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Creator / Philip K. Dick

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Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
VALIS by Philip K. Dick

Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American Science Fiction author who wrote many influential novels. Throughout his life, he suffered from severe hallucinations and a distorted view of reality. His novels reflect this, and his writing made him one of the most beloved and most critically acclaimed writers in the sci-fi genre.

Dick has said his writings revolve around two questions:

  1. What is reality?
  2. What does it mean to be human?

Dick's characters typically spend much of his work wondering who they are, and whether their memories are real or fake. His stories often dealt with reality as illusion, Gnosticism, crazy people, drugged up people, people who seem crazy but are in fact drugged up, people who seem drugged up who are in fact crazy, Mad Oracles, drugged up oracles, reality going crazy, reality going on drugs, government conspiracies, evil corporations, simulacra, Cosmic Entities, Eldritch Abominations, and enough combinations of the above that a permanent state of Mind-Screwed-ness becomes an occupational hazard for his readers. Twist endings and world-shattering revelations are also characteristic of his work, reflecting what can only be described as his rich inner life. Similarly a common theme in his works is a comparison between an objective "Real" reality and a subjective "Perceived" reality, debating the dividing line between the two and whether it is even worth contemplating the difference; a theme that reflected his own mental state.

He is known for writing some of the first Grey Goo stories and for writing about Postmodernism before it caught on in the academic world. He wrote serious existential and theological treatises within the context of futuristic science-fiction stories, when science-fiction novels were still in their infancy and considered as childish and peripheral by the majority of the literary world. He was one of the first authors to use fantasy and science-fiction to discuss taboo and socially risqué subjects, contemplating ideas that wouldn't be discussed in mainstream academia for decades. He mixed, deconstructed, and reconstructed philosophical and psychological ideology from everything from Carl Jung and his theories on collective consciousness through to Jean-Paul Sartre and his theories on individualism, constantly searching to define and challenge reality and the human mind. Some of his stories have been cited by big-name philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and Slavoj Zizek.

He wasn't particularly popular in the United States during most of his lifetime, but he gained a following in France among the intellectual set; his bizarre works meshed nicely with the postmodern philosophy then current in French academia.

Around 1974, Dick began to have odd revelations/hallucinations, culminating with direct contact with the entity formerly known as God. Many think he suffered from schizophrenia, a possibility Dick himself acknowledged and wrestled with. He became increasingly paranoid, at one point alleging that the KGB or the FBI stole documents from his house (he did, in fact, come home one night to find one of his filing cabinets forced open); later, he suggested that he might have broken into his own house and then forgotten about it. Many suspect his later novels are so confusing because he was trying to work out these problems in his writing.

Hailed as "The Godfather of Science Fiction", he has a strong cult-following pan-globally which has been growing since his death in the early 1980s, encouraged by the relevance that a lot of his works have to modern day society. A lot of his more thought-provoking works continue to be the subject of analysis today.

Many of his stories have been adapted into movies. Some turned out good (A Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner, Total Recall (1990), Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau) and some received a more mixed reception (Next, Paycheck, Impostor, as well as the TV series The Man in the High Castle). His largest work is to date unpublished save a few excerpts - over 7000 pages of notes speculating on Greek philosophy, early Christianity, theology, mental illness, and the implicate structure of the universe itself. This work, titled the "Exegesis," spans thousands of years of metaphysics and occult literature. Written during the final few years of his life, it is either his greatest triumph of skeptical empiricism or a deep descent into incomprehensible insanity.

Despite being a contemporary of the New Wave Science Fiction cohort, he is not generally considered one of the authors associated with that trend during The '60s and The '70s. They were not widely associated with "weird" as much as they were associated with new literary sensibilities. And PKD works are regarded more for the raw ideas than they are for their literary style and polish.

Works with their own pages:

For the newly prospective or particularly insane reader, as a lot of PKD's works were guided by the Reality Subtext of his life, reading his works in the order they were published (or written) from oldest to most recent gives probably the best overall understanding of the development of his mind and ideas over time.note  However, be warned that trying to read them all in progressive succession may break your mind. Literally.note 

Years of drug abuse (which inspired A Scanner Darkly, where he lists himself as a victim of this, and possibly fed into those weird thoughts detailed above) led to his death in 1982 of heart failure at age 53.

