A Real Gnostic Gospel

The Fiction of Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick (1928-82) was the kind of science-fiction writer who is read and praised by people who don’t like science fiction. His fame moved beyond the genre’s ghetto after some of his novels and short stories were turned into movies—Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), and A Scanner Darkly (2006), to name a few. He is sometimes compared to Jorge Luis Borges, one of the finest short-story writers, and his work has influenced many authors (genre-bending Jonathan Lethem, for example) and filmmakers (the Wachowski brothers, directors of The Matrix).

Just as critics dub certain writers’ visions of the world “Orwellian” or “Kafkaesque,” some now use the awkward term “Dickian.” Dick’s paranoid vision is a unique, sad, funny, and—in its strange and sometimes very moving manner—even ennobling way to think about what we are meant to be as humans. In his later work, Dick’s outlook became deeply, even explicitly, informed by a Gnostic sense of the struggle to be fully human. Ancient Gnosticism was, among other things, concerned with the dilemma of humanity trapped in delusion, imprisoned in a world ruled by malign and unseen forces—a recurrent theme in Dick’s work.

What does science fiction have to say about human nature? For many serious readers, this is Geek City, a corner of genre fiction inhabited by sad and lonely people who go to Star Trek...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.