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Being Compared to Philip K. Dick

Being compared to Philip K. Dick is great, especially when they secretly mean “will die a penniless paperback writer at the age of fifty-three.” In other words, such a comparison doesn’t exactly invite trust.

My new novel, Osama, recently came out. It’s available on the Kindle, and in a fancy hardcover edition from its small, UK-based publisher. It got rejected more times than Andie Macdowell’s character in Four Weddings and a Funeral had sex (“less than Madonna, more than Princess Di… I hope”). One can see why. For one thing, it’s called Osama.

The comparison I mention is, specifically, to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, made recently by reviewers for both the UK’s Guardian newspaper and The Financial Times. Yes, I’m tooting my own horn here. Someone has to! But of course Osamaowes a huge debt to Dick’s brilliant alternative history, where the United States has lost World War Two and is divided between the victorious Germans and Japanese.

But I was thinking about Philip K. Dick a lot recently. He’s a constant reminder of Gustave Flaubert’s maxim, “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.” Forget riches: for that matter, forget holidays, new clothes or a square meal more than once a week. Forget fame, either. Even notoriety is hard to come by these days. And forget respect: you’ll get reviews comparing your work, variously, to processed cheese or toilet paper, and you’ll be glad someone even noticed.

And yet and still. I can’t imagine doing anything better. Maybe I’m a romantic, fondly believing in the image of the artist starving for his art. I often talk about moving to that mythic attic in Paris where I could sit drinking bourbon and punching keys on my typewriter. You know. In the sixties.

I’ll move as soon as someone invented a time machine.

Maybe I’m just putting it on. I’m hardly starving. In fact I could do with losing a few. It’s the sedentary life, you know. You get more exercise from shifting books than writing them.

I commute from the bedroom to the lounge. Writing these days seems to consist mostly of checking your e-mail, Spider Solitaire and Twitter, followed by checking your e-mail again.

Nope. Nothing from Steven Spielberg today either. Red nine on black ten, red five on black six… is it four o’clock in the afternoon already? Where did the time go?

I’d better take another break.

Posted on December 14, 2011

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