Philip K. Dick, Octavia Butler: Kindred

March 6, 2013

His middle name is Kindred.   Philip Kindred Dick.

I find that hard to believe.   How could anyone’s middle name be a capsule summary of a large body of work still to be written?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (better known as Blade Runner) is about the indistinguishability between humans and androids, even though the former is determined to repress it and police it vigilantly.   Ubik is about the indistinguishability between life and “half-life,” and those who could be inhabiting either.

Kindred, of course, is the title of Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel.  Dana Franklin, living in 1976 LA, is pulled back into 1815 Maryland whenever her white ancestor, Rufus, wants her there to save him, even though the antebellum South is no place for a young black woman.  Kinship here is about that gravitational pull between the past and the future, as much as it is across the dividing line of race.

In his 1972 talk, “The Android and the Human, ” given in Vancouver (where he had relocated after his home in San Rafael, CA, was destroyed by powerful explosives in 1971), Dick says: “as the external world becomes more animate, we may find that we — the so-called humans — are becoming, and may to a great extent always have been, inanimate in the sense that we are led, directed by built-in tropisms, rather than leading. So we and our elaborately evolving computers may meet each other halfway. Someday a human being, named perhaps Fred White, may shoot a robot named Pete Something-or-other, which has come out of a General Electrics factory, and to his surprise see it weep and bleed. And the dying robot may shoot back and, to its surprise, see a wisp of gray smoke arise from the electric pump that it supposed was Mr. White’s beating heart. It would be rather a great moment of truth for both of them.”

And a moment of truth for many who should have “so-called” attached to them.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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