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Review: The Philip K Dick Reader

The Philip K. Dick Reader
by Philip K. Dick

x-posted to parizadhe

Synopsis:

A collection of 24 PKD short stories, of varying quality. All of the standard PKD warnings* apply: occasionally predictable plot, rampant sexism, the subtle prejudice of a white guy trying too hard not to be prejudiced, and a pervasive tendency to raise provocative topics and then drop them cold.

Here’s a list of my favorites:

  • The Hanging Stranger - Ed notices something odd. It isn’t actually the dead body hanging from a lamp post in the park. It’s that everyone else has noticed, and yet nobody else cares.
  • The Last of the Masters - A dystopian world, wasted from war, ruled by no one, patrolled by anarchists. In the midst of this, nestled in a peaceful vale, is a modern comfortable world, ruled by the last of the old governments’ thinking machines (a.k.a. “a robot”). When then “robot” realizes that an anarchist knows of the valley’s existence, it prepares to restart the war. Objective: Complete annihilation of the whole world! Because this, apparently, is what capitalist pig robots do.
  • Tony and the Beetles - Tony doesn’t understand why the war is such a big deal. Until the beetles start to win. And now his friends won’t play with him anymore. A surprisingly insightful look at both war and culture.
  • Foster, Your Dead - Another surprising bit of insightfulness. What is the connection between national defense and commercialism? Foster’s father knows, but Foster doesn’t care. He wants a shiny new bomb shelter for Christmas, anyway.
  • War Veteran - Amusing mostly because the doctors all smoke. In the hospital. You’d think, if we can colonize Mars and Venus, we’d have learned about the dangers of cigarette smoke by now!


And this compilation includes Big Name stories, too!

  • We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (a.k.a. Total Recall) - Unlike the movie, this short story is witty, mild-mannered, unassuming, and light-hearted. It leaves you groaning, but in a pleasant, 1950’s corny-punchline sort of way, unlike the movie, which could leave you screaming in agony. What’s the difference between actually doing a thing, and just remembering it? Does it matter? To whom does it matter? What is the difference? Does this story even answer any of these questions? Of course it doesn’t; it’s a PKD piece. But it asks.
  • The Minority Report - One case where the movie wins out over the original. What? Did you read correctly? YES, THE MOVIE IS BETTER THAN THIS ORIGINAL. Honestly, after seeing the movie, I can say, you’d waste your time reading the story; it can do nothing but disappoint you; don’t bother.
  • Paycheck - The movie had Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman, so you’d have to wonder how it could have gone wrong. I personally blame John Woo. He can turn even the most subtle masterpiece into a load of exploding pooh, so what did you expect him to do with a middling sort of story like Paycheck? The movie did take out most of the sexism, though (bonus points). Uma’s character, the hot scientist? Just the secretary, in the story. Except that she’s the owner’s daughter, and thus whoever marries her will inherit the company, which is fine because she’s pretty and our protagonist doesn’t mind. Thank you, middle-class white male writer, for another stunning female caricature.
  • Second Variety (a.k.a. Screamers) - One of my favorite short stories ever, and also one of my favorite sci-fi horror flicks. The book and the movie both have good points, both have bad points, and both have slightly varying plots. This was the most faithful adaptation of a PKD story to the screen, however. Story plot: War. We, the American side, have invented robots, “claws,” that go about attacking any human they come across. Our side wear little tags that deactivate the claws. The Soviets don’t have tags, thus they get shredded into mince-meat. This would be messy to keep track of, if the government and what’s left of the civilians hadn’t all moved to the moon, where there are no claws.
    We even made the claws self-maintaining. Self-building, self-repairing. They turn themselves out in self-reliant underground factories on both sides of the ocean. Convenient, eh? Except that they seem to be getting ahead of their original programming. Now the factories are turning out new varieties of claws. Some have feelers, some have eyes. Some look like... but that would be giving it away!
    Such a good short story. It makes up for all the rest! Read it!


In short:

The Future, according to Philip K. Dick:

  • War will have destroyed everything.
  • People will not think for themselves.
  • All creative capacity will have left us.
  • Everyone smokes. All the time. Everywhere. Even doctors.
  • Religious and “racial” minorities may gain equal footing--even the Martians and Venusians--but women are still second-class citizenry.

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