In an attempt to raise the fortunes of BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO’s Kickstarter, Tod and I drove out to Fort Morgan, Colorado, today, to visit the grave of Philip K. Dick. Fort Morgan is a somewhat depressing town out in the flatlands, about an hour and a half from Boulder. But the graveyard is a handsome one, and the Dicks’ family plot fits perfectly.

You may already know the story – how Dick’s future parents were driving West in late 1928 when Mrs. Dick went into labour and gave birth to twins. The family stayed in Fort Morgan for several weeks, but the baby girl, Jane, was sickly and, after five weeks, she died. They buried her there and continued on to California. The surviving twin, Phil, became a noted science fiction writer, a man of many literary obsessions, one of which was the indellible absence of his sister. When he died, he was buried in Fort Morgan, beside Jane.

Dicks_Grave So out we went and lit a candle to the author of such great books as A Scanner Darkly and The Man In The High Castle, and said a prayer to the goddesses of film and science fiction that the SyFy version of The Man In The High Castle would be a decent film. On our way back to the car we met another Dick fan, looking for the grave. Our conversation touched on the SyFy adaptation. “Yeah!” said the fan, “I can’t wait to see what they do with the Castle. It had better be amazing!”

If you have read The Man in the High Castle, you may still remember that there is no High Castle. The reclusive author in Dick’s alternate reality tale lives in a ranchstyle housing development like the one Tod and I lived in, in Table Mesa. There was nothing special about the author’s house. There was no High Castle.

And now we know how the TV version of the book turned out. Rather like the movie adaptations of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly: very poor. Nor does Dick fare well in the recent documentary, A Glitch in the Matrix, where the filmmakers lengthily attempt, with the help of fan-boys clad in cartoon avatars, to link the complex alternate realities of Dick’s fiction to Hollywood sci-fi action action and the Singularity.

I hate the Singularity, just like I hate vulgarity. And I hate the expression “sci-fi” – a horrible low-life term which cements into its stupid abbreviated self the notion that speculative fiction has something to do with science. As I mentioned in my piece about SF writers and the Vietnam War, SF need have nothing to do with science, or mechanics, or rocket fuel, or how a time machine works. Good SF is about the results of these things, not the dumb-ass robot mechanisms that deliver them. The best story in Anthony Boucher’s two-volume Treasury of Great Science Fiction is Oscar Lewis’ The Lost Years. There is no science in it: it’s the story of a great American who didn’t get assassinated, and what happened next.

In other words, an alternate reality story — like the early SF of Philip K Dick. Glitch in the Matrix features some interesting footage of Dick giving a lecture in France, but cuts away before he gets into the real meat of his talk: his belief that in 1974 he experienced a “transcendental encounter” with a Vast, Alien Living Intelligence System which gave him religious insights and precognitive powers. Thereafter Dick wrote several novels with this theme, including VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth. They are not his best work. He told an interviewer, “I have almost 500,000 words of notes on all this… I tried to discuss it with Ursula Le Guin, and she just wrote and said, I think you’re crazy. She returned the material I sent her.”

Had Dick gone mad? R. Crumb didn’t think so. He wrote, drew and published an eight-page comic book depicting Dick’s narration of his experiences: The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick. It is certainly worth a read.

[Updated February 2021]


Michael Nesmith, executive producer of REPO MAN, played here two nights ago. I didn’t get to see him since his show began at the Boulder Theater at 6.30pm (rock’n’roll shows seem to start earlier and earlier) and I teach screenwriting till 7.30pm. Which is a pity (not the screenwriting part — it’s a great class and my students are more literate and inventive than you could possibly imagine) because I wanted to hand him a copy of the Criterion Collection BluRay disk of REPO MAN, which had arrived that day.

First let me praise the package! Criterion’s artwork is simply lovely, particularly the cover art. This is the very best graphical representation of the film I have ever seen: even better than the old English poster of the smoking boots. The illustration is by Jay Shaw:

Image I don’t need to go into the contents of the box, since they are described in amazing detail at the DVD Beaver site, which compares the original Anchor Bay NTSC DVD with the Universal NTSC DVD, with the Masters of Cinema ‘Region B’ BluRay, with the new Criterion ‘Region A’ release.

