I do love Philip K Dick, which is why I’m worried that Channel 4’s new series based on his short stories might put people off him. The problem is this: too many people think Dick, being a sci-fi writer, is just about ideas. He does have good ideas, the best ideas, as Donald Trump would say. But running through every story is a complex psychological narrative told in Dick’s unique authorial voice. Cut out the prose and you’re left with … confusion.
Take “The Hood Maker”, the first in this series of Electric Dreams (Sundays, 9pm). It’s set in a future where “normals” live in terror of telepaths – until mysterious hoods appear that can block a normal’s thoughts from them. A telepath and a detective team up to track down the inventor. Our heroes sleep together. The telepath thinks she has found love. But when they find the inventor, he reveals that the detective is in fact trained to block his thoughts from being read and has been manipulating the telepath all along. Outraged, she locks the detective in a burning room. He begs her to let him go. He admits that he lied, but now he says that he truly loves her – and “We’ll have to trust each other.” The story ends.
I noticed on Twitter that lots of people called the ending a cliffhanger. It’s not: it’s a conundrum. The point is that true love is based not on knowing what someone’s thinking but in trusting that they mean well. The hoods bring power and disruption because they disguise our thoughts; but they also bring a new level of freedom and maturity. So, what will the telepath choose?
All of this is a surprising departure from Dick’s original text, which is far less sympathetic towards the telepaths. But it’s actually very close to the author’s obsession with the impossibility and agony of trying to know another human being fully. Yet without the interior monologue that you’d find in a book to explain all of this, the characters simply come off as sadists acting on whim.
Electric Dreams lacks the richness of Dick’s writing, despite doing its damnedest to recreate it, because, like the normals’ hood, television shows us externals while blocking deeper perception.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection