A Scanner Darkly (1977) by Philip K. Dick

June 1994 – the world is split between dopers – drug users – and straights. Many of the dopers use Substance D, the most addictive drug ever discovered.

Bob Arctor left his wife and children in search of a more exciting life and became an undercover narcotics agent trying to track down the supply of Substance D. To fit in with his target group he started to use drugs himself. This, combined with the fact that he is known to his agency only as Fred, where he reports in a scrambler suit to disguise his identity (as no one can be trusted to know who he really is) and therefore has to report on Bob, as well as the rest of his crowd, begins to give him serious problems.

The drug world is very murky as Arctor himself reflects:

“Several narcotics agents that he had known posed as dealers in their undercover work…this was a good cover, but it also brought the nark a gradually increasing profit over and above his official salary… Also, the agents got deeper and deeper into using their own stuff…they became rich dealer addicts as well as narks, and after a time some of them began to phase out their law-enforcement activities in favor of full-time dealing. But then, too, certain dealers, to burn their enemies or when expecting imminent busts, began narking and went that route, winding up as sort of unofficial undercover narks.”

As with a book of Dick’s short stories which I read last year, this book contains some very interesting ideas (here about addiction and the failure of the war on drugs) but I just don’t get on with his style of writing.

I’ve only seen the film and have no idea what the original short story is like but I like “Minority Report” a lot with its central premise of pre-cogs being able to see the future and thus prevent murders before they happen. That may have been a better choice for the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives.

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