*A Scanner Darkly* -the book, not the movie (open spoilers)

Nota Benny: the plot point of contention I want to bring up for discussion is definitely not part of the movie; it’s a possibility the screen version doesn’t even imply, so if you’ve seen the flick but haven’t read the original and would like to sometime, proceed with grave caution.

A Scanner Darkly, the original novel by PK Dick was first published in 1977; a year or so later I was handed a copy by a friend of mine (another early-20s acid head and upper-popper with intellectual aspirations, much like myself) with orders to “Read this now, Lux.” And so I did, for the first of nearly two dozen times. That book really got into the black and spongiform marrow of my bones, so to speak, and has stayed there until this very sentence. I’ve read it while I was high, sober, drunk, wired, depressed and riding Greyhound cross-country, and so I figured I’d found every nuance and resonance of it by this time.

HOWEVER–flash forward to the fairly recent past when Wolf finally gave in to my insistence that he, too, experience the original* A Scanner Darkly* in all its queasy, shivering glory. It took a while, us being a bit suspicious of each other’s literary recommendations, but when he read it he got really into it.

So much so, in fact, that he noticed and pointed out a wrinkle in the story that I never twigged to as soon as it came up for him.

You remember Jim Barris, of course --one of put-upon protagonist Bob Arctor’s roommates and fellow dope fiends, the shadowy shady guy whose malevolence is as apparently boundless as it is inexplicable? The brilliant psycho or psychotic genius who gets away with the most outrageous shit in the book, the self-proclaimed chemistry whizkid who thinks there’s cocaine in sunburn spray?

Well, about halfway through the book, Wolf decided that** *Barris is a cop! ***Another undercover operative of some kind like our Mr.Narctor… A narc or spook for who-the-fuck-knows whose mind, like Arctor,'s is frying to a crackly crisp. .

As evidence of this, we have:

  1. His car. Arctor drives a specially tricked-out auto supplied by the police body he’s working for; it looks like any old shitwagon but has all sorts of sneaky cop tech surveillance shit. Barris drives another nondescript rustbucket he claims he’s made a zillion esoteric mods and alterations to -that let him do all that sneaky narc shit himself . And he’s so out-there that he brags about them to the armed and squirrely dope addicts he hangs around with.

  2. Some of the shit he does and gets away with in the book is, according to the narration, the kind of stuff that undercover ops are allowed to do without drawing serious heat. Sure enough, the only other person besides Bob himself who perpetrates major felonies with apparent impunity turns out to be a Fed, under very deep cover.

  3. Why else would he have such a covert hate-boner for Bob, his alleged pal and roomie? There’s the remnant of a LEO psyche under the carrion his head has become, and the two of them recognize each other as their own natural prey and worst enemy,a doper-ass deviant perpetrator.

So how come I read the same book twenty-three times without picking up on that?

Or maybe Bob is just paranoid and you’ve totally bought into his paranoid delusions?

Could be, I guess; I always figured “Hank” was telling Arctor something close to the truth about his assignment near the end (or what Hank* thought*was the truth, anyway - these guys are all getting lied to!), , so I made Barris for part of a clandestine radical cell of some kind, or a bigger fish in the criminal pond than he let on, hiding out in druggie drag — like the dealers who check into the secured rehabs to hide out when they get too hot.

It’s been a while since I read the book but…

There is some sort of device that is broken, much of the book is him trying to get it fixed. It hooks up to the brain. Bob thinks Barris may have sabotaged it. He also thinks Barris sabotaged his car. (bob’s) There is also the ‘suit’ that projects diffrent images of the person so people won’t know him.

I thought the more fantastic sci-fi elements were all in Bob’s head. The suit, etc. They were all delusions. We join the story after he has been taking substance D so his mind has started to melt down.

Naw, in order to make this work, every character in the book would have to be equally imaginary.

The book is largely roman à clef, and like everything else Dick wrote it needed to have a sci-fi element in order to get published. It’s paranoid and all-over-the-place because its author was genuinely paranoid.