This author's works provide examples of:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: The Game-Players of Titan is concerned with the fictional game "Bluff" where players wager spouses and entire cities among other things.
  • After the End: Dick used this trope many times.
    • "The Turning Wheel" is set on some apocalyptic post-nuclear war Earth, far enough in the future that nobody remembers how Detroit got its name. (Possibly from "some now-forgotten spiritual leader.")
    • "Captive Market" dealt with survivors of a nuclear war, trying to build an escape rocket, and buying supplies from a modern day general store owner.
    • In "Autofac," a community of people is trying to wrest control of automated production facilities from the machines that run them in the aftermath of a nuclear war.
    • In "The Days of Perky Pat," post-nuclear communities of adults sustained by CARE packages from the Martians obsessively play a "Life"-like game with elaborate to-scale game boards and a child's plastic Barbie-like doll named Perky Pat in an effort to relive their civilized lives while their children embrace a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
    • In "If There Were No Benny Cemoli" a group of men and women who escaped the nuclear war on Earth by fleeing into space return after years of absence and try to take over, much to the chagrin of the survivors who've built up their own lifestyle in the intervening years.
    • Deus Irae, a novel he cowrote with Roger Zelazny, depicts a world with a reduced and mutated population due to a past nuclear war. A religion has sprung up around one of the scientists behind it.
    • "To Serve the Master" is set nearly 200 years after a devastating nuclear war. What's left of humanity lives in underground shelters and there's still contamination on the surface.
    • "Second Variety" is in a post-apocalyptic aftermath where there's not much left on Earth but soldiers underground and killer robots, most of above-ground Earth having been blasted into ruins.
  • Arc Words:
    • "The Empire Never Ended", which originally came from a dream he had when he was young.
    • Also: The Black Iron Prison
  • Artificial Human: Second Variety as well as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
  • Artificial Outdoors Display: The World Jones Made begins and ends in an artificial habitat made for people unadapted to the local atmoshopere. The habitat at the beginning is built in Earth to emulate venusian outdoors for mutants who will later be sent to colonize Venus. The habitat at the end is for the protagonist and his family, who hide from the law on Venus.
  • Author Avatar: Nicholas Brady in Radio Free Albemuth. However, he also includes a separate character named Philip K. Dick.
    • He does it again in VALIS, introducing one character named Philip K. Dick and another called Horselover Fat (a pun on the literal Greek and German meanings of "Philip" and "Dick").
  • Author Tract: The short story "The Pre-Persons" is very blatantly his personal, heavily emotional response to Roe v. Wade, set in a world where pro-choice activists have legalized "abortion" of children up to age 12. His mouthpiece characters claim abortion is all about powerful people deliberately picking on the helpless, or a certain kind of woman getting off on destroying men and children. He even depicts one woman wanting to get pregnant because she thinks an abortion would be fun and a turn-on.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: In the short story Waterspider almost all sci-fi authors such as Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and even Dick himself are actually latent psychics; all of their works are in reality based on future events that their precognitive abilities are unknowingly picking up from far off in the future.
  • Beneath the Earth: Common wartime workers in The Penultimate Truth live and work in underground "ant tanks" while armed robots fight on a fatally irradiated surface. One of them, Nicholas St. James, is sent to the surface and learns that the war has been over for years and its engineers have kept them below surface in order to take the land for themselves.
  • Beware the Superman: Dick suggested this from time to time, but rarely had the opportunity to write about it, as John W. Campbell preferred to compare Mutants to Persecuted Intellectuals. Dick had a different opinion, which resulted in The Golden Man.
    Dick: Here I am also saying that mutants are dangerous to us ordinaries, a view which John W. Campbell, Jr. deplored. We were supposed to view them as our leaders. But I always felt uneasy as to how they would view us. I mean, maybe they wouldn't want to lead us. Maybe from their superevolved lofty level we wouldn't seem worth leading. Anyhow, even if they agreed to lead us, I felt uneasy as to where we would wind up going. It might have something to do with buildings marked SHOWERS but which really weren't.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Kathy Egmont in "What The Dead Men Say" comes across as a fragile easily-duped waif. It turns out she's something very different...
  • Blessed with Suck: Any powers that have to do with time travel or precognition will come and bite you in the backside sooner or later.
    • Floyd Jones, the driving character (though almost never the viewpoint character) of The World Jones Made, can see a year into the future. Too bad his future sight is actually memories broadcast by his future self to his past self, essentially stripping him of free will. Or at least that's how he interprets it - a case may be made for a different understanding. Nevertheless, he remains a fatalist.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: "Rautvaara's Case" was about trying to blend the religious beliefs of a human with that of a race of plasma lifeforms. The results are pretty icky, as the aliens believe that immortality is gained through their savior consuming them (depicted as being the opposite of the Christian belief of Communion), which ends up with the eponymous character watching in horror as Jesus eats her crew members.
  • Broken Masquerade:
    • Mercilessly used, chewed out, and tortured in The Game-Players of Titan (poor, poor Pete...).
    • Hilariously screwed with in We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, where the protagonist's childhood fantasy turns out to be a memory.
    • In Cosmic Puppets this is played with extensively while the protagonist is gradually having his reality disassembled around him while he desperately tries to grip on to anything that might sustain his sanity. He is literally pulled to the brink of a nervous breakdown when two people with their eyes closed walk straight through the people he is trying to talk to before moving through a house wall. It doesn't help when the seemingly Only Sane Man in the vicinity says (paraphrased), "Of course, it's perfectly normal. You're not mentally ill, are you?"
  • Brother–Sister Incest: In Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said— the policeman in question is in a sexual relationship with his twin sister.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: All the time, to the point you could say breasts were Dick's Author Appeal.
    • In "The Turning Wheel" Sung-wu remembers his affair with a married woman who had "plump breasts" and "hips that undulated and beckoned."
