Getting to Know Philip K. Dick, Biographies, Memoirs, Interviews, & Letters – Classics of Science Fiction


Reprinted and updated from “The Biographies of Philip K. Dick” at SF Signal (April 2016)

Back in 2016 I went on a Philip K. Dick binge, reading several of his novels and a stack of biographies. I wrote an article about the biographies before I burned out of that binge. I’m back to binge-reading on PKD again and I went looking for my article, “The Biographies of Philip K. Dick” at SF Signal, but it’s been taking down. The link above is to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. I decided to reprint it here and update it with any book that would help me get to know Philip K. Dick, including interviews and letters. I also put links to Amazon (I earn a small fee) to those that are in print. The books that are out of print are getting extremely expensive to buy used.

Philip K. Dick inspired more biographers than any other science fiction writer. Were those biographers drawn to Dick’s strange life, or did they hope to learn more about his books? For anyone wanting to know Philip K. Dick, picking a biography can be hard. A definitive biography has not yet emerged, and each of the existing biographies have their own unique appeal. I’ve been reading books about PKD for almost forty years and find they’re revealing in two ways. First, PKD was an exceedingly complex person. Even if you’ve never read one of his novels, his personal story is as far out as his fiction. Second, if you do have a passion for PKD’s work, you’ll want to read the biographies, because Phil often weaved his own experiences into his plots and characters, making those stories deeper if you learn how and why.

But which biography to pick? The latest? The longest? PKD had five wives, two of which wrote memoirs, as well as one lady friend. I loved In Search of Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick (married to PKD 1959-1965) because she influenced The Man in the High Castle. And Tessa B. Dick, (married to PKD 1973-1977) offers insight into Phil’s later mystical writings. I wished Kleo Apostolides (married 1950-1959) and Nancy Hackett (married 1966-1972) had also written biographies, so we’d have complete spousal coverage of Dick’s writing years.

Paul Williams and Greg Rickman’s books are out of print, yet very worthy of tracking down. Divine Invasions is excellent, but older, still a top contender. If you’re attracted to Dick’s weirdness, consider Anthony Peake’s book. However, if you only read one, a good place to start will be I Am Alive and You Are Dead by Emmanuel Carrère, a French writer. Be warned though, reading one biography of PKD can draw you into the black hole of PKDickian addiction.

If you know about others, let me know.

James Wallace Harris, 1/11/23

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