Why call this publication A Writer Darkly? This title is an allusion to the novel A Scanner Darkly, by Phillip K. Dick. This name reflects our time (dark-ish), and the need to document it and comment on it. Here the commentary will be made through science fiction in a style similar-ish to Dick’s writing and dedicated to everyone who seeks liberty in the face of oppression, no matter what that oppression is.

Non-violent BLM Protesters face a wall of heavily armored police tactical units in Denver during the summer of 2020. Photo courtesy Henry McGuire https://henrymcguire.com

The first reason I pay homage to Dick’s writing is that everyone who writes or reads the incredible array of science fiction and fantasy available today as part of mainstream American culture, or watches any of the hundreds of shows and movies coming from these genres around the world, owes a debt of gratitude to this author. He wrote short stories through the 1950s and 1960s challenging the culture at the time and eventually several novels. His stories and books have been turned into a number of successful Hollywood movies, including The Adjustment Bureau, and A Scanner Darkly.

There was a high degree of conformist pressure in society at the time he was writing, and I recall conversations with my grandmother about living through it. Dick was a counter-culture revolutionary in some respects, but he eschewed the title and sought his own path. He and others like Isaac Asimov paved the way to acceptance for many future endeavors. It’s arguable whether Gene Roddenberry would have found an audience for Star Trek without sci-fi pioneers like these and others.

The second reason to use a twist on his novel’s name is that there is a moment in that piece that I think perfectly encapsulates the time we’re in right now. We live in a somewhat dark time in history — under constant surveillance by companies and our government, facing a militarized police-industrial-complex, with all these groups trying to serve their own ends at the expense of individuals. Dick’s character, Bob Arctor, asks himself the question whether the scanner will be more accurate than he is in his own perception. The extended question we face today is will those who surveil us and predict our behavior with AI be better at knowing us than we are at knowing ourselves?

Dick writes about a world where corporations are pitted against government and it’s unclear who has the upper hand. These challenges are similar to what we face today in some respects, and in other respects the challenge today goes further than in Dick’s time. Today it is more clear that we need to collectively overcome the systemic, algorithmic, and biased-based tools used by both government and corporations to control some segments of society more than others, and give preference to some over others for arbitrary and fallacious reasons.

While Phillip K. Dick wrote in a time before cell phones and micro-cameras, but his themes resonate as well now as they did then. Our current moment in time offers us a truly unlimited array of quantum mechanics, science, fantasy, and mythology in which to tell stories. More than that, there are so many things happening every day that humanity needs to learn from and it is through storytelling that we can approach these lessons.

With all of that said… happy reading!

You can and should contribute to this endeavor, and help drive some of the storytelling, too! Comment on this story if you have a prompt you want me to write to, or a topic you are interested in exploring. Send me a “First Line” to start a story, or a “Last Line” to end it (or both). Send me a scenario, or a character with an interesting problem and I’ll try to write a short piece about it.

If you want me to extend any story you see here, perhaps go in a different direction, or introduce a character or new conflict, let me know by commenting on that story. Let’s build the story together! Post your comments and I’ll do what I can.