I actually am writing new stuff — but for Innsmouth Free Press.
So you get more retro reviews and of yet another favorite author I’ve reviewed little of. I think I’ve read all of Dick’s science fiction novels except the VALIS books. I just haven’t girded my loins and prepped my mind for that much mysticism. (And, really, at this point, the world is not suffering from a lack of reviews on Philip K. Dick.)
A retro review from January 13, 2004 …
Review: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 3: Second Variety, Philip K. Dick, 2002.
There would be little point in giving a synopsis of each of the 24 stories in this book. That would give a false sense of repetition since many feature images of ash and overturned bathtubs — the aftermath of nuclear war — or struggles between mutants and normal humans, each fearing their extinction. But they don’t seem any more repetitious than a skilled musician working variations on a theme for that is what many are. These stories, written in 1953 and 1954 — with one exception, are arranged chronologically, so the student of Dick can see him play with an idea for two or three stories in a row.
Along the way we get the humor, intricate plotting, and sudden reversals in our moral sympathies characteristic of Dick. And there are the machines that so often are a force of death in Dick though they behave more and more like life. Such is the case with the title story, one of Dick’s most paranoid and basis for the movie Screamers. When sophisticated weapons take on human guise and began to stalk man, what Dick calls his grand theme, knowing who is human and who only pretends to be, is starkly exhibited.
Other famous stories are “The Golden Man” with its purging of mutants before they infect the human gene pool, “The Father-Thing” which is what a boy realizes has replaced his real father, and “Sales Pitch”, a story which anticipates, with its all purpose android advertising its virtues through rather thuggish means, the work of Ron Goulart.
There are some memorable stories not so well known. “Foster, You’re Dead” was originally conceived as a protest against a remark by President Eisenhower that citizens should be responsible for their own bomb shelters. Its young hero lives terrified in a world where making knives from scratch and digging underground shelters are parts of the school curriculum and each new year brings the newest model of bomb shelter, terrified because his father can’t afford to buy one for the family. “War Veteran” reads like a futuristic Mission Impossible episode. The spirit of Charles Fort may be at work in “Null-O”, a satire on the absurd philosophy that no distinctions between things are valid, a philosophy practiced by “perfect paranoids”. (Fort may have inspired the weakest and first story in the collection, “Fair Game”, with its van Vogtian plotting giving way at the end to a silly twist.)
Dick fans will see “Shell Game”, with its colony of paranoids, as sort of a test run for Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon, and the time jumping child of “A World of Talent” is reminiscent of Manfred Steiner in Dick’s Martian Time-Slip. This collection also features one of Dick’s occasional fantasies, “Upon the Dull Earth”.
Any admirer of Dick will want to read this collection, and those needing an introduction to his work will find no bad stories in this exhibit of 14 months in Dick’s career.