  • Came Back Wrong: In the story "Upon The Dull Earth", Silvia sacrifices herself to some angel-like creatures to be among them. When her boyfriend Rick gets them to bring her back, they do so by transforming another living human (her sister) into Silvia. She seems to come back completely unchanged from the experience. Then it turns out that this upset the natural balance, and as a result everyone in the world is slowly turning into Silvia, both mentally and physically.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Paycheck is a deconstruction of the concept. The hero Jennings has just had his memory erased of the top secret project he was working on, only to discover that before it happened he arranged to substitute his paycheck with several seemingly trivial and useless items, including a small piece of wire. Then he's arrested, whereupon it turns out the wire is just the right size to pick the lock of the squad car's back door. It seems the project was a window into the future, which Jennings used to see what was going to happen to him, and so every single one of the items has some purpose to help him stay alive and out of the bad guys' clutches. Half the fun of the story is just seeing what purpose all of them have.
  • Child Soldiers: Played with in Counter-Clock World, where aging reversed decades ago, and there's a commando squad of elderly soldiers who are now small children and infants. Still deadly.
  • Church of Happyology: "The Turning Wheel" included a religion whose messiah was known as The Bard Elron Hu. At no point is he ever referred to as Elron Hu, Bard. This is a particularly early reference, as it was originally published just a few years after Dianetics.
  • City in a Bottle: In The Penultimate Truth, humans live underground, convinced by their authorities the surface is locked in an Endless War fought by the robots they build and repair. It's only when Nick, the protagonist, has to get out to the surface to obtain a vital piece of equipment that he learns the war has ended a long time ago.
  • City Noir: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said takes place in The City Narrows of a totalitarian state.
  • Cloneopoly: The short story "War Game" features a Monopoly-like board game called Syndrome that is designed to mentally undermine the youth of a planet in the lead-up to an invasion. In what may be a reference to the way nobody ever plays Monopoly by the actual rules, the customs team tasked with inspecting the game to make sure it's safe to import fail to notice the psychological warfare aspects of the rules because they just glance over the rule sheet and go "Oh, it's just like Monopoly".
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: In The Divine Invasion, the backstory includes a merger between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party.
  • Commune: Seth and Mary Morley leave from their former home, "Tekel Upharsin Kibbutz", for a new colony, Delmak-O in A Maze Of Death.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: In "The Variable Man", the title character is a jack-of-all-trades tinker picked up from the past by scientists in a highly specialized future. They need him to fix something that no one has the specialization for.
  • Cryonics Failure: A non-lethal but still devastating failure takes place in "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon". An off-world colonist is woken up from cryonic slumber, but is still immobile. The sentient ship tries to keep him sane by putting him back in happy memories. Trouble is, he carries so much guilt and anxiety, no memory will stay happy. By the time he gets there, his mind is still pretty much shot.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: While he was a respected science fiction authornote  during his lifetime, he only became recognized as a geek icon after his death in 1982.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Dick's work often dealt heavily with perception, and that extended to his antagonists. Often, they would be shaped by the warped social structure around them, while the archetypal Dick protagonist was the Only Sane Man (naturally, well-versed in classical music and esoteric philosophy and all the other things Dick himself enjoyed) who had the morality and tenacity to see through the false value system. Sometimes, however, he would invert this and make his protagonists the ones with the warped, false value system, using their inner monologue to demonstrate how delusional they were. The best example by far would be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a Nazi allegory about an ersatz Gestapo officer tasked with hunting down and executing the "subhuman" androids. Both his interior monologue and the society around him go to great lengths to scientifically and philosophically justify why androids aren't capable of empathy and thus pose a threat to "genuine" human civilization. However, since it was his most popular book due to its film adaptation, many people read that one first and confuse it for an earnest depiction of an anti-AI message.
  • Demoted Memories: "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". The protagonist's vivid fantasies of being a secret agent on Mars lead him to request that Fake Memories of same be implanted by a company that does this as a sort of virtual vacation. Except that the fantasy turns out to have been actual memories due to an incomplete mind wipe. Then the company tries layering over the now returned memories with an even more grandiose childhood fantasy he had about saving the world from alien invasion with compassion. Turns out that really happened too.
  • Devolution Device: In "Strange Eden", an astronaut finds an attractive and immortal female Goddess-like alien on a far-away world. Immediately he wants to sleep with her, but she warns him that in doing so he will magically begin to rapidly evolve. Thinking that this will lead him to become a superior being like her (and for the obvious reason), the astronaut accepts the offer. However, it turns out that humanity's set evolutionary path is that we will evolve into bestial cat-creatures—exactly why is never stated—and so the astronaut is stuck as the alien woman's pet forever.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Played with in "Waterspider". The protagonists decide to fix a technological problem of their era by time-travelling into the past, the golden age of precognatives, and consulting with the precog whose paper "Night Flight" foresaw their very predicament: Poul Anderson. The reader eventually realizes that the "precog society meeting" is actually a science fiction convention—it turns out that all the major SF authors were precogs without realizing it, and were accurately predicting the future in their writings.
  • Disability Superpower: In Dr. Bloodmoney, Hoppy Harrington was born without limbs, but has powerful telekinetic abilities.
  • Do-Anything Robot: "Sales Pitch" is about a Do-Anything Robot that serves as its own salesman and touts its ability to do absolutely anything, so you don't have to do anything at all.
  • Dog Food Diet: Used as a form of Ironic Hell in the short story "The Alien Mind", where some animal-loving aliens discover that a visiting Earth astronaut has killed the cat sent along with him on the mission. The aliens steal all his food, leaving him with nothing but sacks of dry cat kibble to eat for his two-year return trip to Earth. Just to twist the knife, they're all the same flavor.
  • Doom as Test Prize: In the short story "The Hanging Stranger", the protagonist sees a corpse hanging from a lamppost right in the middle of town. He grows more and more confused when no one cares about this incident. It turns out everyone in the town has been killed and replaced by bee people disguised as humans, and the hanging corpse was placed there as a test to get people who haven't been replaced by bees to reveal themselves.
