“Tom” wrote me this observation:
The late Phillip K. Dick bears enough resemblance to a prophet that I have wondered if you have considered it. It would be interesting to hear how you approach the question. It seems to me that Dick is something of an anti-prophet who was just trying to write good fiction and inadvertently viewed and incorporated state secrets into his plots, The Zap Gun for instance. His last books, Valis especially, were efforts to comprehend his source of information.
What exactly makes someone a prophet?
Are you a Phillip Dick fan?
I keep getting an uneasy feeling that he has pegged some things: The Man In The High Castle, The Mold Of Yancy and The Penultimate Truth? I hope he is not a prophet.
Essentially a prophet is one with sensitivity to track tendencies of individuals and masses to unconsciously go down certain timelines rather than others. Prophets are heralds of accidental histories of the future. There are proactive forecasters who see and then prophegandize a certain future timeline such as biblical seers and there are reluctant seers, like Dick. He was anti-prophetic just like an anti-theist is an Atheist who can’t let go of god obsessions. An Atheist becomes a negative-God oriented person. An anti-prophet becomes negative-prophetic. He may hate and expose a future he can’t avoid.
An anti-prophet whether they are fully conscious of it or not uses his or her gift of insight as a device to get people to come back to the present where all futures are born, change their present actions and thus give birth to a more life-affirmative future.
The problem with being a good prophet is that you will often be ahead of your audience. You talk about things they are not yet interested in for their own sake, or you write on things about which they not yet afraid enough and alert enough to forestall. PKD died of a stroke in 1982, a few months before the release of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, just when the mainstream audience — which does not generally read but watches stories on screens — discovered him. It is so often the case that a prophet attains notoriety after death. Dick’s afterlife began with the reincarnation of his stories into movies like Blade Runner (based on Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream in Electric Sleep?)
I think Dick’s dire take on the future is similar to pessimistic Nostradamus’ technique of scaring people straight. Dick wasn’t a cynic, but a man who couldn’t go all Pollyanna about tomorrow because he understood the human frailties of today. Moreover, his dark literary veneer was in sharp contrast to his deep love and trust in human potential. Even his android who in a new guise for the film Blade Runner became the genetic mutant, Batty, had a conscience, a lust to live fully, to be amazed and inspired.
I recall Rutger Hauer’s performance of “Batty”, that platinum blond blade-running punk replican’s unexpected shift from menace to poetry in the climax. He stood up in shafts of globally warmed night rains, regarding in contemplation the detective played by Harrison Ford, dangling on the edge of a derelict, high rise building, the man he was a moment before ready to kick — broken grasping fingers and all — off the building’s ledge.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” Batty reflected, “Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.”
The fast burning life force of a genetic replican flickered out. And with his chin slowly lowered resting on his chest like a funerary statue, he became the tomblike guardian angel of his own end.
Sci Fi is a prophetic genre and it has many closet seers hiding behind a fiction-writer’s guise. People interested in pathways to the future, dire and bright, should always investigate the works of Sci Fi writers like Dick, or John Varley, or my early mentor, Ray Bradbury, who I met at my local public library by chance after the reading Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles had cast my fate to become a writer. All my 15 books and counting exist because of his encouragement and help. Bradbury later read and critiqued some of my early efforts with his own hand. I will have to tell you about that first meeting one of these days.
In the meantime, if you also have the calling to be a writer, read some of Bradbury’s inspiring books on writing. Much of what he told me face-to-face is in these.
(30 July 2009)