Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Vol 5 The Eye of the Sybil and Other Classics By Philip K. Dick

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Vol 5
The Eye of the Sybil and Other Classics

By Philip K. Dick

Introduction by Thomas M. Disch
Author Thomas Disch remarks that there are writers that readers read and there are readers writers read. While Philip K. Dick’s stories got lost in time for a while, they have returned and a new generation is discovering them.

The Little Black Box
Two proponents of the religion known as Mercerism are harassed by a state department bent on wiping out the nascent religion as it grows in popularity through an Empathy Box that allows his followers to experience their savior’s torment as stones are hurled at his as he walks through the desert.

Philip K. Dick expands upon the dystopian religion he introduced in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. We get a better idea of how it developed in its early days and how Empathy Boxes were once contraband. Superb short story with interesting characters and a well-paced plot.

The War with the Fnools
Government agencies are at war with an alien race trying to invade the earth. The Fnools try to blend in by duplicating humans in every day occupations. Their new gig is as real estate salesmen. However, Fnools are easy to spot because they are only two foot tall. However, when a captured Fnool takes a drag off a cigarette, he doubles in size. He adds another two feet when he has a swig of whiskey. Now, at six foot tall, he sneaks into the agency’s bomb shelter where a secretary is hiding. He returns from there eight feet tall. Mankind might have a battle on its hands if the Fnools decide to take up vices.

This alien invasions story was a little light and silly for me. It’s obvious that, for whatever reason, Dick was trying to keep it just that way and make the end just a bit risqué. There was nothing wrong in the writing. Just not my kind of story.

Precious Artifact
Earth is devastated after an interplanetary war and human terraformers are sent to Mars to prepare the planet for human habitation. The most successful of the terraformers, Mitt Biskle, wants to return to Earth. A psychologist tries to discourage him, reminding him that his family is en route from Earth to join him on Mars. He travels to Earth and immediately becomes suspicious that human beings are all but gone from the planet and that their enemy, The Proxima.

This is the heavy, meaty science fiction that Dick produces so well in his short fiction. Complex and full of emotion, Precious Artifact delivers an emotional climax with a wonderful twist.

Retreat Syndrome
Did John Cuppertino murder his wife as he believes? Or is she fine and living in Los Angeles as his psychologist tells him? Is he living in San Jose and working at a middle management job? Or is he in a prison on Ganymede? Is his mind being manipulated by an unscrupulous government and/or an unscrupulous corporation? Or is he insane?

Dick wrote many of these stories where false memories are implanted or created to delude the hero of the story. This one is okay, but falls just a bit short of creating a mood of desperation on John Cuppertino’s part.

A Terran Odyssey

This tells the story of several members of a post-nuclear war society where man and animals have mutated into strange beings with curious habits. The tales of a trap maker, a little girl with her brother living inside her and a disc jockey interweve.

As we see Dick’s short stories growing longer as he progresses with age and development, they become increasingly intricate. This tale is one of his most intricate short stories. The sparse character development actually serves to increase the dystopian feel. Wonderfully told from multiple points of view, the story eventually ends where we knew it needed to.

A Terran Odyssey was not published in Dick’s lifetime. It became part of his novel, Dr. Bloodmoney.

Your Appointment Will be Yesterday

Time flows backwards for many in the future thanks to a nifty little invention. But when a saboteur threatens to put time in the forward flow again, agents have to act today (which is yesterday) to prevent it to preserve their way of life.

It’s an inventive premise but a wholly unsatisfying story with too many plot holes to overlook even in a short story.

Holy Quarrel
A computer repairman is awakened by military intelligence. He is summoned to work on the Genux-B computer that monitors military movements all over the world to determine the likelihood of war. The computer believes the country is at war and that the enemy is in northern California. The culprit is an evil gumball vendor and his products.

Perhaps an argument against computerization is made here in the early days of computerization. There was a strong fear of computers and computer errors when they first entered the mainstream. The gumball angle is not as stupid as it sounds.

A Game of Unchance
A Mars settlement is visited by an interstellar travelling amusement show. They offer games of chance that offer prizes of small dolls. A local man figures out how to activate the dolls and bring them to life, unleashing a menace upon the planet and perhaps the galaxy.

This is the old fashioned science fiction that I like and few write it as well as Dick.

Not By Its Cover

Books, bound in Wub fur are defective. The type changes to reflect a belief in life unending. The publisher is most distressed that the books they are publishing with these very expensive covers and binding are defective. They search for clues as to who is changing the text and how it is being done.

Dick revisits his first ever short story, Therein Lies the Wub. Wubs, creatures of Mars, seem like primitive creatures. But there fur has properties unseen and heretofore unobserved. A thoroughly enjoyable story.

Return Match
A killer pinball machine stalks a detective who raided a casino where it was housed. Aliens brought it to earth and put it in their casino to play a dirty trick on earthlings.

I love the premise and the straight-forward science fiction. But this story is clumsy and falls flat. I think Dick was trying for commentary on impulse and gambling. It didn’t work.

Faith of our Fathers
In a future world where the communists rule the globe, a young party official purchases what he thinks is snuff from a street vendor. It is actually a drug that allows him to see the truth. He finds out that the party leader is not what he seems. He is much, much more.

