A Scanner Darkly is one of those cult titles that your older brother knew about when you were probably nearing puberty. One of those edgy and different stories that dealt with drugs and violence and the police state. Seeing as it was first published in 1977, a lot of people are quick to skip it because they think it’s outdated or they won’t be able to identify with it. Honestly, the ideas and circumstances put forth in this book hold steady more than I could have imagined.
When it comes to stories depicting the acts of the depraved, such as drugs and sex and tattoos and living the alternative lifestyle, you usually have two types to choose from: the ones that are way too obvious and on the nose, known as try-hard titles, or ones that are poorly researched and are too far off base to be realistic and end up being annoying. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Dick lived this life himself, so his visceral and unapologetic look at the drug scene and what it can do to people transcends his story into a very rare and exciting third level. His personal experiences and knowledge of the lifestyle bring his characters to life in a way that most authors can only dream of. The secret? Basing the characters on people he knew. People he used with. People that ended up permanently handicapped or dead. People, warm, loving, caring human beings that no longer have a voice of their own.
If you’re like me and happened to watch the movie before you read the book, don’t fret; the movie is pretty much true to the story. You get the added bonus of seeing Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder in your mind when reading the characters, which helps to pump up the imagery and immersion process. That said, if you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it strongly for the incredible performances and for the viewing experience of a rotoscoped film. If you do manage to watch, stick through to the end and view Dick’s personal acknowledgments. He lists all of the people he knew in his time to fall in some way to drug abuse. It puts the story and the greater drug epidemic in major perspective.