Philip Kindred Dick was born on December 16 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. The death of his twin sister, Jane, six weeks after their birth profoundly affected the writer in later life and is said to account for the recurring theme of the ‘phantom twin’ in many of his works.
Dick and his family moved to the Bay Area of San Francisco when he was young, and later on to Washington DC following his parents divorce. Dick attended Elementary school and then a Quaker school before the family moved back to California. It was around this time that Dick began to take an active interest in the science fiction genre, reading his first magazine ‘Stirring Science Stories’, at age twelve.
Dick attended High School in Berkeley, California, where he and fellow science fiction author Ursula K.Le Guin were members of the same graduating class (1947) but were unknown to each other at the time. After graduation, he briefly attended the University of California in Berkeley, taking classes in History, Psychology, Philosophy, and Zoology. Through his studies in Philosophy, he came to believe that existence is based on internal perceptions which do not necessarily correspond to external reality; he described himself as an "acosmic pantheist," believing in the universe only as an extension of God. Dick ultimately concluded the world is not entirely real and there is no way to confirm whether what we see is truly there at all. This question from his early studies persisted as a theme in many of his novels.
Dick married five times between 1959 and 1973, and had three children. He sold his first story in 1951 and from that point on he wrote full-time, selling his first novel in 1955. The 1950s were a difficult and impoverished time for Dick. He once said "We couldn't even pay the late fees on a library book." He published almost exclusively works of science fiction, but was said to covet a career in mainstream American literature.
In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote an estimated 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Dick passed away in hospital after suffering a number of strokes, unaware of the acclaim much of his work would go on to receive. After his death, many of his stories made the transition to the big screen, with blockbuster films such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report being based on his works.
Dick is now considered to be one of the most influential science fiction writers of the 20th century.