  • Downer Ending:
    • "Second Variety" ends with the main character bleeding out as the first of many homicidal robots exits the Earth's atmosphere towards humanity's final holdout on the moon, using a rocket and coordinates which he unwittingly provided to it. His only solace comes from noticing that the robot carried an EMP grenade—once they wipe out humankind, they just might avenge our race by killing each other.
    • "Sales Pitch". A man is harassed to the point of insanity by a robot that's determined to demonstrate to him how useful it is. He ends up flying away into space on his ship, to get away from it, but it manages to get aboard, and even after he's wrecked his ship beyond repair, and is seriously injured and hours away from plunging to a fiery death, the damaged robot is still tormenting him with its unrelenting need to persuade him that he needs to buy it. Dick later thought better of this ending, and wished he'd written it so that the robot had dropped its sales pitch and helped the man.
    • "The Unreconstructed M", when you consider the existence of a machine that can murder a person and plant all the evidence for a Frame-Up.
    • "Colony", in which a group of human colonists on a new planet discover that it's inhabited by a lifeform which can perfectly mimic inanimate objects, and which can kill and absorb the colonists by disguising itself as e.g. towels and clothing and even vehicles, and enveloping its victims. Eventually they call for a rescue ship, and gather in a group to wait for it, having discarded anything that might be anything that could kill them, including all their clothes. The rescue ship arrives ahead of schedule and the naked colonists go up the ramp inside; the mission commander fears that something is wrong, but she's persuaded by the others that it's fine, so they enter and the ramp closes behind them. Some time later, the actual rescue ship arrives, and its crew wonders where everyone is.
  • Dream Apocalypse: "The Electric Ant" plays with this. The main character finds that his reality is simulated by punchholes in a magnetic tape reel in his chest. He wonders whether the world would fade away if he cuts the tape. He cuts the tape. The next scene is narrated by his wife beside his dead body and she discusses how ridiculous his delusion was. Then she starts fading away.
  • Dystopia: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said may be considered the most conventionally dystopian novel by Dick, but really, most of his writing is more or less this. After the End anarchistic settings prevail over the totalitarian settings, though.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The unambiguously optimistic ending of Eye in the Sky. Dick's clear-cut idealism and faith in the power of people working collectively would soon be severely shaken; he spent the rest of his life struggling with this theme and his counter-tendencies towards paranoia and mental breakdown.
  • Either/Or Title: Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Rachmael ben Applebaum, the protagonist of Lies, Inc., teleports from Earth to the supposed off-world paradise of Whale's Mouth. Once there he's shot with an LSD dart and sees a giant, angry "cephalopodan cyclops," a pretty clear Shout-Out to H. P. Lovecraft.
  • The End... Or Is It?: "The Gun". A spacecraft investigating a planet destroyed by nuclear war is shot down by a robot anti-aircraft weapon. Fortunately they're able to approach the weapon on foot and deactivate it, then repair their spacecraft and take off. They plan to return later and remove the contents of the archive that the gun was protecting, unaware that underground robot repair units have already been sent to put the gun back together again.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: In Deus Irae, Tibor is given a dog he names Toby. Toby's very friendly to everyone except Jack Schuld. Who turns out not only to be a bad guy, but The Big Bad. Then again, Schuld keeps aggravating the dog...
  • Evil Smells Bad: In The Divine Invasion, the protagonist finds a poor, lost, talking baby goat. He slowly becomes aware of a terrible stench surrounding it. It turns out the goat is actually the devil Belial.
  • Evolution Power-Up: Played with in "Strange Eden". It's about an astronaut that finds an attractive and immortal female Goddess-like alien on a far-away world. Immediately he wants to sleep with her, but she warns him that in doing so he will magically begin to rapidly evolve. Thinking that this will lead him to become a superior being like her (and for the obvious reason), the astronaut accepts the offer. However, it turns out that humanity's set evolutionary path is that we will evolve into bestial cat-creatures—exactly why is never stated—and so the astronaut is stuck as the alien woman's pet forever.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Had a habit of mashing all sorts of sci-fi tropes together, even when they're superfluous to the "main" sci-fi conceit/narrative. For instance, "Flow My Tears," the Policeman Said has a random psychic cab driver, and The Man in the High Castle mentions off-world colonies despite being an alternate universe The '60s.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • In-universe: The Unreconstructed M has the "Banishment System", wherein perpetrators of heinous/violent crimes are stripped of all their assets and force-teleported to backwater colonies far, far away from Earth, as a replacement and equivalent for the death penalty. Its opponents, as well as the villain of the story who finds himself Banished, consider it this - he no longer has access to his substantial wealth, creature comforts, the hustle and bustle of city life, modern amenities, and relationships, and is surrounded by hardscrabble towns and uneducated hicks, doomed to keep hitchiking towards Sol. It'll take him the rest of his life to get back to the Solar System.
    • Also, Floyd Jones considers his visions of the future this, as he's anticipating his own death.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: This was a major theme in Dick's works, where humanity was paranoid about the existence of beings that could easily overpower the human race: robots, gods, and mutants. Dick was especially against mutants, seeing them as putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. As his short story "The Golden Man" points out:
    "If we introduce a mutant to keep humans going it'll be mutants, not us, who'll inherit the earth. Don't think for a moment we can put locks on them and expect them to serve us. If they're really superior to homo sapiens, they'll win out in even competition. To survive, we've got to cold-deck them right from the start."
  • Fisher Kingdom: The various worlds of Eye in the Sky started twisting visitors to match their worldviews. Because each "world" was in fact inside someone's head in a sort of shared hallucination.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: In the setting of A Maze of Death, God is openly real, and prayers are a commonly accepted way of solving problems, though they usually have to be carefully composed and transmitted by radio into outer space in order to work. Dr. Babble, however, is an atheist who believes that the "God" in question is just a Sufficiently Advanced Alien.
