Ok, so not exactly my cup of tea. I love PKD. He's brilliant and real in the midst of some of the most mind-bending stories out there. And now I know where all of those crazy ideas came from. This book has been highly praised as a realistic conception of drug abuse, capturing the loss of identity that addicts experience all across the world. It's also a treatise on the War on Drugs, it's failings, shortcomings and absolute necessity from the standpoint of the 1970s. It's brilliantly conceptualized, masterfully told, but I've never really liked stories of this kind, so take my rating with a rather large grain of salt. Call me sheltered, innocent, an idealist, whatever you like. I'm aware of the problems of addiction and how the mind of an addict works. Intellectually and academically it makes sense to me. It's a horrific thing that deserves serious treatment and redress from us as a whole society, I just don't want to spend my precious and few free hours wallowing in the depressing picture that novels about addiction paint. It has nothing to do with wanting to avoid the problem and perhaps, if I'd read this during the summer when I had tons of time to spare, I'd like it as much as I appreciate it and it'd get the 5 stars it most likely deserves.
Bob Arctor is a narc. He's so deep undercover investigating the distribution network for the lethal new drug "Death" that he's become quite the addict himself. The new drug's manufacturers are so well off that various law enforcement agencies have had to take extreme measures to prevent snitches working for the dealers and cops on the take from discovering their agents that they hide their identities from one another by wearing scramble suits that change their visage and mask their voices. To his coworkers, Bob is Fred. To the druggies he's befriended, he's Bob. Confused yet? You have no idea. Bob's world is turned upside down when his superior "Hank" asks him to begin investigating a new suspect in the Death distribution network: Bob Arctor. The loss of identity and the dual nature of addict personalities is stunningly laid bare by Dick in just the general set-up of the plot that moves the story forward. Interspersed between are gritty vignettes of life with addiction - rationalization, long but fascinating discussions on the most random topics, paranoia, dementia, self-loathing and general episodes of life on the downward spiral. Humorous and incredibly grim, Dick balances the gravity of his subject with the absurdity of it.
Again, Dick is a masterful character builder and humanizer, building believable personalities while drawing your attention to the big questions that have haunted the human condition since settled and complex society arose thousands of years ago. If you're going to read it, know what you're getting into. It's hard to look at, but worth the effort.