The original Anchor Bay was sparse in additional elements, inevitably, since Universal Pictures had refused to create any. Instead, Jay Douglas of Anchor Bay paid for an audio recording in which Nesmith, I, Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, Del Zamora, and  Vicky Thomas all participated. He offered us each a $2000 bonus if Harry Dean Stanton came to the recording session! But Harry declined to attend. Still, the Anchor Bay DVD was popular, so popular in fact that Universal demanded the rights back — terminating their contract with Anchor early, and giving them the DVD rights to EVIL DEAD 2 in return.

Universal, well aware how much money Anchor Bay had made, wanted a piece of that REPO DVD action. But now they faced a problem. Other than the audio recording we had made there were no additional elements. All but eight of the production stills we had delivered had been lost. A solution came in the form of Rick Finkelstein, formerly Nesmith’s attorney and, suddenly, CEO of Universal Pictures. I contacted Finkelstein and suggested Universal bring out a decent DVD of REPO MAN, rather than a vanilla one. Thanks to Rick’s intervention, Universal gave me a budget to create elements for the DVD: I shared the dosh with the film’s producers, Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, and we created three new elements — Peter’s interview with Harry Dean Stanton, Jonathan’s round-table chat, and the “missing scenes” interviews with Sam Cohen and Zander Schloss.

Rolling Stone magazine decreed the result their DVD of the year. At which point Universal should have swallowed their pride, contacted Nesmith, Wacks, McCarthy and me and offered us $20 million to make a sequel. Unfortunately they didn’t: instead they re-branded one of their unreleasable flops as “REPO MEN” and sent a letter threatening to sue me if I ever made a movie with the word REPO in the title.

Charming, aren’t they? I talk a bit about Universal’s weird threats and the studio’s attempts to own the word REPO on the Masters of Cinema BluRay: for some reason, this element doesn’t make it onto the Criterion Blu-Ray disk which is, otherwise, entirely complete. The DVD Beaver site goes into extraordinary detail comparing the visual aspect of the two Blu-Rays. Both look damn good to me. In any case, which one you watch has already been decided for you, depending on where you live, thanks to the MPAA’s regional censorship and profit regime.

Thanks very much to Criterion for this lovely new release. And under no circumstances should you watch the outrageously-offensive, almost certainly untrue hidden additional element created by a pair of Colorado cowboys named Hafnor and Powers. I have no idea who these varmints are, but they’d better watch out, telling such subversive stories about the real origins of REPO MAN. As Hanging Judge Jeffreys said, the fact that the libel may be true, just makes it worse!

By the way, the rights to the original screenplay of REPO MAN revert to me in just a few years’ time. If anyone wants to remake the original script, or do a sequel to it, get in touch with me in early 2015…


The Blu-Ray got a very nice writeup from the LA Times but when I tried to post a comment I was unable to (it seems you have to sign up for a subscription first, which is a bit extreme. Or maybe my browser’s broken…) so here is the comment I wanted to post:

Thanks for that very nice analysis of my film REPO MAN. I do have to correct one misapprehension, though. REPO MAN is not a critique of Reagan policies, because these policies, sad to say, were systematic, whatever party was in power. It’s true that we saw a massive increase in the homeless on our city streets when Reagan came to office (I’d seen the same thing happen in England when Thatcher’s government took power). But it’s wrong to ascribe agency to either politician.
It was generally assumed that George H.W. Bush ran the show during the Reagan years. Bush was a highly intelligent man, fluent in Mandarin, and the former head of the CIA. Reagan was… an actor.
In terms of international politics, the Central American holocaust and the disastrous blowback of Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan were the invention of Jimmy Carter, as CIA chief Gates observes in his memoir, From The Shadows.
So REPO MAN isn’t a critique of any individual, no matter how detestable. Its analysis is systematic: it’s a little clearer in WALKER, which perhaps explains why the studio expended more efforts to suppress that film.