On February 3rd, 1974, shortly before the publication of Flow My Tears, while Dick was recovering from the sodium pentothal he’d received during oral surgery, the doorbell rang. It was a delivery person, a young woman who happened to be wearing a gold icthus (a groovy ’70s Christian fish symbol) on a chain around her neck. Somehow the sight of the fish, plus his mental state at the time, plus the sodium pentothal, added up to a weeks-long flood of visions (Dick saw the Roman world of the Book of Acts stacked “holographically” atop the present), visual hallucinations (“It appeared — in vivid fire, with shining colors and balanced patterns — and released me from every thrall, inner and outer”), and a constant stream of cryptic messages (like “The Buddha is in the park”), often from the radio. Later, having studied Orphic, Gnostic, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist thought, books on brain chemistry, and the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Dick decided that he’d probably experienced “genetic memories,” or what Plato called anamnesis — the “recollection” of eternal truths. Or something.

After these experiences, as he noted in his Exegesis (a lengthy, handwritten journal devoted to theorizing about the events of “2-3-74″), he realized that the world really was “cardboard, a fake,” and that it was his duty to take on “in battle, as a champion of all human spirits in thrall, every evil, every Iron Imprisoning Thing.” Of course, as with his earlier paranoia about government surveillance, Dick also made fun of his own convictions: Although often frantic and miserable, the Exegesis has its amusing, self-parodistic moments: such as the essay in it entitled, in the voice of Ubik, “The Ultra Hidden (Cryptic) Doctrine: The Secret Meaning of the Great Systems of Theosophy of the World, Openly Revealed for the First Time.” Still not funny to Dick, however, was his fear of authority; in fact, he began to inform on his sf colleagues, accusing them of being part of a Communist conspiracy — led by Stanislaw Lem, his great admirer — to kidnap him. Typically, although he mailed some of these letters to the FBI (they were ignored), he put others in a trashcan behind his house, assuming that whomever was watching him would deliver them.

The life and times and thought of Phillip K. Dick.