"Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (Library of America; 838 pages; $35), edited by Jonathan Lethem, presents a sampling of Dick's best work as a novelist: "The Man in the High Castle," "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich," "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and "Ubik." Any serious student of science fiction has probably read these novels in paperback, but now they are collected in a handsome, durable package.
The themes that preoccupied Dick are all on display here. Eastern philosophy pervades "The Man in the High Castle," an alternate-history in which the United States lost World War II. "The Three Stigmata" features hallucinatory drugs that produce shared consciousness, while "Androids," the basis for the film "Blade Runner," is concerned with what makes us human in a depleted ecosystem. "Ubik," in which entropy can be fought with an aerosol spray, explores the slippery nature of reality itself.
Lethem, whose earliest books have more than their fair share of Dickian moments, provides notes on the novels and a chronology of Dick's life. They remind one of how much of a regional writer Dick was, that while he set his best-remembered work in the future or in outer space, he was always fundamentally writing about life as experienced in Berkeley, Oakland and Marin, just as he did in the numerous non-speculative novels he was unable to sell during his lifetime.
In the chronology, Lethem quotes Dick's appraisal of "High Castle" and another well-regarded novel not included in this edition, "Martian Time-Slip": "I thought I had bridged the gap between the experimental mainstream novel and science fiction." These "Four Novels of the 1960s" prove that he attained his goal.
Lousy at prognostication, Dick was not ahead of his time. Rather, he was scarily in synch with it. Now his fiction, full of comedy, melancholy and paranoia, matches our own peculiar circumstances at the beginning of a frightening new century."