This one moves very fast and covers lots of ground in a large world over several generations with so many characters with varying degrees of identifiablity that it is sometimes hard to know who is who. The story itself takes several turns when it comes to plot and keeps the reader well engaged. Within the stories themselves, I see lots of allusion to the oligarchy and the real world social engineering wrapped up in a science fiction story. I think Clarke was an agent or an asset, priming the pump with this kind of overlords make the world better thinking, while simultaneously giving a kind of blow off value to those rugged individualists. You could read it from either perspective and identify with a future, that was probably already well under construction.
A Scanner Darkly
The characters were likable and story was attention grabbing, both much better developed, with plenty of background, than the other PKD books I've read. The presentation of Robert, Fred, vague blur's deterioration, as well as his friends' reactions, is interesting, sometimes bordering on comedic. The story itself has a few twists and turns that make it unpredictable, but the main premise hinges on a thinly veiled, if somewhat apologetic, promotion of drug culture with slight anti-familial and extended adolescence sub-themes. It seems to me that this, like the other PKD books, is a commission from the intelligence community to promote particular lifestyles and habits. In this case we see magic mushrooms, the fictional substance D, as well as honorable mentions of Timothy Leary (also mentioned in several others PKD works) and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put forth as mortar to cement the previously introduced 1960's ideas into the next decade's foundation.
The story starts off slow, building the characters sufficiently, although I personally do not connect with any of them. There are drugs (of all kinds) and passing mentions of The Grateful Dead and Timothy Leary, set before a bleak, if not insane, backdrop of suicides, cancer, and death. Subliminal messages come to the characters in the form of movies, and music, and lasers, culminating in the revelation of a mind controlled 2 year old, that just might be God. It is heavy on alternative/Eastern philosophy/religion, quoting ancient texts extensively while the characters attempt to make sense out of what is happening. Reality is questioned, time is distorted; are we living in a hologram world of pure information or is our fearful cast bat-shit crazy?
The Tissue-Culture King
In an uncomfortably accurate Huxleyian science fiction prediction we see, in fictional terms, the origins of many developments yet pursued a hundred years after this was written. The story contains genetic tampering with both animals and man; creating various mutants that today might be called designer babies. The main theme is a kind of telepathic mind control, built for positive ends but which could easily be used in the pursuit of nefarious ends. It also includes one of the oldest mentions I have ever seen of tin/metal foil hats, a common derogatory epithet hurled at conspiracy theorists (itself defamatory) in modern times. The story is couched as a warning, but if you view it through a conspiratorial lens, the lens of history, you can see that, given the Huxley family connections, it is nothing more than revelation of the method spun as entertainment; itself a form of mind control that it supposedly warns of.
At its core, there are several intertwined stories that barely mingle, teasing for a moment when everything will come together, but it never comes. There are plenty of seemingly random going-ons each of the characters engages in, giving hope that the character building will lead to some ah-ha moment, some revelation, some climax that never comes, despite lots of set up. The world is built in the vaguest of terms; the science fiction aspect is never fleshed out, left as barely described background that the reader is free to project onto. The wholly unexplored time travel and relpol (religious politics) were little more than parlor tricks, seemingly to squeeze ill-conceived Nazi references in as frequently as possible while supposing to build, but failing, a world of authoritarian overtones. The saving grace is found in its mildly predictive power from 50 odd years ago, mindless entertainment, politically powerful women, massive regulation and favoritism by government, underground markets, and even a touch of mind control - apropos if it ever was.