You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

One of the great things about science fiction or fantasy is how it can explore facets of life in news ways. Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly is a perfect example.

Bob Arctor is a drug addict who lives in his house with his friends who are also drug addicts. He also has a secret life as Fred, an undercover police officer who's trying to bust the people in his house so the police can get to higher distributors. Bob is addicted to Substance D (for Death), a highly addictive synthesized drug. As Fred, he wears a special scramble suit which hides his appearance and voice, so that his identity as a narc won't be revealed.

The catch is, Substance D has affected Bob's brain, causing a split in his hemispheres. This creates a sort of split personality. Fred's superiors, who can only deduce from his reports that he's one of the people who live in or frequent his own house, order him to spy on Bob Arctor. As Fred, he watches the scanner recordings (video) of Bob Arctor. As Bob Arctor, he has to get his friends out of the house so that the police can bug it, but still gets paranoid about who might be listening or watching. Fred starts to forget that one of the people he watches his really himself.

Some detail is given to how the brain works, the different hemispheres doing different parts and taking over when the other side becomes disfunctional. Bob/Fred's symptoms aren't a classic split personality but a result of each half of the brain becoming separately aware and trying to take over his personality. Police medics give him tests to determine his impairment, and describe what's wrong with him and how the brain usually works. It turns out he also fails to recognize or mis-recognizes common objects.

The story unfolds as Bob and Fred become more and more unaware of each other. The plot device of having a narc who's true identity is necessarily secret is a great match for the drug addiction and the dual personalities. The imaginary life of the narc becomes real, or the real life of addict becomes imaginary. He ends up at a clinic where they give addicts a new name and identity. Thus, both Bob and Fred cease to exist, annihilating one another, becoming Bruce. Bruce ends up with a very simple mind, Substance D having apparently permanently changed his personality.

The book is a solid A. It's a great view of reality and philosophical questions. I'm particularly intrigued by how the brain works and how it forces us to experience reality. This book shows a lot of insight into that.


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