  • Flock of Wolves: The Game-Players of Titan, which involves aliens from Titan that can make themselves appear human, has a scene in which the protagonist discovers that he is the only member of the anti-alien resistance cell he's joined who isn't an alien sleeper agent.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • Maximilian Fischer in "Stand-By" is a bloated non-entity who gets picked (against his will) to become the new back-up President, whose miserable job is to sit around the White House and wait in case the actual President, a super-computer, breaks down. Nobody actually expects this to ever happen, but.. it does, Fischer gets a taste of power and permanently sabotages the computer. In the sequel "What'll We Do With Ragland Park?", he's progressed to the point of having people killed.
    • In The World Jones Made, Jones is first seen as a sullen carnival soothsayer. He ends up as a dictator.
  • Genre Savvy: In The Cosmic Puppets the male protagonist returns to his home town to find that what he remembered never existed and the first thing he thinks of is the possibility that someone implanted false memories into his mind in order to manipulate him for nefarious causes... unfortunately he isn't Genre Savvy enough to listen to his first instinct that he should leave the town before he gets stuck there.
  • Genre Shift: Dick used to pull this in a low-key way, because he liked telling stories from the Point of View of more than one character, and he adapted from James Joyce the technique of shifting the style to reflect the way the character would write, if the character could write. A hilarious example is Surley G. Febbs from The Zap Gun, whose chapters are written as if Febbs's character were the Marty Stu in a story written by himself: when Febbs is sent a mysterious parcel, he examines it and the narrative comments "It intrigued his uniquely subtle, agile mind."
  • Giant Eye of Doom: In short story "Fair Game", a nuclear physicist, Professor Douglas, is startled to see an eye the size of a piano looking at him. It turns out to belong to a monstrous being from another dimension that Douglas assumes wants him for his scientific knowledge. It turns out that the monstrous being wanted him for dinner.
  • Gift of the Magi Plot: "Oh to Be a Blobel!" happens in the aftermath of a war between Earth and Titan. Earth has humans, Titan has Blobels, and spies in the war are made Involuntary Shapeshifters. After the war a human and Blobel spy decide to get married as they are able to spend most of the day in the same form. Their nature causes them a lot of anguish and problems which eventually leads to them filing for divorce. The Blobel wife, in order to save their marriage, decides to undergo a new medical treatment which turns her permanently human. But the human husband has already left to pursue business opportunity on another planet, and in accordance with the local laws had himself turned permanently into a Blobel...
  • Goal-Oriented Evolution: In "Strange Eden", a man falls in love with godlike alien woman who warns him to stay away, as merely being in her presence too long will shoot him to the highest levels of human evolution. He is not dissuaded by this, sticks around and becomes the very highly evolved large cat.
  • God in Human Form: Emmanuel, the main character in the novel The Divine Invasion, is, in actuality, the Judeo-Christian God—and he lost his memories in a car accident.
  • Grand Theft Me: "Beyond Lies the Wub". An Earthbound rocketship stops on Mars to take on food animals, including a wub—a large, slovenly Martian pig. It turns out the wub is a sapient telepathic alien interested mainly in eating and philosophical discussion. The captain is determined to kill and eat the wub regardless, believing it to be a threat, and blows the wub's brains out despite the objections of his crew. The story ends with the captain enthusiastically tucking into cooked wub, watched glumly by the crew, who are further shocked when their 'captain' continues the philosophical discussion the wub was having "before we were interrupted".
  • The Great Politics Messup: "Second Variety" takes place in a futuristic After the End setting where killer robots are used in war, the U.S. has a command base on the Moon, and the Soviet Union is still the enemy.
  • Guardian Angel: Eye in the Sky. At one point the protagonists end up in a world (actually a fundamentalist's personal mental world) where religious concepts are physically manifest and obvious. One of these are guardian angels, who can manifest as small mouths that whisper advice into a person's ears.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: In "The Hanging Stranger": if someone sees a dead body lying in plain sight and no one else around them is reacting to it, they might be better off keeping their mouth shut and moving on. It serves better as practical advice to take heed of your surroundings and not let on that you notice anything different if you suspect you are in danger. This option would not conflict with Values Dissonance in this case, as the stranger is already dead and beyond help.
  • Humans Are Bastards: This is part of The Golden Man's motivation - it knows humanity will always try to kill things like it, so it decides on the path that ensures it - and his progeny - survive.
  • I Am Not a Gun: "The Defenders". When World War III broke out, both sides retreated into bunkers and let their robots, referred to as "leadies", do the fighting. The leadies promptly made peace and set about repairing the damage that had been done before they took charge. They kept sending their human masters false reports of what a horrific radioactive wasteland the surface had become ... but eventually revealed this was intended to make humans so sick and tired of the war that they'd accept the peace (and world unity) their leadies had negotiated.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: How Mr. Wisdom reacts in "The Golden Man" after finding out that Cris, the supernatural golden mutant, is not a thinking being at all but an animal that operates on instinct.
    "I'll be down in the bar," Wisdom said. "Getting a good stiff drink."
  • Intangible Time Travel: Paycheck: played straight with time mirror, downplayed with time scoop (no time travel for humans, but the object from the future may be retrieved mechanically).
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: In one time travel story by Philip K. Dick, the future was populated entirely by brown people. Part of this is due to the fact that they reproduce through a soft form of cloning, part of it is due to inferior members of families being pressured to kill themselves, and part of this is due to race wars.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: A Maze of Death subverts this; the table of contents contains a brief summary-like name for each chapter, but every such "summary" is about one of the fourteen characters doing something that has nothing at all to do with the chapter contents, or the novel at all. It might be symbolic of how all the events and backstories in the book are just part of a virtual simulation, one of the hundreds of different ones that the characters have already experienced.
  • Karma Houdini: "The Unreconstructed Man" frames an innocent man for a murder. The murder was committed via a killer drone that climbed a wall, snuck into an apartment very quietly, fired an explosive pellet into a man, left enough incriminating forensic evidence to convict said man, and folded neatly into an inconspicuous television.
  • Kill and Replace: "The Hanging Stranger" featured a man who had been working in his basement for days emerging and heading into town, only to spot a body hanging by a noose from a lamppost in the middle of the town square. He starts freaking out, mainly because nobody else seems to notice or care. It quickly becomes apparent that something has infected or replaced almost everyone else in town as the opening of a secret invasion.
