Friday, August 24, 2018

Horror List Book Review: A Scanner Darkly

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.)

This week I'm reviewing A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick.

I really had to stew on this one for a bit after I read it and just let it sink in. Ultimately, I rated it better than I would have had I done my rating and review right away.

At first, I thought, huh, this is more sci-fi than horror. Of course, as it simmered in my brain it was obvious where the horror lived within the story. It follows a cop named Fred who is surveilling a junkie drug dealer named Bob. Mixed into the stream of consciousness thoughts of the narrators, who are fried on the drug Substance D, we discover Bob and Fred are the same person, only they don't know that most of the time.

The horror of the story lives within the twisted brain of the cop who took on a dead end position where it was expected he'd dabble in the very drugs he's trying to track and stop. Not only that, but it turns out there's more behind the story than one might expect. Who are the real bad guys?

Dick's writing has elements familiar in the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, and William S. Boroughs. In his end comments, we learn he's used his own experience with drugs to write the often confusing and random discussions within. In fact, the end commentary is a horror story all its own, listing the friends who've died or been dangerously impacted by their drug use. Philip K. Dick is on that list.

This style of writing isn't for everyone, but the story is solid, the subject matter disturbing in a very real world sort of way. There's nothing gory or visceral here. The horror is in the stark sadness of one man's devolution, the cost of his career.

My top ten stands.

My Top Ten:  

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Girl Next Door (Jack Ketchum)
3. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
4. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
5. The Bridge (John Skipp and Craig Spector)
6. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
9. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
10. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)

Have you read A Scanner Darkly? What did you think? Read anything else by Philip K. Dick? Seen the movie?

May you find your Muse.


  1. I read Scanner so long ago that I don't have a clear memory of it. I have a better impression of the movie, which was kind of bizarre, appropriately.
    I'm surprised it's on a horror list even with the horrific elements.

  2. I’ve read The Man In The High Castle, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep and some short stories. All fascinating stuff! The Man was all the more interesting because it was an alternative universe novel about an alternative universe novel. Androids was interesting because it led to a film that was very different, but was a classic in its own right. I hear that this author didn’t become truly famous till after his death, and he missed the success of Bladerunner. Pity, that!

  3. I SO look forward to your reviews! The mention of Ken Kesey was enough to push me toward reading this book. Sometimes I enjoy experimental stuff or things that are bizarre and harder to read, and it sounds like A Scanner Darkly fits the bill.