Saturday, November 19, 2011

Philip K. Dick Predicts the Future

TV Review: Prophets of Science Fiction; Philip K. Dick by Tony Nunes

Prophets of Science Fiction, a new show that premiered last week on the Science channel, is an exploration of science fiction’s greatest storytellers, and the predictive nature of their work.  Prophets is hosted by Ridley Scott, a sci-fi innovator in his own right having directed sci-fi film staples Alien, and Blade Runner.  The first episode focused on "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley and the medical industry.  While the Shelley episode was interesting, it seemed to lack a certain edge in its narration and style, an edge that was fully realized with this weeks episode on sci-fi legend Phillip K. Dick.

Phillip K. Dick’s episode was focused on the overall prophetic nature of Dick himself.  The episode explores how his paranoia and suspect views of technology actually foretold some of the law enforcement and tracking technologies in use today.  Focused quite a bit on Dick’s heightened state of paranoia and drug use, the show presents a very real portrait of a man undone by his own altered states of reality.  There’s no doubting Dick’s genius, but what Prophets shows here is a fragment of that genius in its more vulnerable, schizophrenic state.  

Ridley Scott, who adapted the film version of Dick’s "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" into Blade Runner likens the man to the Charles Dickens of science fiction.  Paul Verhoeven, who directed Dick’s story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" into the film Total Recall bluntly classifies him as the most important figure in all of science fiction.  With forty-four novels and one-hundred-twenty short stories written, Dick’s work envisioned a reality where what is perceived may not be what truly is.  This theme of a paranoid existence shows up over and over in his writing, in the forms of implanted memories, androids, pre-crime and alternate paths of existence that lead to alternate realities. 

Prophets of Science Fiction utilizes reenactment footage inter-cut with interviews, documentary material and graphic novel panels to weave a narrative about the prophetic, and very troubled visionary that was Philip K. Dick.  There were some really interesting interview subjects, students of Dick’s work including Fringe creator Roberto Orci, Marvel Comics writer Matt Fraction and both Ridley Scott and Paul Verhoeven.  The graphic novel panel inserts by Boom! Studios and R. Crumb heighten the storytelling by creating their own vision of reality to mask Dick’s.  Breakdowns of his fiction are accentuated by clips from Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, based on Dick’s story "The Minority Report."

When it comes to relating elements of Dick’s works to the science of today, much of the technology referenced is actually still in its experimental or theoretical phases.  Android technology (not the phone) is slowly becoming a reality, as shown through very realistic looking androids made of frubber (face rubber), including one very creepy android modeled after Phillip Dick himself.  The idea of neuroscience and implanted memories is referenced, but not with nearly enough convincing evidence to believe the technology is close to becoming a real science.  One thing that did shape us today is virtual reality, a concept Dick toyed with well before we were playing video games and simulating war strategies on computer screens.  His views on almost dystopian surveillance, as written in "A Scanner Darkly" has also become a reality in many ways.  While Prophets of Science Fiction only touches briefly on these ideas, it does a great job in posing some really important ethical questions about the path these technologies have put us on.  The episode ends by expressing that Dick’s own name has become an adjective used to describe his futurist views in science fiction.  It can surely be said that Prophets of Science Fiction has the pulse of a truly Phillip K. Dickian worldview.

Next weeks episode features H.G. Welles, with future episodes highlighting the works of sci-fi legends Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein and George Lucas.

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