  • Lensman Arms Race: Played with in The Zap Gun, where a pair of weapons designers, one on each side of the Cold War, are continually coming up with what are ostensibly new weapons. In reality, though, everything they come up with is immediately repurposed into harmless knick-knacks. This helps keep the Cold War cold, but proves disastrous once aliens invade, and the world is defenseless. They end up getting the aliens to leave by getting them addicted to a video game.
  • Let's Meet the Meat: "Beyond Lies the Wub". Some people go to an alien world and find a pig-like creature. That talks. The captain orders it killed and cooked, despite protests from the crew. After eating the Wub's body, the captain turns to the protagonist and resumes a conversation that the protagonist had been having with the Wub before it was slaughtered. "Now, as I was saying before we were interrupted..."
  • Lighter and Softer: Galactic Pot-Healer isn't exactly a delightful feelgood comedy—its protagonist is still a bit of a shmoe—but it's definitely one of Dick's lighter, less depressing novels.
  • Literal-Minded: Short story "The Eyes Have It" is a comic spin on Dick's usual alien invasion plots. It's a very short story in which the narrator reads various passages from a cheesy novel and takes them seriously. He reads a passage that says "his eyes slowly roved about the room" and thinks it's describing eyeballs physically moving around a room. He reads "Presently she asked him if he would remove his arm" to mean that a man literally detached his arm from his body. The narrator takes all this to mean that an alien invasion of creatures that can detach their body parts is ongoing.
  • Living Is More than Surviving: In "The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree", Joe Contemptible is driven to despair by his unfulfilling life:
    I'm not married. I've got no wife. Nothing. Just my damn job at the record store. All those damn German songs and those bubblegum rock lyrics; they go through my head night and day, constantly, mixtures of Goethe and Heine and Neil Diamond. ... So why should I live on? Call that living? It's existence, not living.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: In "The World She Wanted", the protagonist is swept along in the wake of a of a young and beautiful woman who introduces herself by announcing that the two of them are getting married. Subverted in that she annoys the hell out of him and he rejects her.
  • Masquerade: In "Adjustment Team", the story's protagonist stumbles into a world that is in effect behind the scenes of the observable world where omnipotent beings alter the flow of reality to fit some kind of ineffable design. He opts to subject himself to Laser-Guided Amnesia at the end of the story.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Felix Buckman in Flow My Tears.
    • In A Maze of Death, we have the not-so-dumb blonde "Susie Smart", the lying hypochondriac "Dr. Babble", and the Jerkass bully "Ignatz Thugg". In a humorous moment, Ignatz Thugg makes a snarky comment about how fitting Dr. Babble's name is without ever noticing he has a Meaningful Name himself.
  • Mechanical Evolution: In "Second Variety," when the United Nations is losing a war with the Soviet Union, they create automated factories to produce robotic "claws" to fight back. The claws later self-produce more effective designs which mimic human beings and infiltrate the human ranks.
  • MegaCorp: Trails of Hoffman Inc. appeared in Lies Inc. The company offered teleport services to a far-off world. It was a one-way ticket, no way home. But the company definitely had its fingers in other pursuits, and whatever they were doing on Whale Mouth was not what they claimed.
  • Mental Story: Eye in the Sky takes place in a sort of shared mental world, with the current most-dominant personality warping it to their prejudices and worldview. Same with A Maze of Death, only there is no dominant personality in that world - it's a Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Me's a Crowd: In "Upon the Dull Earth", protagonist Rick watches his girlfriend Silvia get killed by giant supernatural angel-like creatures whom she has previously been able to summon through animal sacrifice. Rick is able to contact these creatures and bring Silvia back to life, despite their warnings that something might go wrong. Gradually, everyone Rick encounters turns into Silvia, including Rick himself by the end of the story.
  • Mind Screw: At the end of Radio Free Albemuth, Philip K Dick's self-insert (by the same name) is told that the government will be releasing pro-government propaganda science-fiction under his name. The first working title was to be The Mind Screwers.
  • Missing Episode: In his bibliography, A Time for George Stavros, Pilgrim on the Hill, Nicholas and the Higgs, etc. were (the manuscripts) lost before publishing.
  • My Little Panzer: In "War Games", Earth has a safety board inspecting toys from Titan, with whom they are having a political Cold War, but whose goods are still popular. We see at least one dangerous toy—a VR costume-suit which causes the wearer to lose contact with reality. The safety board is afraid everything could be like this, so they have a paranoid eye on everything—excepting a board game that looks like a Monopoly variation, but isn't.
  • Naming Your Colony World: The Unteleported Man. Whale's Mouth, a reference to the location of Fomalhaut in the constellation Piscis Austrinus.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Constantly and repeatedly, starting with his second published novel, The World Jones Made. It's about a seemingly-prophetic tyrant who starts a race war against harmless alien jellyfish as a means to unify the world, both for him and against him. His subsequent books would routinely invoke Nazism, whether it be actual Nazis (the Reich taking over the United States in The Man in the High Castle), clear analogues (the android-executioners of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), or just cautionary tales about human society regressing towards Nazi policy (mentions of UN eugenics programs in Martian Time-Slip).
  • Nipple and Dimed: Played with in The Zap Gun. It's mentioned that in the future society, family-friendly media may freely display naked female breasts (and even animate them in titillating ways), as long as no more than one breast is visible at a time.
  • The Nondescript: Keith Pellig, the assassin in Solar Lottery, who's described as so physically unmemorable that it's easier for him to get past security systems.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Shell Game is set on Betelgeuse II.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Deliberately and effectively subverted in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, where the main character is killed halfway through and the plot basically falls apart for the rest of the novel.
  • Patriotic Fervor: In The Simulacra he lampooned parochialism by having people swear allegiance to their apartment buildings, each of which naturally views the others with disdain and suspicion. The book opens with a heated discussion over whether to abolish an apartment building's school and send its children to a public school, where they might, to the horror of the conservative faction of the community council, meet children from other schools and learn they're not so different after all.
