25th Century Five and Dime #6: The Philip K. Dick Festival 2024 -My Recap

If you only know me from 25th century Five and Dime you might not be aware that my main field of study within the genre is legendary Hugo award-winning author Philip K. Dick. I have just finished writing a book about him and for the last six years, I have co-hosted The Dickheads Podcast (with Anthony Trevino, Langhorne J. Tweed, and D. Harlan Wilson). For that reason, I have avoided PKD content choosing mostly to highlight other less-discussed corners of Sci-fi History.  That said last weekend June 14-17th I traveled from San Diego to Fort Morgan Colorado to be a of the 3rd International (bi-annual moving forward) Philip K. Dick Festival.

This is the last fest to be held in Colorado and the final fest for organizer Lord Running Clam (AKA one of the Davids) is the author of Pink Beam Companion a book I have in the footnotes for my book about 150 times.  A few notes on why we have a PKD fest. When SF conventions started it was clear that the isolating part of being in a nerdy fandom was helped by gathering.  As Professor and Dick Scholar David Gill put it when reflecting on the fest “there is nothing like being with your people.”  Being with other PKD fans together is a great feeling for those who talk about him non-stop, and for one weekend no one is rolling their eyes at us.

Even though I got to the airport early I almost missed my flight thanks to a few delays and eventually was saved by a TSA agent who took me to the front of the line. I just made it. A first-time experience for me, as I am generally early to everything. I settled in to read Flux by Ron Goulart (who PKD wrote the letter about his formula to in 1965), and David Sander’s collection of essays on PKD that were given at the 2016 Fullerton Fest. I had a moment when I was reading a Umberto Rossi article that referenced ‘The Bible Hypertext’ in Phil’s 1981 novel The Divine Invasion, and the woman in the next seat was reading the bible on her phone. META!

When I got off the flight, I went to ground transportation and fairly easily found David Gill timing our flights in so we could ride together worked like a charm. He came with his friend and student from his recent class Jeff. I liked Jeff right away he is a scientist, skater, and of course a Dickhead.  Once we got the rental we were off with a slight delay to a health food store so I could stock up on vegan grub.

The ride to Fort Morgan through the barren-looking flat farmlands of North Eastern Colorado zoomed by as we talked hardcore Philip K. Dick fandom and made jokes that only fellow nerds would get.

Friday morning during travel we missed a few presentations and I am sad about that. Lord Running Clam opened the weekend, he has been on the podcast and he is just one of the most important Phil-Dickians there is. We missed Jens-Christoph Nolte’s “Germany and Philip K. Dick – Philip K. Dick and Germany” although later in the weekend I did pick his brain on the topic, he will come on the podcast soon. Frank Hollander who I consider the PKD communities fact checker-in-chief gave a talk on “Collected Works of Anne R. Dick.” I was waiting for my flight and got a text “Hollander going deep!” and laughed out loud. Sorry, I missed that.

We walked in about 2:30 towards the end of Gabriel McKee’s deep exploration of the Exegesis. His talk was called. “‘I Am a Machine’: Programming and Control on Dick’s Exegesis” going back-to-back with hardcore academic looks at Exegesis is a funny way for me to start, as that is not my favorite era of PKD. The first full lecture was Ted Hand’s Rosicrucian PKD. Ted and Gabriel are working together and found some interesting elements about the influence on Phil’s thoughts by making the Exegesis searchable online, looking for keywords.

After that, there was a break, and an event at a local winery, I skipped that to check into my hotel and track down my podcast co-host and publisher/editor D. Harlan Wilson.  One of the things I was most excited about was meeting James Reich in person. He is an Author/ Publisher who I have known online for years and he has guest podcasted with me several times. James is an amazing author and I recommend his SF novels The Song My Enemies Sing, and Soft Invasions which invoke PKD and Malzberg as influences. James is also a fellow vegan and this summer Professor Wilson is editing a book from both of us.  So, I was happy to check into the hotel and learn James was across the hall.

We were the show Friday night, a live episode of the podcast. So DHW and I briefly went over our notes, and we headed into downtown Fort Morgan. I am struggling to write about the experience of visiting Fort Morgan without sounding like a left-coast snob. North East Colorado lacks any of the things that make other parts of the state beautiful. God Bless Donald Trump billboards were a little shocking to this west coaster, I know I am naive. In Fort Morgan, this small town centered on turning Beets into sugar, the downtown was active on a Friday night but it was the speakers on the stoplights reminding us to pray and pledge allegiance that felt stripped out of Man in the High Castle or Radio Free Albemuth.

DHW and James Reich joined me downtown. If I have literary brothers, these are two of them, so spending the weekend talking Science Fiction, writing,PKD and more was a sheer delight.

