When I told a friend (who is very well-read in sci-fi) that I was reading a Philip K. Dick book, his immediate reaction was, "Does it make you feel like you're actually, genuinely insane while you're reading it?" He did not mean this in a positive way, either.
Thankfully, the book that I picked up as my first foray into Mr. Dick's work is an earlier one of his (1965). I hadn't even planned to read anything like it, but I found myself stranded for a few hours without one of the books I was reading, and at a cafe with a little give-and-take library, so it's what I grabbed. As it was an early one, it was only near the end that it truly felt crazy, and it was just enough crazy to be compelling, rather than so much that it was intensely and painfully overwhelming.
The novel itself is definitely brimming with interesting, and often extremely funny, ideas (the use of a barbie-like set of dolls and a telepathic, but dumb, predator hop to mind immediately), so much so that the very weight of so many ideas threatens to topple the whole book, at times. In the end, it manages to stay afloat, sort of--it probably didn't hurt that the book is mostly about something with which its author was extremely familiar: drugs. In this case, crazy-weird-future-drugs with gimmicky names like Can-D and Chew-Z. Dick's metaphors and allusions are nearly always pretty obvious here, his overall points on consumerism, etc. are pretty cut-and-dried and not too original (although maybe they were, in science fiction, in the 60's? I don't know...), but they're couched in so much creativity and humor that they work. Not everything has to be original all the time, and in the end I want the actual ideas about what's going on to be new more than I want the overarching messages to be.
Where the book really runs into trouble, for me, is that I simply couldn't get myself to care about any of the characters. It's probably good that this was such a short book, because eventually the crazy shit going on and the really funny and/or cool ideas would've started to wear thin with no characters to keep me interested. I don't know what it was, the characters had some amount of depth and it isn't like I can never appreciate characters who are essentially reprehensible people (I just re-watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly last night, and loved every minute of it), but for some reason they just never clicked for me--by the end, the insanity and my interest in the characters were wearing thin, and another ten pages might have been too much.
But, it fits pretty well at its length and I enjoyed it a good deal. I might have even enjoyed it more if it hadn't been an impulse based on necessity... if it had just been a little more of what I was looking for at that time. I also have no idea if this would generally be considered a good or a bad place at which start in Dick's oeuvre, so if anyone wants to tell me, or suggest another book, let me know. All in all, I did enjoy it, though, and even when it was heavy-handed it was pretty enjoyable.