Bob Arctor is a spy for the government. In his daily life, he does Substance D with his friends. In his working life, he is called Fred, wears a scramble suit to protect his identity, and reports on those friends, specifically seeking to identify those who are dealers and use them to work up the chain and get higher dealers. Even though he sees the effect of Substance D on his friends and others who need treatment, he has to keep doing it to maintain his cover, and becomes an addict. Eventually he winds up spying on himself at the precise time that the drug starts to destroy his mind. So goes the life of the main character in this introspective look at drug culture and its frightening possibilities.
I have to admit that I was bored by this book. In my defense, I’d already seen the film while it was still in the preview stage at college, and my friends and I spent a good amount of time discussing it and picking it apart. So I already knew everything that was coming, including the ending which I think is very appropriate and somewhat haunting, and as a result I don’t think I liked the book as much as I might have otherwise. As most of us do, though, whenever a movie is based on a book it’s like a compulsion. I just had to read it and finish it and see how it measured up.
Overall, I found that there was far too much rambling done by the addicts. I know that this is probably true-to-life, as this book is dedicated to many of Dick’s friends who were either permanently damaged or killed as a result of their drug abuse, and he includes himself on the list of the damaged. Even so, is it wrong to admit that I found it boring and hard to follow? Perhaps it’s a perspective I needed, but I have no plan to do drugs, and so their ramblings were unfamiliar to me. It’s a rare 200 page book that takes me more than a day to read, but this one did, and I fell asleep twice in the day with it still open.
Perhaps Dick’s greatest accomplishment is that he manages not to condemn any of them for what they do. As he writes in the prologue, they only meant to have fun, and then continued even as they started to suffer the effects. They were addicted, of course, and so are the characters in the book, unable to do anything for themselves and eventually reduced to mindless, forgetful drones. He adds the twist in the end that is really what makes the reader think about society.
A Scanner Darkly is a clever dystopia, but I think I would have appreciated it more without knowing the story beforehand.
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