Paul Williams' eyes sparkle as he remembers the day he made the discovery.
"It was in the last box of Phil's papers," he recalls. "On the outside, he'd
written 'Receipts' in magic marker, and sure enough, it was filled with receipts.
I don't even remember why we were bothering to look through it."
He smiles a great big grin. "I was halfway through them when we spotted something
The "Phil" in question is Philip K. Dick, the late cult writer, and Williams
is the executor of his estate. The "something else" Williams discovered was
a manuscript: Dragonvalis, Dick's long-rumored, long-denied
collaboration with the popular science-fiction writer Anne McCaffrey.
"As soon as I started reading it," continues Williams, "I realized I'd found
something amazing. This wasn't just a lost manuscript. It was the weirdest chapter
in science-fiction history."
A Strange Partnership
The story had been circulating among Dick's friends and fans for years, but
no one had taken it seriously. Now at last, Williams held proof of the collaboration
in his hands. He made some calls, and the tale soon fell into place.
"It was summer of 1980," remembers Ron Atwood, at that time an employee of the
Scott-Meredith Literary Agency. "McCaffrey had written two wildly popular trilogies
about the dragonriders of planet Pern, and her fans were demanding more. But
she was sick of the subject, and wanted to try new things. One of her friends
made a suggestion: Why not hire someone else to write the book? She would fly
him out to her ranch in Ireland, put him up for six months or a year or whatever,
and let him churn out the novel. She'd approve the final product, make whatever
tweakings she thought were necessary, and put both writers' names on the cover.
No mess, no fuss.
"I knew Phil was a little short at the time, cash-wise. I also knew he could
turn out a book in just a month or two. And I knew his career needed a kick
in the pants—something to take his mind off all that mystical crap he was
getting into. So I gave him a call, and he jumped at the opportunity.
"We just didn't expect Anne to hate the book so much."
In retrospect, it was a marriage doomed to failure. Dick was a postmodernist
popular with intellectuals and the counterculture. McCaffrey's novels were more
traditional, and appealed mostly to kids in their early teens. Yet Dick's attempts
to work within the constraints of McCaffrey's universe make for fascinating
Dick's book opens five centuries after the end of McCaffrey's series. The people
of Pern had long before launched an expedition to the Red Star, the neighboring
planet that periodically showered the Pernese with deadly spores called threads.
The threat had been halted at the source, and Pernese society had, as a result,
evolved far beyond the medieval system that had prevailed in the earlier stories.
Suburban sprawl covers the planet, producing a society that strongly resembles
that of Dick's beloved Southern California.
But with some differences. Dragonriders criss-cross the sky, mostly working
as aerial cabbies. And on the streets and in the weyrs, a new recreational drug
is taking hold: Substance T, made from threads farmed on the Red Star.
Under the influence of Substance T, the book's protagonists—D'card, a henpecked
dragon-riding traveling salesman; Menolly, his compassionless wife; and Pris,
the dark-haired girl he secretly loves—begin to notice odd changes in their
world. Dragoncabbies seem to battle falling threads. The Masterdealer who sells
them their drugs begins to resemble Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. And Pris, en route
to a suburb called Damascus, is struck by a beam of pink light.
D'card begins to suspect that the world he lives in is an illusion, a false
reality overlaying the true Pern, in which threads still fall and dragonriders
still hold a position of prominence and respect. Eventually, we learn that D'card
is actually an alienated 14-year-old girl in a mental hospital in modern America.
A devoted fan of fantasy fiction, D'card (real name: Melissa) is addicted to
an antidepressant called Substance P, which leads her to believe she has entered
the world she so passionately wishes she lived in.
In the final chapter, as Melissa undergoes a painful electroshock treatment,
her father looks out the hospital window—and sees a dragon flying by.
"And that," reads the book's final line, "was only the beginning."
McCaffrey refused repeated requests that she comment on the manuscript, but
Atwood remembers vividly her reaction back in 1980. "She despised the book,"
he says. "She was livid. I still remember her calling me right after she read
what Dick had written. 'What the hell is this?' she yelled. 'There's no way
I can make this shit publishable. It's supposed to be a goddamn horsey book!'"
Dick returned to California, dejected at his failure but with a generous kill
fee in his hands. The manuscript wound up in the box of receipts. And McCaffrey
wrote the next Pern book herself, a tome without any reference to alien psychedelics
or beams of pink light. She never spoke with Dick again, and her lawyers are
reportedly prepared to sue the Dick estate if it publishes his book.
"I hope this sees the light of day," comments Williams. "It may take decades
to sort out the legal hassles, but trust me: The result will be well worth the