How to write like . . . Philip K Dick

This is the first in a series of 7 pastiches of famous authors, not purely for my own benefit although clearly, I enjoyed writing them enormously. No, there is a serious purpose. Not only will I write you seven versions of the Red Riding Hood story, but I will add commentaries at the end to tell you how they were made and what decisions I made to write the text as much like the original author as possible. There is a reason this is a good thing. Pastiche gives you insight into an authors style and work, and making pastiches, even if you never publish them, gives you valuable practise and insight into how things work.

I have drawn my targets from my own taste but also authors I think you will enjoy seeing dissembled. As well as Philip K Dick I’ve done Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and a few surprise ones. This is going to be fun.

Today I give you my first retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm. In the next post, I shall give you the matching commentary as to how this was written and how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it.

Our Friends From Forest 9
(after Philip K. Dick)

Girla Redcap was having a difficult morning. Wood Huntsman videolinked and asked if she’d done her psych evaluation this month.  Her personalities outvoted her three to one, so she was a noshow. She said sure, knowing full well he’d run down here and chop her when he inevitably checked and discovered she was lying. Huntsman was the company axeman, but only a part-time asshole. She might get lucky. The odds were with her. Only three disappearances last night and a psychic load of no more than three Gretels this morning, well within tolerances.

But then her mother told her that her grandma was ill again and could she take her government-sanctioned Snax rations with some wine and cake so the old dear didn’t die. Or disappear, she added darkly. Girla said she would, but slipped out back of the re-condo first chance she got before her mom could hand her the basket.

No way was she driving a quarter league through the woods to Three Oaks and Grandma’s house, not alone. That old bird was crazy. Always ranting about BB Wolf coming back. Many people thought he was on his way, the vids were full of it, pictures of him all huffin and puffin. But most people of Girla’s generation had no recollection of him, too young, too long ago. Some said he was just a legend and not in a good way, more like a scary bedtime story. Girla had a twisty feeling in her stomach just thinking about it. The literally last thing Earth needed right now, with all the people randomly disappearing into thin air, was its most famous long lost son returning from the alternate dimension we dropped him into, with grizzled hairs on his chinny chin chin and pig meat in his teeth.

She leaned on the porch wearing her red shirt, the hood pulled over her short black hair while she popped a Grimmbro pill and lit a coca leaf cigarette, Aztec Gold brand. Those SoAm imports sure did taste good. What did they put in them? And what big eyes you had after. All the better to see with, she mused.

Then she stopped… An odd ripple in her stomach and an odd lurch sideways in her head like her inner ear was stepping out for a moment. She noticed her cigarette was missing. Had she dropped it? She looked around. Only discarded Snax wrappers. When she reached into her pocket, the pack of smokes was gone too, only a cold spot in the cloth where it used to be. The lighter was also missing. And her IDpass and keys. The air smelled like electricity and oil. What the hell?

Urgently, with numb fingers, she fumbled the door and eased back into the kitchen. Her mother was baking, which was unusual. The smell of scorched fauxpastry filled her nostrils. She froze. Why was her mom wearing a fur hat? Even though Girla had entered the room without a sound her mom spoke immediately without turning.

“The wine and the cake are in the bag, be sure grandma eats them” she purred.

Girla’s mouth was dry. “How did you hear me, what big ears you have…”

Mom chuckled wetly like her tongue was in the way. “All the better to hear you sneaking up on me.”

Something was way off, the room looked wrong. The pictures were not of her and her mom, and as mom turned to face her, empty baked pie crust and knife in hand, eyes as big as saucers and teeth like razor shells, she knew the answer like a cold metal bead in the bottom of her stomach.

BB Wolf was already back, he had been for some time, and was gobbling up humanity one inter-dimensional bite at a time.

and now my COMMENTARY

For starters I am a huge fan of Philip K Dick so this first pastiche was an easy one for me. I’ve also read a few books about his work and the reasons behind his style because he was such an interesting character. This is actually a good starting point for any author if you want to pastiche someone’s work, get the Cliffs Notes or Sparknotes study guides or other commentary books on the work of the person you admire. This is always a good way into the work because the reviewers may point out themes and ideas that you are not aware of.

The story contains what I consider to be some classic PKD flourishes, so let me point them out.

Names: Dick always had fun with names and they were almost always in-jokes or puns.

At the very least they were stream of consciousness syllables which sounded superficially like proper names but were made up. Wood Huntsman is a typical example. From the original tale I took the Huntsman, who in some versions is called the woodsman or wood cutter, and made him a peripheral character. I added a joke about being an axe man just to ram the point home.

The main character is called Girla Redcap, nodding back to the original story. It’s like a contraction of Girl of the Red Cap, or Girla Madreams, a fairly typical punny name. And the bad guy is BB Wolf, short for Big Bad Wolf, actually a character from the Three Little Pigs. This is also a typical PKD move, obliquely referring to characters from another of his stories. This implies that the stories all take place in the same universe.

Obscure systems of measurement and product names: I have no idea what Gretels are or what they measure, and neither would PKD but he would include a lot of references to such things that were unexplained in the text, leaving you to make assumptions about what they mean. These would be added for local colour and to add texture to the world, leading you to believe there was more to know, more artwork outside the frame so to speak.

A re-condo is like a condo, a Gretel is a sort of measure of psychic load, whatever that means, but it’s okay because they are “within tolerances”. In other words pay them no mind. The characters are familiar with the meanings of all these measurements and don’t explain them, so that like someone entering a conversation halfway through, we ignore the bits we don’t get in the hope it will make sense overall. We are like guests at a dinner party who don’t want to seem ill informed, and PKD relies on this impulse.

There are always drug use references in his works as he himself was a well known self medicater. Grimmbros is a refernce to the Grimm Brothers and the cocaine cigarettes with the smirking and yet credible brand name are another PKD flourish.

Snax rations does two things, adds a science fiction flavour (soylent green?) and implies rationing of some kind, so perhaps this takes place after a war? SoAm is short for South America, another thing he played with a lot was place names, everything had meaning in his stories and he wasn’t too fussy about the meaning being unknown or obscure. Place names change, it sounds more sci-fi to abbreviate names, even names of countries. It is a cliche to do this now in dystopian SciFi, but when Phil Dick did it it was a new idea.

Psych evaluation and warped perception: DIck was mildly unbalanced most of his life and his work is pervaded by an intense interest with perception, identity, reality and what they all mean. Warping of reality, people who don’t really know who they are or are not sure, and never being totally certain of your own mind, are classic PKD hallmarks.

Dark haired girls: lots of PKD stories contain dark haired girls in important roles. Sometimes they arrive to rescue the hero, sometimes they arrive to trick him, but they almost always arrive. Their hair is short, it is dark, and they are here with a purpose.

Returning heroes/villains: in quite a few stories there is someone important returning from somewhere, space, time, another dimension, and their arrival is a timer of sorts. Stuff needs to happen before they get back. The returning person is either a saviour or a destroyer. In our story it’s the Big Bad Wolf, and it’s too late he’s already here.

Stylish but almost EC Comics endings: I used to love reading his short stories as a kid. And nothing chills the crap out of you in the middle of the night reading by torchlight than sudden terrifying endings.

Okay, that’s it. If you have any questions by all means email me phil at ideasdigital dot com and ask.


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