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BOOK
Counterfeit Worlds
Philip K. Dick on Film

Author: Brian J. Robb
Titan Books
RRP: 16.99, US $19.95, Cdn $27.95
ISBN 1 84023 968 9
Available 21 July 2006


Before he prematurely died aged fifty-three, Philip K. Dick was without doubt one of the most influential science fiction writers of his generation. His output was prodigious ranging from novels, short stories, radio plays and proposals for television programs. Although highly regarded in the science fiction community, it took the release of
Bladerunner to bring his particular take on the world to a greater audience. Whilst, P.K. Dick covered a variety of themes the two that he is best known for and which came to dominate his writing was the nature of reality and what it is to be human...

Now, with the imminent release of another film based upon a P.K. Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly, it would seem to be an excellent time to re-examine the man and his works. The idea obviously occurred to Brian J. Robb as he has written the excellent Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film. If you know nothing about Dick's writings or are unaware of his extensive body of work, you may be surprised just how many films have been made in the last few decades based on his novels. Dick would not live long enough to see his stories translated to film; he only lived long enough to see some of the rushes from Bladerunner, which he approved of. We, however, are reaping the fruits of his paranoid amphetamine addled genius.

The first thing you notice about the book is that the title is a lie. The book goes further than its remit and covers just about everything you might want to know about Dick. The initial sections cover his early life, including his struggles to make a living from his writing and his string of failed relationships. His life seems to have been as unusual as any of his literary characters. All his early work is covered with some very nice black and white prints of the book and magazine covers. Next, comes an examination of his television and radio work. It was great to see synopsis for the two scripts which he submitted to The Invaders and Mission Impossible, neither of which were produced.

The greater part of the book is given over to an examination of the films based on Dick's novels. There is a large section on the history of the filming of Bladerunner, which whilst fine for a book of this size, can't compete with a more extensive look like Paul M Sammon's The Making of Bladerunner. It is with the later films and series that this book comes into its own. The next major project was Total Recall and I was astounded to discover that this film was more successful than Bladerunner. I'm not really sure what that says about the viewing audience.

Following this Robb examines the much underrated Screamers, Confessions d'un Barjo, a French adaptation of Confessions of a Crap Artist, Impostor, which really didn't see the light of day and was so unsuccessful that I got my copy as a freebee give away on the front of a DVD magazine. The next two films that are examined are arguably the most commercially successful adaptations of his work, Minority Report and Paycheck. Lastly, and to show just how hot off the presses this book is, there is even a section on A Scanner Darkly, which at the time of writing hasn't even been released in the UK yet.

I know what your thinking: "Is that it then?" Well, no it isn't. The book is so complete that it also covers television shows based on Dick's books as well as computer games based on his books and a whole bunch of ephemera that I wasn't even aware of.

I'm not really sure what else Robb could have put in the book. Okay, its true that some of the material will have been duplicated in other books and there are better texts on Bladerunner, but as an overall look at one man's life and his body of work it's a great little book - both as a well researched reference book and as a darn good read. Robb doesn't just rattle facts and figures at you, but takes you on one madman's journey. If you're a lover of science fiction films you're going to want this book.

Charles Packer

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