Philip K. Dick is the reigning champion of Hollywood. This Friday's The Adjustment is just the latest in a long string of Dickian movie adaptations. But some of Dick's greatest stories have yet to be filmed.
Here are our picks for 10 unfilmed Philip K. Dick classics that deserve to be movies.
Note: This list doesn't include any Dick works that are currently being made into movies, like Ubik.
1) The Crack in Space, aka Cantata-140
This one might require a bit of reworking for a 21st-century audience, what with its 1960s-era dissection of racism. But the basic themes remain just as pertinent as ever. It's the year 2080, and America's just about to elect its first black President (yeah, I know), representing the Liberal-Republican Party, which opposes the ruling States Rights Conservative Democrats. Overpopulation has become such a pressing issue that millions of poor people are in suspended animation, and the new President needs to find a solution — so it's lucky that a household device has accidentally ripped open a gateway to an alternate Earth where all those poor people can emigrate. Except that this alternate Earth is already inhabited. Oh, and there are orbital brothels and tons of other weirdness. Could be the next Total Recall, with the orbital brothels and political weirdness.
2) "The Turning Wheel"
You'd probably have to tone down the jabs against Scientology in the cult leader named Elron Hu, Bard. But the basic idea of this story is fiendishly clever — it's a world run by quasi-Buddhists, who have developed a technology that actually allows you to see your next reincarnation. This gives you a chance to improve your karma before you die, so you can avoid being reincarnated as something foul. But the main character, Sung-wu, realizes he's doomed to be reborn as a fly because of a youthful indiscretion. He's doomed to die of a plague before he has a chance to cleanse his karma — unless he allows some outlaws to smuggle in some illegal drugs that could save his life. Should he accept his fate, or break the rules of his society (thus worsening his karma even more) to get the drugs that could give him decades more to improve his next incarnation? It's the sort of dilemma most science fiction never even considers — and it might make for a weird, compelling film, along the lines of Scanner Darkly.
3) Dr. Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb
It's really hard to summarize this novel — it's post-apocalyptic, and decidedly weird. There's a nuclear war, after which the astronaut who was supposed to go to Mars stays in orbit and becomes a popular disk jockey. A German rocket scientist named Dr. Bluthgeld (Dr. Bloodmoney) who may have caused the nuclear war hides out as a sheep farmer — only to fall afoul of mutant power struggles among the survivors. And there are mutated super-intelligent dogs and cats, along with the mutant humans. This could be the movie that finally gives post-apocalyptic films the shot of weirdness they need.
4) The Eye In The Sky
Of all Dick's "reality is a frakked-up illusion" stories, this is probably my favorite. A particle accelerator malfunction traps eight people in a series of solipstistic fake realities created by each person's perceptions of the world. And some of these alternate realities are terrifying as well as thought-provoking — there's the Old Testament world of instant plagues and divine punishments, as well as the world created by a paranoid Communist. It's perhaps the purest distillation of the "creating your own reality" trope, and a story that would be easy to update for today's audiences.
5) "The Father-Thing"
There's been a bit of a vogue for turning Twilight Zone-esque stories into movies lately, including The Box. But it doesn't get much more Twilight Zone-y than this story about a boy who suspects his dad has been replaced with an alien facsimile. What makes it great is the conspiracy among the boy and his friends to deal with the imposter, without involving any adults. It's like Stand By Me meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
6) The Game-Players of Titan
We've already had the quintessential PKD drug movie in Scanner Darkly — now how about a similar story about how people are kept distracted and doped up with games? The human race believes it won the war against the alien Vugs from the planet Titan, and the survivors of the war spend all their time playing the addictive board game Bluff, in which moves can be fake or real. But this compulsive game-playing just distracts everyone from the truth about the war with the Vugs.
7) Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
This novel was optioned at one point, by the same producers who made Terminator Salvation, but I'm pretty sure that's no longer happening. And this is a great basis for a paranoid thriller, along the lines of the recently-successful Unknown. A famous musician and television personality wakes up one day to find out that he no longer exists, and nobody remembers him. It's especially difficult to be a former person in the totalitarian future United States, where everything is tightly controlled.
8) The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Another fairly topical story — global climate change has made Earth almost uninhabitable, and you can't go out without wearing your personal air conditioner. People take vacations in Antarctica. Good thing we've already colonized the rest of the Solar System — but human culture has become a nightmarish consumerist carnival of horrors. Everybody's stuck on the legal drug Can-D, until Palmer Eldritch comes back from space with a new drug called Chew-Z — that can help you live forever by suspending space and time. The only trouble is, whenever you trip on Chew-Z, Palmer Eldritch is there with you, and sort of like the people in Eye in the Sky, he gains more power over reality all the time.
Sure, there's an indy movie based on Radio Free Albemuth, which is an earlier unpublished version of this novel — but we still need our VALIS movie. This book received a lot more attention after being featured in Lost, and it's the perfect companion to Lost's "endless creamy weirdness" approach to storytelling. A semi-autobiographical account of a weird incident in Dick's own life, this book takes us through a tour of the weird 1970s, as Horselover Fat (a sort of translation of Dick's own name into English) goes in search of the truth behind his visions. The sequences where Horselover goes to stay with a famous musician (who I think is Eric Clapton) who helps him to track down the two-year-old messiah who can lead him to the alien satellite in space... let's just say this would be one trippy, zeitgeisty, unsettling film.
10) The Man In The High Castle
This one's cheating a bit, since it's supposedly being made into a BBC TV miniseries by Ridley Scott. (Although given Scott's incredibly full slate of projects, you might not want to set your TiVo just yet.) In either case, this is a novel that still deserves to be a movie at some point — it's one of a very few outstanding classics of alternate history. What sets this book apart from the usual "Axis won World War II" stories is how far it goes into lunacy — the Germans purged Africa of its natives and also colonized Mars by the 1960s. But also, it's a book that takes a lot of time to create a picture of ordinary life among the citizens of the Japanese- and German-dominated United States, with people obsessing about their lives and their jobs rather than focussing on big-picture stuff. Except that there's a super-popular novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, about a world where the Germans and Japanese lost.
Thanks to Meredith for the Dr. Bloodmoney suggestion.