We ran into our podcast guest Jonathan Lethem at the bar. He is a bestselling author, and very respected. I just finished reading his novel The Feral Detective. I realize many at the fest were a little star-struck meeting Lethem. I told one of those star-struck not to be as he clearly is one of us. He sat in all the workshops listening and adapting his keynote speech, something I was impressed with. When we shook hands he said he was a listener to our podcast, I thought he was just being nice, but as we talked he mentioned something we talked about on a four-year episode of DHP about Vulcan’s Hammer. So the man is Legit.

We went to the bookstore Books on Main, a fabulous bookstore in downtown Fort Morgan.  Thanks to Paul Shelton (who stopped in and mentioned the fest to the store owner) whom shot many of the photos and videos of the fest. This event was entirely because of Paul. The bookstore owner Alycia Stewart found someone to make a better podcast studio in the bookstore than we have at home. We were on a tiny stage in the front window of the bookstore. They had couches, and chairs set up it was very nice.  The live panel featured two bestselling authors Jonathan Lethem and Stephen Graham Jones. Jonathan is the bestselling author of Motherless Brooklyn and a very critically acclaimed writer. Stephen is the four-time Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Only Good Indian, winner of the LA Times Ray Bradbury Award, and a returning guest who was excellent on our episode about UBIK.

If you missed it. That is fine we put it up on our Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96-OAR-kNoY&t=3262s

The conversation was great, Jonathan and Stephen are two fantastic writers and brought their genius and unique takes to the discussion. Afterward, David Gill hosted four rounds and forty questions of PKD trivia. I was teamed up with Jonathan and Stephen. Stephen was glad he was with us because he knew zip about Phil’s life. Jonathan and I managed to get 34 questions right and still lose to Blake Wilson’s team.

After the Podcast, we walked around and signed our books, all the writers on the podcast signed a copy of PKD’s Man in the High Castle.

After the show, we went to a bar called Cables. There Stephen shared French fries with us and we nerded out about the PKD formula. On the walk back to our vehicles he told us about his novel in progress which sounds amazing. Stephen is amazing and talking process with him was a highlight, sitting next to him and Jonathan Lethem, James Reich, and D.Harlan Wilson in this small town pub was an amazing collection of talent.

I then had the challenge of calming my mind and sleeping.

Saturday morning

The day started with a lecture by David Gill which he briefly previewed for us on the drive from the airport. “Some Thoughts After a Semester Spent Dicking Around.” Was mostly a wrap-up of the 16-week class he just taught online that many of us took. The most insightful stuff in the talk was about Phil’s feelings on the 20 minutes of Blade Runner he saw and how it fulfilled his environmental messaging. This part of the talk worked well with Andrew Butler’s talk later in the morning and inspired James Reich’s essay on the weekend.

The second talk of the day was Josh Lind’s “Time and Its Opposite” an essay about how time is observed in PKD’s fiction. This was a great talk. Followed by the author of Philip K. Dick: Revised and Updated (Pocket Essential series) Andrew M. Butler. His talk was  “The Animal that Therefore Thinks I Am: Dick’s Animals, Androids and Humans.” This talk was a highlight of the fest, lots of great information even though I disagreed with some of the reactions to it.


Check out James Reich’s excellent essay on the weekend/subject here: https://jamesreich.substack.com/p/philip-k-dicks-animal-epiphany?fbclid=IwZXh0bgNhZW0CMTEAAR10kc9mssTlW-v6spqdZfi-WZbepLQlxnWzES6hjs_2S5W1Y_gKTCfPUiQ_aem_ZmFrZWR1bW15MTZieXRlcw

I was the speaker after lunch. I went back to the hotel, ate a sandwich in my room, and walked back to the lecture hall before starting.  My lecture was a preview of my upcoming book Unfinished PKD. I have worked on this book for more than two years and this is my target audience so it was exciting. The slideshow contains more than 40 slides, including pictures of outlines, notes, and the people who saved some of the work. I think the lecture went well.

Homey and co-host D.Harlan Wilson went next reading from his upcoming book Infinite Regressions. A far too simple way to tease it… he is writing about the feedback loop between Phil’s fiction, fans and biographers.  It is going to rule.

After a short break at the hotel, we headed to Lord Running Clam’s Air BNB. In the warm Colorado air, the Dickheads gathered for a picnic, there was only one speech left, the keynote by Jonathan Lethem. There was supposed to be a microphone and speaker but the technology failed, so the folks who attended the fest gathered there chairs around and Letham set up on the porch.

