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Grand Delusions

Out to get info on paranoid, prolific author Philip K. Dick? Check the Web.

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What is reality? Over the course of 40 novels and 152 short stories, sci-fi author Philip K. Dick revisited that question with an almost paranoid obsession. Indeed, the uncertainty of ”reality” is the central issue of Minority Report. Based on a short story Dick published in 1956, the Steven Spielberg-directed film stars Tom Cruise as a cop who catches the bad guys before they’ve done anything wrong.

Minority Report is merely the latest Dick tale adapted for the big screen. Blade Runner was based on his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, while the memory-implant premise of Total Recall came from ”We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” a story first published in 1966. Before he died in 1982 at age 53, Dick had burned through five marriages, kicked an amphetamine habit, and experienced what he said was a life-changing divine vision, all while churning out a body of work so rich with ideas that Hollywood is still playing catch-up. Paramount recently optioned the rights to ”Paycheck” — a 1952 story Dick penned for $195 — in a deal that could earn his estate (a son and two daughters) up to $2 million.

Curious about the man behind the high concepts? Start with philipKdick.com. This encyclopedic, and unofficial, site was founded five years ago by Jason Koornick, a 31-year-old journalist who in 1994 began working his way through the entire Dick oeuvre after seeing Blade Runner. ”I read Electric Sheep, and my mind was blown,” he says. ”This guy used elements of psychology, religion, and philosophy to write brilliant conceptual stories published in paperbacks with giant space aliens and big-busted women on the covers.”

To understand Dick’s worldview, read his essay ”How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (www.id-online.de/ufo/pkdhowt2.htm). He writes: ”Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Sadly, the blurring of reality and delusion was more than an intellectual mind game: In 1972, Dick sent a letter to the FBI claiming that a neo-Nazi group tried to pressure him into embedding coded messages in his novels (thesmokinggun.com/archive/pkdick1.shtml).

For the time being, Blade Runner is certainly Dick’s most lasting legacy. Dozens of sites serve up arcane tidbits — bladezone.com offers a treatise on the brand of shoes Harrison Ford wore when he played replicant hunter Rick Deckerd — but visit The Official Blade Runner On-Line Magazine (www.devo.com/bladerunner) for the author’s own thoughts on the film. Dick, who died shortly before the film was released, loved the movie and described the experience of watching Ford as ”stunning and almost supernatural.” Which would be precisely the way many Dick fans would describe the writings of their favorite author.