Greatest Dead Angelenos #17 Philip K Dick

In Which the Simulacrum of Horselover Fat relates his Electric Dreams to The Noxious One:

With the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut there is certainly no better time to discuss the man behind the masterpiece, the Science Fiction author whose work has been turned into more movies than any other in the genre.

He was a visionary who truly had visions. He painted haunting portraits of dystopian futures refracted through the dark shards of a troubled mind, and peopled them with deeply human and fragile characters that often weren’t human at all. Many of these stories showed a Los Angeles that sometimes seems to be taking form right now. He died far too soon at 53, in Santa Ana, though he is buried in Colorado next to the twin sister he lost when they were but weeks old.

That he was a great man is certain, but what makes him one of the Greatest Angelenoes? Well, for me personally, well… come on… how many people had their fans build an Android of them after their death?

You know about the Android, right? The one that later got stolen misplaced?

I know it sounds like something out of one of his stories … I would not make this up. Okay, I would, but I didn’t; it really happened. Look, I talked to the thing. Really! I have pictures!

After the jump, the story of how I got Philip K Dick’s Android to start talking.
(With pictures, all by me, all click to embiggenable.)

Working closely with family members and The Philip K Dick Trust, robotics expert David Hanson’s research team, inspired by the authors own work, created a “portrait” of PKD: an android with a remarkably sophisticated AI that mimicked his expressions and mannerisms, was capable of recognizing facial expressions on humans, and recognizing individuals in crowds, among other things that make my tiny human brain hurt.

Further, they programed it with all the known written works of the author, published and unpublished, and anything else they could get friends and family to provide.

Prior to the release of the movie A Scanner Darkly, based on PKD’s book of the same name, they arranged to have it speak on a panel at the San Diego Comic Con in 2005.

I, of course, was there because I am a huge geek. I attended the panel because, well, why the hell wouldn’t I?

So, the panel’s in this huge hall. In the aisles were microphones where, in theory, one could ask the PKD Android a question and it would respond as Philip K Dick himself might.

Well, Phil must have been feeling a little fussy that day. Apparently it had worked fine in some radio and TV interviews, but on this day, person after person asked it questions and it would move its robot head around and blink, but say nothing. The guys who built it kept futzing around with it, but no go. At one point it stopped entirely.

They got it going again, kinda, and decided to try another question. I happened to be up next at the microphone. Heh.

I can’t remember what I was originally going to ask it, because, being the smart ass that I am, I decided to ask, “When you stopped working right now, were you Dreaming of Electric Sheep?”

The robot blinked, clicked, moved its head around a bit, and started talking. He talked about the movie Blade Runner, which was released the year he died, he talked about his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, on which it was based, he talked about the differences between Films and Novels as media in general and the difficulties in translating one to the other and he would not shut up.


Where as before you couldn’t get the thing to speak, I had hit the subject that he simply wouldn’t shut the hell up about. By the time they finally got him to stop, they had to quit taking questions so they would have time to show previews of A Scanner Darkly, which is what they were supposed to pimping all along.

I was pretty pleased with myself.

So, that’s where my experience with the PKD Android ends, but the story of our little robot friend just gets weirder:

A few months later, the Android turns up “missing” on a flight back to California. It was flying in from Australia, I believe, but it’s hard to say, as details are suspiciously sketchy. Supposedly, they don’t want to give out too many details because of potential ransom demands or someone deciding to sell the thing on eBay. Last thing I heard about it, and I can’t find any confirmation on this, but apparently the body was recovered, but not the head. And all of the programing, indeed, the brains, are in the head.

This is really just the kind of thing that would happen in a Philip K Dick novel. And, again, I am making none of it up.

But it’s a great story for Halloween, no? Cranky robot of a dead mad man goes missing? What’s not to love?

Sleep tight, now. Don’t have Nightmares about the Disembodied Android Head of Philip K Dick showing up to prove that the Empire Never Ended. Best to dream of Electric Sheep instead…


See the rest of the 25 Greatest Dead Angelenos.

4 thoughts on “Greatest Dead Angelenos #17 Philip K Dick”

  1. Awesome. Not only am I happy to see him here on this list, no one could have written about him better.

  2. Though to be technical, PKD never actually lived in Los Angeles – most of the time it was the Bay Area and/or Orange County. He’s buried out in rural Colorado

  3. For the fabulously frightening scenarios that were so creepily introduced throughout his brilliant books, we are granted: three brief comments!
    Thanks, L.A.
    Now get lost.

    I cannot help but prompt folk to try out a PKD-inspired band whose own members have all sorts of history that will take years to unwind even as one (with hope, MANY) will unwind while listening: Listing Ship.
    Formerly Leather Hyman (a brilliant twist of initials in that the lead people were named Lyman and Heather), this lot has played at clubs that most folk would never have dared venture near: Hell’s Gate (on Yucca, when cameras, guns and crack were prevalent on that bloody corner), Al’s Bar and CIA in Burbank.
    For those fortunate enough to have copies of LH’s first two 7″s (from the very early 1990s) and/or two full-length albums, PKD was the order of the day.

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