  • Physical Religion: A Maze of Death has three manifestations of God that you can send your prayers to by radio, because they reside on godly planets, except the Walker on Earth, who walks among humans giving advice. The Destroyer of Form is stated to be a forth manifestation in Tony's vision - there's a lot of neoplatonism subtly woven into this book.
  • Playing Doctor: In Eye in the Sky, a little boy is disappointed when he finally convinces the neighbor girl to show him hers — and there's nothing there. Which turns out to be the same thing he's got down there! They're in a Fisher Kingdom run by someone who finds genitalia icky.
  • Precrime Arrest: "The Minority Report" is the Trope Namer. Its protagonist is the inventor of the precrime system.
  • Prestige Peril: In Solar Lottery, the highest position in the solar system, the Quizmaster, is chosen by a completely random lottery. And the previous Quizmaster can legally retake the position by hiring an endless stream of assassins to kill the new Quizmaster.
  • Psychic Powers: All over the place. There are Precogs in "The Minority Report", "Gameplayers of Titan", "Martian Time-Slip" and many others. Telepaths and empaths are common, occasionally there are telekinetics.
  • Public Secret Message: In Radio Free Albemuth, a subliminal message is sent to the public in the form of song lyrics so that the government won't intercept it but those who know the truth will be able to spread the message.
  • Reality Warper: Emmanuel and Zina in The Divine Invasion are (aspects of?) God. Either that or everyone's crazy, which is equally possible. The two characters have a disagreement over how the world should be run, reflecting perennial mystical themes and Kabbalah, and as Manny gives control over to Zina, everything is transformed.
  • Recursive Creators: In "Second Variety", the deadly robots built to fight off the new URSS are given the capability to reproduce simply because they were so dangerous nobody wanted to work on them anymore. The results are not pleasant.
  • Red Herring: In "The War Game", the protagonists think that the visible part of "Storming the Fortress" game from Ganymede (thought to plan a war against Earth) is just a cover for some more sinister aspect of the game. Turns out it is a red herring, but for a completely unrelated Ganymede game that is aimed at educating the children in the spirit of wilfully surrendering what belongs to them instead of fighting for it.
  • Replicant Snatching: "The Father-Thing". When an alien takes the place of the protagonist's father, he eats his insides, leaving only a dry, dead skin behind.
  • Repressed Memories: In "Recall Mechanism," the protagonist suffers a fear of falling, which his psychiatrist believes is caused by a repressed memory. Subverted when the "memory" turns out to be a psychic vision of the protagonist's future death, which he can do nothing to avoid.
  • Retroactive Preparation: The premise of "Paycheck" - the protagonist wakes up sans memory, with a bunch of seemingly random items in his pockets, and deep in trouble. The items are tools for getting himself out of trouble. Turns out before the memory wipe he worked on a time machine.
  • Robot War:
    • In the short story "Second Variety", mankind is in an eternal war with highly intelligent machines. The story ends with a touch of irony: the robots are about to win, but as the hero notes with grim amusement, the Second Variety has developed a weapon that only hurts the other varieties - the robots are preparing to make war against each other.
    • In the short story "The Defenders", the Eastern and Western Blocs had built robots called "leadies" to carry out World War III as proxies while humanity waited out the nuclear holocaust in underground shelters. As soon as humanity went underground, the leadies stopped fighting and began repairing the damage already done, eventually presenting both sides with peace as a fait accompli and predicting that the accomplishments of a united humanity would be "unimaginably great."
  • Sapient Ship: The spaceship in "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon" is a prominent example, but inexplicably sentient transportation is actually dime-a-dozen in Dick's fiction.
  • Secret Test of Character: In "The Exit Door Leads In", the protagonist turns out to be in a Secret Test Of Character. The title would give this away, but Dick cleverly includes a Title Drop early on that appears to explain it.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Minority Report, both versions.
  • Settling the Frontier: Mars in Martian Time-Slip. Alient planets in A Maze of Death. Quite often, really.
  • Shameless Fan Service Girl:
    • In "War Veteran", all nudity taboos seem to be gone, at least women casually suntan naked in a public park. It's not that relevant to the plot other than helping to establish a futuristic setting.
    • "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" describes a "bare-bosomed" receptionist at Rekal, the company that sells memories.
  • Sliding Scale of Libertarianism and Authoritarianism: Dick himself had borderline anarchist views (to the point where many anarchists have acknowledged his influence), but many of his settings are authoritarian dystopias. "The Last of the Masters", meanwhile, is set two hundred years after an anarchist revolution and depicts the last surviving government - not entirely unsympathetically.
  • Space Age Stasis: In "Pay for the Printer", humans have stopped building or researching anything and instead choose to rely on alien replicators to make copies of items they already possess.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Divine Invasion to VALIS. Valis appears in both books, the fictional film "Valis" exists in both, and they have similar Gnostic themes, but The Divine Invasion is not, strictly speaking, a sequel.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Radio Free Albemuth. The distant, unseen antagonist, president Ferris F. Fremont, uses a Joseph McCarthy-esque Communist hunt to distract America from the fact that he is—in fact—a secret member of the Russian Communist party, and is selling U.S.-produced food and goods to the USSR dirt cheap.
  • Suicide by Cop:
    • Jack Shuld, the guy who claims to be out to kill Carlton Lufteufel in Deus Irae, purposefully provokes Tibor into killing him. Just as Pete works out that Schuld actually is Carlton Lufteufel.
    • Floyd Jones in The World Jones Made is a murky example - he either arranges things to have a certain person murder him at a specific time, or (being a precog) knows this will happen and never tries to prevent it.
  • Super-Reflexes: Appears in The Counter-Clock World.
  • Terraform: Often, usually not completely successful. In one story, Earth and Titan were in an uneasy peace because of a war that was held because humans terraformed Mars. There were already people of Titan on Mars, but they couldn't breathe oxygen. By the time the humans learned of the Titanians, the terraforming had already begun, and "you can't terraform just part of an atmosphere..."
  • They Look Like Us Now:
    • "Second Variety" with human looking robots. As well as many stories with artificial human-looking robots or aliens, some who have no idea that they are not human - and some who are terrified that they are.
    • "The War with the Fnools" almost goes this way - the eponymous fnools, who resemble human midgets, get taller and taller when exposed to human vice (more specifically, tobacco and alcohol, which seems to alter their genes). The protagonists despair after an attempted act of prisoner kindness (giving two captured fnools a smoke) makes them average-size, and thus easier to blend in - until the last fnool gets drunk and keeps drinking, making them inhumanly tall and easier to pick out of a crowd once more. This is all played for laughs.