Jonathan Lethem’s talk lasted for more than an hour. Many of the PKD fans were in stunned silence. The quality of the talk was pretty next level, thankfully you can watch it on YouTube but I doubt it will convey the energy coming off the entire weekend. I was having some kind of allergic reaction, and got up to walk around, it was a fantastic talk. He started by talking about a French philosopher whose concepts match many of Phil’s ideas, classic SF influences, and a deep dive into when Science Fiction turned darker using CM Kornbluth’s classic tale The Marching Morons as an example. Also comparing that classic tale to PKD’s Unteleported Man. While the talk was going motorbikes at a nearby Motorcross track grew louder. The sky grew dark as a storm was coming slowly closer, flashes of lightning crossed the and thunder boomed right as Jonathan said PKD was actually a utopian writer (boooooom) I laughed so hard at that.

The speech came together with a message about the events in Gaza and PKD’s ideas of the Tombworld. You should see the speech for yourself. Most of the audience were blown away by this talk. So much so that when one friend at the fest called it “a tad bit sentimental,” you might have thought he insulted their mom’s honor.

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EGuAtPeBbI


David Harlan Wilson, David Agranoff, David Gill and Lord Running Clam AKA David Hyde.

As the rain and the storm started to fall it was the time when we were supposed to go to the grave site where Phil and his twin sister Jane were buried. D. Harlan Wilson, James Reich, and I went in D’s jeep. When we got to Riverside cemetery it was pouring but you could see the edge of the storm. When we waited there was a small group left as the sun came back out. We walked the cemetery for quite a while as we didn’t know where the grave was. We played a game looking for graves with names that Phil used as last names in novels including Mercer, Archer, and the Grave Jones Made. We were lost until James Reich used a photo from two days earlier of D.Harlan Wilson to identify the trees and find the right spot. This was a smaller group, Jens, Bill Richards, Tom Scholte to add to our smaller crew.

At the grave, we had more of a spiritual moment than I was expecting. I brought a copy of my novel People’s Park. It is my latest from Quoir, it is my most PKD-influenced, in part because it was the first novel I wrote after we started the Dickheads podcast. So I took a picture of the book at the grave, got out my idea notebook, where I am currently writing up ideas, held it to the sacred ground, and meditated for a moment. Before we left, I took the pen that I wrote all my notes for my book about PKD. I shoved into the dirt a few inches from the headstone.

James, DHW, and I decided to skip the social events of the evening to hang out and talk as it is a rare chance for us to talk. Two travel little league teams were staying at the hotel, and we hung out having an intense discussion about out books and the future.  In the morning they were both leaving but I still had one more day.

I got up expecting to have tea and a bowl of Oatmeal by myself and was joined by scholar Gabriel McKee and we had a great talk about his research into UFO culture. Fascinating, look forward to him coming on both of my podcasts soon. Had two short and sweet goodbyes with my literary brothers James and DHW who had long Sunday drives ahead. I had one more day before my flight back to San Diego.

Cliff Jones Jr. (author of Dreck – a top-ten read last year) picked me up. We met up at this restaurant Acapulco Bay. Twenty Dickheads gathered at one table. Not trusting how vegan the food would be I didn’t eat a second breakfast, just enjoyed the conversation. After breakfast, we made a last trip to Phil’s gravesite. And we said goodbye to Lord Running Clam, Ted Hand, Andrew Butler, Cam, and Toni who were heading to the airport.

We took a last daylight trip to the cemetery, a few people had brought books from their collections to take pictures with the headstone. This time being there with David Gill and Frank Hollander who know the family lineage we sat in a circle and talked the history of those buried at the site. At this point I was starting to wonder if I should not have headed home already. The plan was to drive to Greeley to see some PKD family sites. This was of course a great chance to bond with my remaining Dickheads, Jeff, Frank Hollander, Cliff Jones, David Gill,  and piled into one rental car and made the hour-long trek to Greeley. Jens from Germany followed in his rental as he was leaving for the airport.

As the day went on I am really glad I stayed Sunday and went on the trip to Greeley to see his Grandparents and his Mother’s remaining childhood homes. When you think about that same house being there in 1915-17, the roads were most likely dirt, I am sure most transportation was horses. A few years back I saw the house in North Berkeley where Dorthy(as a single mother in 1936) moved a young Phil Dick from her job in Washington DC to California. She brought her father and Phil’s beloved Meema to live with them.  A crazy culture shock for her parents to move from a small town in north Colorado to Berkeley during the Great Depression. I think seeing both houses and standing there, not looking at pictures really makes it real. Tangible. I also saw the beautiful house near downtown Berkley she lived in from the late 40s until her death in 1978. What a Journey.

The last day of the fest was spent mostly talking and bonding about our ideas of Philip K. Dick, movies and the genre in general. When I got on the plane the next morning to return it took me a few minutes to calm my mind down and start reading my book. The main reason is I agreed to help organize the next PKD fest in bi-annual rotation in Orange County where Phil was living when he had the VALIS incident, and where he died. So start saving your money, as intimate as this last fest was I am working on maintaining the family core while expanding the scope, for folks new to PKD and genre in general.  Dates soon…

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