The novels and stories of Philip K. Dick have long been a favorite of film and television writers. Famously, Blade Runner was adapted from his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and the likes of Total Recall and Minority Report also have roots in his fiction. Advances in technology have also allowed filmmakers to capture Dick's penchant for shifting realities — Richard Linklater's use of rotoscoping on his 2006 adaptation of the magnificently paranoid novel A Scanner Darkly is the most notable example of this. Amazon Prime's forthcoming television adaptation of his novel The Man in the High Castle, set in a United States partitioned by a victorious Axis after the Second World War, is the latest example of someone translating Dick's fiction into words and images. Philip K. Dick was a prolific writer, with dozens of novels and five volumes of collected short stories. All of this means that there’s plenty of his work that remains unadapted. What follows is a look at seven memorable works that remain unadapted — for now.
Eye in the Sky
The first few pages of this early novel of Dick's establish a fairly orderly setting: there's a description of a scientific accident, and then an unsettling sequence of Cold War paranoia, as the novel's protagonist, Jack Hamilton, faces charges that his wife might pose a security risk. From there, things get deeply strange, as the book's central characters move through a series of worlds shaped by the beliefs, fears, and prejudices of several of their members. The book's central conceit, of the nightmarish ways that bodies, cities, and reality itself could be transformed when subject to the whims of human fallibility raised to a divine level — is a chilling one.
"The Electric Ant"
As this impressively disorienting short story begins, its central character has just awoken after an accident to discover that he is missing a hand. This is not the most disorienting piece of information that he learns, however — the doctors inform him that he is, in fact, a robot. Not long afterwards, he begins tinkering with his own machinery, seeking to alter his own perceptions of the world and discover the nature of reality. There are multiple varieties of paranoia on display here, as well as a compelling story that addresses one of Dick’s preferred themes: What, exactly, makes us human? For those curious about a version of this rendered in a different type of media, David Mack and Pascal Alixe adapted it as a graphic novel in 2010.
Dick's 1969 novel Ubik is something of an outlier on this list, as there have been several attempts to adapt it, most recently by Michel Gondry. The novel, which involves corporate intrigue, shifts in reality, time travel, and telepathy, has kept filmmakers at bay, though it hasn’t been for lack of trying. And among Dick's published works is a screenplay adaptation — the first attempts at adapting this for the screen took place in the 1970s. If nothing else, a Jodorowsky’s Dune-esque documentary dealing with the different efforts to make Ubik might be just as entertaining as a direct adaptation of the novel itself.
Works dealing with the surreal, philosophical side of religion aren't exactly the stuff of mass hits: David Milch's John From Cincinnati only lasted one season on HBO, and the episode of Community where Abed makes a movie about Jesus wasn't exactly that show's high point. VALIS, which involves Dick's decidedly unorthodox take on Christianity, is more out-there than either — it's both a deeply autobiographical work and one that features a conspiracy that may well have stopped nearly two thousand years of history from taking place. There's also a narrative twist that, cinematically speaking, would have been unheard of had an adaptation been made shortly after the novel was published in the early 1980s; by now, though, it's much more commonplace. Think of Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice but pushed even further, and you'd have an idea of what VALIS could be capable of becoming.
"I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon"
In this late short story, Dick blends a humanistic approach with a classic science fiction premise. The setting is a spaceship traveling to a distant planet; a system error causes one crew member to wake up early, and the ship's computer must keep him occupied for the next ten years. The story that follows involves our hero contending with a number of simulated realities, some taken from his memories, as he tries to lose himself in them even as one guilty memory repeatedly asserts itself. It's a memorably nerve-wracking story of psychological give-and-take, guilt, and perception.
Admittedly, the premise of this 1964 novel includes a number of elements that seem very '60s science fiction: a rivalry between Earth and Mars, sinister corporate plots, and schools with robotic teachers. But it's the smaller details that resonate more deeply, and the concerns that they raise remains very relevant: income inequality, depression, questions of the value of education, and disassociation from reality. Involved in the lives of many of the characters is Manfred, a child whose perception of time is vastly different from everyone else around him; as he gradually moved towards the center of the plot, the tone becomes more focused, pushing the book toward a haunting conclusion.
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
Like VALIS and The Divine Invasion, 1982’s The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is one of Dick's more direct attempts to grapple with questions of religious belief and the supernatural. (The title character is a bishop grappling with newly discovered, possibly heretical documents.) It's one of the handful of Dick's novels set in a recognizably contemporary setting; aside from Confessions of a Crap Artist, adapted in France in 1992, adaptations of Dick’s works largely veer toward the futuristic and technological. Here, then, would be an opportunity for some filmmaker to show off a different side of Dick's work.
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!