To this fan of science fiction, Philip K. Dick is a joy. To this writer and reader of SF literature, he's a frustration with occasional high points.
The joy comes because you can't touch SF these days without seeing PKD's fingerprints. Thanks to Hollywood's embrace of PKD's vision, his paranoia-ridden, schizophrenic view of society is everywhere. Perhaps PKD was a true visionary for seeing this turn in society. Perhaps he helped bring humanity to this view through his stories. Either way, that's more of an impact than any other SF author of the last 50 years.
But the frustration comes when you actually read PKD's stories and novels. He was capable of very good writing at times — The Man in the High Castle, one of his best novels, showcases the wordcraft he possessed when he took the time to rewrite and edit, as do other novels like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik — but far too many of his works drone with haste and self-indulgence.
Worse, his ability to create believable real-life characters was almost non-existent. PKD was an idea man, and that's seen in his writing. I suspect this is one reason he's been embraced by Hollywood — his ideas and stories allow others to graft onto them their own characterizations.
But while PKD's stories show a limited ability to understand his fellow humans, he did create one amazing character: Himself. His Exegesis reveals the great conflict which occurs when a person who understands science is confronted with a change within their own mind. PKD searches for any explanation — God, aliens, the religious — other than the mental breakdown he is actually experiencing.
PDK alluded to the truth of what is happening to him in his Exegesis, but in the end his storyteller soul embraced other explanations, stringing together coincidence and isolated facts until they became what he wished them to be.
PKD not only helped create our paranoid view of modern life, he documented within himself how we arrived at such a state. And to me that is his most tragically fascinating creation.
(Originally published in issue 16 of Journey Planet)