’vi from Avatar are tall, feline and blue and the Alien in its adult form (not the infant John Hurt chest-burster form) is a jumble of invertebrate body parts and mandibles that protrude from its head – and it bleeds acid that can melt the hull of a spaceship … But basically, it’s humanoid.

Now, with the news that NASA has discovered the presence of liquid water on Mars, film makers may have to rethink.

Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle word is


Up to now, aliens could be what we wanted them to be, look how we wanted them to: hyper intelligent, often aggressive killers, occasionally pacifist, New Age tree huggers a la Avatar (and much as I love to hug a tree, the film was so trite and preachy, it had me grabbing for the nearest chainsaw).

But what now? What if NASA is right to suggest that the presence of flowing water (albeit of the salty-enough-to-preserve-cod variety) means there could be extant life on Mars? That life is not going to look like us. It’ll be tiny – possibly microbial.

Reckon James Cameron can spin that into his next blockbusting franchise?

As long as he can paint them blue … Yeah. Probably.   

Thanks to Kat for the original W4W.

For a fun spin on Star Trek, I beseech you to watch Galaxy Quest. By Grabthar’s Hammer, you won’t regret it.

The novels’ calling card: What makes a good book title?

The four oldest Bennet sisters relaxing at home

The four oldest Bennet sisters relaxing at home

What do The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies, One Hundred Years of Solitude and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People have in common? 

They’re all on Barack Obama’s nightstand, just waiting to be read come the end of next year when he’ll have a bit less on his ‘to do’ list? Maybe.

They’ve all been adapted for TV or film? Close, but Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies hasn’t quite made it to the screen yet. It’s due out next year, which kind of scuppered my petitioning of the BBC, who I hoped would finally pay attention to my ( hundreds of ) emails and put their costume drama budget where their mouth is. Sunday nights after Antiques Roadshow is surely the best slot for a blood-soaked Elizabeth Bennet giving the zombie hordes the ass-kicking of a Regency lifetime? Alas, it was not to be.

Anyway, have you guessed the link yet?

A gold star and a sticky bun* if you guessed they all appear on the Goodreads Best Book Titles list, alongside To Kill a Mockingbird, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and my personal favourite Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: A Slightly Tarnished Southern Belle’s Words of Wisdom.

Some of these titles are so familiar, they’ve passed into our cultural landscape. In fact, they’ve not only passed into the cultural landscape, they’ve been eroded by cultural wind, rain, hail and snow until they’re now merely molehills in the lawn of language. What I mean is, although the books are still strong, the very ubiquity of their titles has lessened their impact.

But look at them with sparkly new eyes and a brain fresh from a cotton wash cycle, and you’ll revisit their power.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In a phrase of genius, Douglas Adams has summoned every dogeared travel guide you’ve ever seen tucked down a backpacker’s jockeys, taken us by the hand and opened up a universe of adventure and Vogon poetry. You know what the book’s about before you’ve read a word.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. A spin on Dale Carnegie’s  self-help guide How to Win Friends and Influence People, you just know this is the loser’s guide to gaffs and social faux pas on a heroic scale.

I could go on, but I can sense your attention drifting and if I don’t make my point soon, I fear you’ll skip to that video that’s trending on You Tube – you know, the one with the juggling bears and the armadillo in a track suit.

My question is, what’s in a name? And the answer most definitely is a damn lot, thanks for asking.

I can’t say I agree with all of the choices. For instance, in pole position on the Best Titles Grid is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. Now, for a serious sci-fi novel which dissects the very concept of what it means to be human, I’ve always thought it was a clunky, rather jokey title. Although, it is an intriguing one and at least hints at the contents more than the catchier Blade Runner, which was what Ridley Scott renamed the story when he adapted it for the screen.

Would How to Win Friends have been as popular if it hadn’t referenced the title of another book that’s passed into common usage and put a darkly twisted, low beat spin on it? Would One Hundred Years of Solitude have become one of the classics of  twentieth century literature if it had been called ‘The bloke who built a shiny city where  generations of his family suffer weird misfortunes?’ Well, probably, yes, assuming the contents of a book is still the most important thiing.

But Gabriel Garcia Marquez might have found his task more difficult if he hadn’t devised such a beautiful and evocative title for his novel.

So even if the title doesn’t have to sum up the plot of the novel, it has to intrigue us just enough to scan the blurb, to make us open the cover and dip our toes in a new world of words.

The title is the fishing hook, the calling card of the novel.

What’s your favourite book title and why? 

*Sticky buns not provided.