A Scanner Darkly Book Summary, by Philip K. Dick

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Overall Summary

A Scanner Darkly is a science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick that was first published in 1977. It’s set in June of 1994 and tells the story of drug abuse, specifically Substance D, which causes people to hallucinate bugs crawling on them. The main character, Jerry Fabin, believes he has these bugs on him and his friends play along with this delusion. One friend goes so far as to collect the bugs in jars for him until they meet Donna Hawthorne at the mall who sells them Substance D, or “slow death”, a popular synthetic drug that causes hallucinations similar to those caused by Substance D but much more intense and dangerous because it can kill you if too much is used or mixed with other drugs like alcohol.

Bob Arctor, Donna’s boyfriend, is a drug enforcement agent who must wear disguises to protect his identity. He gives a speech about the dangers of drugs and how they destroy lives. While he tries to get people to sympathize with addicts, he gets called in for an important meeting at work. At home, Donna tells him that the machine he uses for relaxation (the cephalochromoscope) has been tampered with and might be broken. He goes on assignment to find out more about a new dealer at a rehab clinic but is met with hostility from everyone there—they all hate cops because of their experiences with them before going into rehab.

Jim, Arctor’s roommate, tried to teach him the way of cocaine. He told Freck to use it to seduce Donna and wrote a book on drug-making.

Arctor finds out that someone has been calling the police about him. Arctor is told to spy on himself by Hank, who is also an undercover agent. He watches his own house and sees a camera being installed in it. On his way home, he crashes the car that was sabotaged by Barris (another undercover agent). Doctors tell Arctor that he’s showing symptoms of split-brain dementia caused by Substance D (a drug) and perform tests on him.

Fred, disguised as Arctor, watches Barris secretly. He becomes more suspicious of Barris and decides to visit Donna. While there, he smokes hashish with her and says that he loves her. However, she rejects him because she thinks he’s ugly and could never marry him. Fred is furious about this rejection and leaves the house in anger. Later on, while high on drugs himself, he brings Connie home with him and has sex with her pretending that it is Donna; however later on when watching a tape of Connie sleeping at his place while high on drugs (which are obviously causing hallucinations), he sees Connie morph into an image of Donna which confuses him even further along with the fact that Barris had set up a bounced check for money owed to someone else but refused to pay them back after they called for it themselves thus making Fred think twice about what was going on around him since things were getting stranger by the minute throughout his time spent being undercover as “Fred”.

Charles Arctor pays off his debt and notices that he wrote the check in a drunken stupor. He then remembers writing it, but forgot about it afterward. Charles starts speaking German at random times without realizing it, and recites poetry whenever he has time alone.

Freck attempts suicide but takes psychedelic drugs instead. A creature from another dimension appears to him and reads his sins aloud. This will take a thousand years, according to the creature.

Arctor and Fred are now two separate people. Fred watches the surveillance tapes, disgusted by the mindless blabber that he has to listen too. He is brought back for more psychological testing at Room 203, where it’s discovered that his brain is damaged on one side. The other half of his brain is trying take over as well, but doctors tell him there’s nothing they can do about it anymore.

A Scanner Darkly Book Summary, by Philip K. Dick