  • They Would Cut You Up: In "The Golden Man", this is why Cris never stays in one place too long.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: In "Captive Market," an old lady discovers her ability to travel into a variety of branching timelines. She uses this power to sell supplies to future survivors of a nuclear holocaust at huge mark-ups.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: A lot. You never really know whether the protagonist is actually experiencing what they're experiencing - and they don't know, either.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: "Impostor" deals with a war between Earth and aliens from Alpha Centauri, and a man that is accused of being a robot, planted by the enemy and which carries a bomb inside, set to explode when a trigger is activated. The man escapes and tries to find the robot, to attempt to prove he is actually human. He isn't. And the bomb inside him explodes right after discovering the truth, laying waste to good part of the Earth.
  • Tomes of Prophecy and Fate: The Galactic Pot-healer has the Book of Kalends, foretelling (in many languages) what shall be. Do Kalends make things happen in writing their book? is a major question for the characters.
  • To Serve Man: In short story "Fair Game", a nuclear physicist is hunted by monstrous alien beings. He assumes they want him for his scientific expertise, but actually, they wanted him for dinner.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Played with in "The Defenders". The Eastern and Western Blocs built robots called "leadies" to carry out World War III as proxies while humanity waited out the nuclear holocaust in underground shelters. The leadies promptly turned against their masters' wishes by stopping the war—although they didn't tell the humans it was over until they judged humanity was sick enough of living underground to be willing to accept peace.
  • Two Halves Make a Plot: In "Paycheck", one of the random bits of junk the protagonist has in his position after a Laser-Guided Amnesia treatment is half a poker chip, which grants him entry to a gambling den where he can escape his pursuers.
  • Un-person: In Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Jason Taverner is a genetically engineered singer and TV star who goes from global celebrity to un-person literally overnight.
  • Unstuck in Time: Now Wait For Last Year. The main character's wife obtains an illegal drug from an alien society. The aliens supposedly use the drug to hallucinate, re-living past happy experiences. When she takes the drug she finds out that the drug works as described, except that you aren't hallucinating... You should probably stop taking the drug so that you don't mess with the timeline, but the drug is highly addictive so no matter how hard you try to stop you'll keep feeling compelled to go back to further mess up your own past.
  • Venus Is Wet: The World Jones Made has a pretty livable Venus (except for the poisonous gases in the atmosphere - but it has native lifeforms that the colonists domesticate and call "horses").
  • The Virus: "Upon the Dull Earth": A weird necrophiliac woman attempts a bizarre experiment to speak to the "angels" who supernaturally rule the Earth, which fails and claims her life. Her grieving boyfriend bargains with the angels to bring her back in a Deal with the Devil. Unfortunately the angels screw up when doing so—the girl comes back, but only by hijacking another person's body, taking over her sister's body and physically transforming it into her own. The angels seem unable to stop this process, either—soon everyone in the world begins spontaneously transforming into a duplicate of the girl. Madness and horror ensues.
  • Watering Down: One of the minor characters in Eye in the Sky is a hostess at a club who waters down her own alcoholic drinks (as a large amount of her job is drinking with customers) so as to not get drunk herself.
  • Wham Line: In The Builder: It was not until the first great black drops of rain began to fall that he understood.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Messed with in We Can Build You. Pris Frauenzimmer's absolute, pathological lack of empathy is hinted to be cracking under growing feelings for the lead in her last line in the book. But then the last line in the book is the lead writing off that possibility in his mind.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Plenty of his writings involve Artificial Humans or Ridiculously Human Robots and raise questions about whether their lives are just as valuable as "real" humans.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: "Impostor" revolves around the search for an android sent to Earth by hostile aliens as a walking bomb. The android itself is unaware of the fact, believing itself to be a normal human being, and being convinced of the truth is what triggers the bomb.
  • With This Herring: Subverted in "Paycheck". The hero has just had his memory of the last two years of working on a top secret project erased, and when he picks up his paycheck he discovers that, for some reason, during those two years he decided to ask to be paid not in money but several weird and almost worthless items like a small piece of wire and a bus token. However, it soon turns out that the project was a window into the future, and he picked each of these items for some specific purpose to help him survive the dangerous situations he will shortly find himself in.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: In Solar Lottery, the titular government lottery is designed to make everybody randomize their actions. The antagonist, Reese Verrick, instead elects to play some speed chess as he plots to assassinate the head of government.
  • You Already Changed the Past: "The Skull". An assassin is sent back in time to kill the founder of a subversive religion before he gives a famous speech, only to realize that the Founder is himself—the 'miracle' that inspired the religion's creation was him appearing after he'd been killed (he'd arrived at the wrong point in time) thus 'coming back from the dead'. The Rousing Speech supposedly given by the Founder never actually happened, but was a result of history being embellished after his death.
  • You Can Keep Her!: In "Human Is", Jill's husband Lester gets his body stolen by an alien while on a business trip to the dying planet Rexor IV. About a week later, the Rexorian is tracked down by the FBI, who tell Jill that they can apprehend the Rexorian culprit and even get her real husband back—all she has to do is testify on tape to the (incredibly obvious) change in her "husband"'s behavior. Jill, however, decides to play dumb, as Lester was a tremendous Jerkass whereas the Rexorian's only noticeable flaw appears to be his outdated grasp of English.
  • You Can't Fight Fate:
    • In "Recall Mechanism," a nuclear war has created mutant humans with precog abilities, but the future they see is immovable. The hero is one such precog whose debilitating fear of falling is caused by his subconscious visions of his future death. The man who causes his death turns out to be one as well, whose recent attitude of literally pushing people around are from visions of how he kills the protagonist.
    • In The World Jones Made, Floyd Jones has the power to see one year into the future. Unfortunately, after he sees the future, he loses the ability to change the decisions he makes in that future—possibly because he's actually sending his memories back through time to his younger self.