Dark and heavy story telling from Dick in this masterpiece. Dick often dabbles in alternative futures with government and culture. This is a superb example. This particular story was published in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and was one of the best in that legendary collection.

The Story to End All Stories for Harlan Ellison’s Anthology Dangerous Visions
A woman copulates with a mutant animal in a post-nuclear war zoo and gives birth to another mutant. She is forced to fight another woman for possession of it.

This story might have totaled 500 words and I suspect that it was some sort of inside joke between Dick and Harlan Ellison

The Electric Ant
A man goes to the hospital following the amputation of his hand. There, he learns that he is not really a man, but a synthetic human. To learn the nature of himself and the fabric of time, he begins to tamper with his memory systems and discovers who and what is real and who is not. Others make the same discovery.

This is a subject explored in the subtext of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. What does it mean to be human? In that story, there was external conflict. In this story, the conflict is all internal when the android is tempted over and over to push the limits of his experiments to the brink. A masterfully told and thoroughly enjoyable tale.

Cadbury, the Beaver Who Lacked
Cadbury works all day gnawing on trees and is paid in blue poker chips. His wife wants him to work harder and earn white poker chips. He tosses out a message in a bottle and a female beaver responds. He goes to meet her and finds out the grass is not greener.

This story is a wee bit more than sexist. It is really anti-woman. All of the woman are exploitive and manipulative. I’m not a fan of intelligent animal stories and did not find this one exceptional enough to enjoy.

A Little Something for Us Tempunauts
Three time travelers return to their time and earth. Except that it’s not their time. It is about a week in the future – far from their destination of more than 100 years in the future. In reality, they have just died and will attend their own funerals. They are trapped in a time loop that keeps them repeating this same pattern over and over again. They strive to break it.

The mysteries and perils of time travel are oft explored in science fiction. Dick revives an frequently used trope and makes it work nicely.

The Pre-Persons
In a dystopian society where scarcity of resources is a reality, abortion is not just used on the unborn as a means of population control. Parents can now have their children aborted up to the age of 12 when the government has determined they have a soul. Two men and two boys resist.

This is a powerful story and leaves little doubt as to where Philip K. Dick stood on the issue of abortion.

The Eye of the Sibyl
Sybils are people who foretell events and have attachments to past consciences. A man, aptly named Philos Dicktos, simultaneously lives in the time of Julius Caesar and John Kennedy and foretells the assassination of both.

This story is confusing with its parallel narratives and uneasy transitions between those two narratives. The story is obviously inspired by Dick’s “spiritual” experience in 1974 and what one might describe as a breakdown.

The Day Mr. Computer Fell out of its Tree

A lovelorn computer creates a topsy turvy world when it cannot find someone to love. The leaders of the world set out to find a woman who lives in the earth and listens to radio soap operas so that she might show the computer some love.

This represents another attempt by Dick to write light, comical science fiction. I hate it.

The Exit Door Leads In
Bob Bibleman goes out for lunch and ends up “recruited” to go to college. There, while learning about philosophy, he is tested on basic morality, leadership, and initiative.

Dick’s later fiction is much less plot oriented and more philosophy oriented. This particular story was written for a Rolling Stone publication for colleges upon request.

Chains of Air, Web of Aether
A man living on a remote, frozen world reluctantly enters into a relationship with his neighbor who has a horrible disease. He cares for her during her treatment and recovery, all the while denying to himself that he cares about her.

There is a lot of emotion in this story that is not typically found in Dick stories. PKD was a bizarre dude and didn’t really convey a great depth of human feeling in his stories. However, the reader can easily identify with the hero of this story and his mixed emotions.

Strange Memories of Death
A man recounts how his apartment building went condo and one of the tenants – and eccentric old woman – was forced to move out. He did not know her, but thinks about how life must be for her, being forced from the only home she’s known for years.

This is the first entirely non-genre fiction I’ve ever read by Philip K. Dick. I can’t help but feel he wrote it to work out some lingering guilt or other emotions. As such stories go, it was perfectly acceptable. Not my cup of tea.

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon
A man partially awakens from cryogenic sleep during a ten year space voyage. The ship’s computer, recognizing that the man will go insane if he is not mentally stimulated for ten years, constructs scenarios inside the man’s mind, drawing on memories. The memories awaken old guilts and hurts that destroy any chance of happiness when he finally arrives at his destination.

This was a disturbing story that was exceptionally told. It really lays bare how small, but pivotal deeds in our youth can deeply affect us in our adult life.

Rautavaara’s Case
Space debris strikes a ship and wipes out two members of the three person crew. The third person has her brain revived by aliens who are eager to study human behavior as she hallucinates. Meanwhile, Earth officials protest the abuse of their near-dead astronaut.

Deep religious issues are explored in this short story. How might one religion see the relationship another has with its deity? Also explored are the ethics of keeping alive a brain damaged person.

The Alien Mind

A cruel and heartless astronaut kills his pet cat when the cat sends his ship slightly off course and embarrasses him in front of an alien race. That race makes sure he pays for his cruelty.

It was an interesting topic to approach in a science fiction setting. However, the story itself fell flat with a vanilla ending.

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