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Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick


  Clans of the Alphane Moon

  Confessions of a Crap Artist

  The Cosmic Puppets

  Counter-Clock World

  The Crack in Space

  Deus Irae (with Roger Zelazny)

  The Divine Invasion

  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  Dr. Bloodmoney

  Dr. Futurity

  Eye in the Sky

  Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

  Galactic Pot-Healer

  The Game-Players of Titan

  The Man in the High Castle

  The Man Who Japed

  Martian Time-Slip

  A Maze of Death

  Now Wait for Last Year

  Our Friends from Frolix-8

  The Penultimate Truth

  Radio Free Albemuth

  A Scanner Darkly


  Solar Lottery

  The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

  Time Out of Joint

  The Transmigration of Timothy Archer


  The Unteleported Man


  Vulcan's Hammer

  We Can Build You

  The World Jones Made

  The Zap Gun


  Introduction by Jonathan Lethem

  Beyond Lies the Wub



  Second Variety


  The King of the Elves

  Adjustment Team

  Foster, You're Dead

  Upon the Dull Earth


  The Minority Report

  The Days of Perky Pat

  Precious Artifact

  A Game of Unchance

  We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

  Faith of Our Fathers

  The Electric Ant

  A Little Something for Us Tempunauts

  The Exit Door Leads In

  Rautavaara's Case

  I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

  Publisher's Acknowledgments


  Jonathan Lethem

  Philip K. Dick is a necessary writer, in the someone-would-have-had-to-invent-him sense. He's American literature's Lenny Bruce. Like Bruce, he can seem a pure product of the 1950s (and, as William Carlos Williams warned, pure products of America go crazy), one whose iconoclastic mal-adaptation to the conformity of that era seems to shout ahead to our contemporary understanding. And, as with Bruce, the urge to claim him for any cultural role—Hippie, Postmodern Theorist, Political Dissident, Metaphysical Guru—is defeated by the contradictions generated by a singular and irascible persona. Still, no matter what problems he presents, Dick wielded a sardonic yet heartbroken acuity about the plight of being alive in the twentieth century, one that makes him a lonely hero to the readers who cherish him.

  Dick's great accomplishment, on view in the twenty-one stories collected here, was to turn the materials of American pulp-style science fiction into a vocabulary for a remarkably personal vision of paranoia and dislocation. It's a vision as yearning and anxious as Kafka's, if considerably more homely. It's also as funny. Dick is a kitchen-sink surrealist, gaining energy and invention from a mad piling of pulp SF tropes—and clichés— into his fiction: time travel, extrasensory powers, tentacled aliens, ray guns, androids and robots. He loves fakes and simulacra as much as he fears them: illusory worlds, bogus religions, placebo drugs, impersonated police, cyborgs. Tyrannical world governments and ruined dystopian cities are default settings here. Not only have Orwell and Huxley been taken as givens in Dick's worlds, so have Old Masters of genre SF like Clifford Simak, Robert Heinlein, and A. E. Van Vogt. American SF by the mid-1950s was a kind of jazz, stories built by riffing on stories. The conversation they formed might be forbiddingly hermetic, if it hadn't quickly been incorporated by Rod Serling and Marvel Comics and Steven Spielberg (among many others) to become one of the prime vocabularies of our age.

  Dick is one of the first writers to use these materials with self-conscious absurdity—a “look at what I found!” glee which prefigures that of writers like Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, and Mark Leyner. Yet having set his characters loose inside his Rube Goldbergian inventions, Dick detailed their emotional abreactions with meticulous sympathy. His people eke out their days precariously, never knowing whether disaster is about to come at the level of the psychological, the ontological, or the pharmacological. Even his tyrannical world dictators glance neurotically over their shoulders, wondering if some higher authority is about to cause their reality to crumble or in some other way be exposed as fake. Alternately, they could always simply be arrested. Dick earned his collar as High Priest of the Paranoids the old-fashioned way: in his fiction, everyone is always about to be arrested.

  The second set of motifs Dick employed was more prosaic: a perfectly typical 1950s obsession with the images of the suburbs, the consumer, the bureaucrat, and with the plight of small men struggling under the imperatives of capitalism. If Dick, as a bearded, drug-taking Californian, might have seemed a candidate for Beatdom (and in fact did hang out with the San Francisco poets), his persistent engagement with the main materials of his culture kept him from floating off into reveries of escape. It links him instead to writers like Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Arthur Miller (the British satirist John Sladek's bull's-eye Dick parody was titled “Solar Shoe Salesman”). Dick's treatment of his “realist” material can seem oddly cursory, as though the pressing agenda of his paranoiac fantasizing, which would require him to rip the facade off, drop the atomic bomb onto, or otherwise renovate ordinary reality, made that reality's actual depiction unimportant. But no matter how many times Dick unmasks or destroys the Black Iron Prison of American suburban life, he always returns to it. Unlike the characters in William S. Burroughs, Richard Brautigan, or Thomas Pynchon, Dick's characters, in novels and stories written well into the 1970s, go on working for grumbling bosses, carrying briefcases, sending interoffice memos, tinkering with cars in driveways, sweating alimony payments, and dreaming of getting away from it all—even when they've already emigrated to Mars.

  Though Dick's primary importance is as a novelist, no single volume better encompasses his accomplishment than this collection, which doubles as a kind of writer's autobiography, a growth chart. From Twilight Zone–ish social satires (“Roog,”“Foster, You're Dead”) to grapplings with a pulp-adventure chase-scene mode that was already weary before Dick picked it up (“Paycheck,” “Imposter”), the earliest pieces nevertheless declare obsessions and locate methods that would serve for thirty-odd years. In “Adjustment Team” and “Autofac” we begin to meet the Dick of the great sixties novels, his characters defined by how they endure more than by any triumph over circumstance.“Upon the Dull Earth” presents an eerie path-not-taken into Gothic fantasy, one that reads like a Shirley Jackson outtake. Then there is the Martian-farmer-émigré mode, which always showed Dick at his best: “Precious Artifact” and “A Game of Unchance.” Later, in “Faith of Our Fathers,” we encounter the Dick of his late masterpiece A Scanner Darkly, working with the I Ching at one elbow and the Physicians' Desk Reference at the other. “Faith of Our Fathers,” together with “The Electric Ant” and “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts,” offers among the most distilled and perfect statements of Dick's career: black-humor politics melting away to Gnostic theology, theology to dire solipsism, solipsism to despair, then love. And back again.

  If Dick thrived on the materials of SF, he was less than thrilled with the fate of being only an SF writer. Whether or not he was ready for the world, or the world ready for him, he longed for a respecta
ble recognition, and sought it variously and unsuccessfully throughout his life. In fact, he wrote eight novels in a somber realist mode during the 1950s and early 1960s, a shadow career known mainly to the agents who failed to place the books with various New York publishers. It's stirring to wonder what Dick might have done with a wider professional opportunity, but there's little doubt that his SF grew more interesting for being fed by the frustrated energies of his “mainstream” ambition. Possibly, too, a restless streak in Dick's personality better suited him for the outsider-artist status he tasted during his lifetime. Dick was obsessed with stigma, with mutation and exile, and with the recurrent image of a spark of life or love arising from unlikely or ruined places: robot pets, discarded appliances, autistic children. SF was Dick's ruined site. Keenly engaged with his own outcast identity, he worked brilliantly from the margins (in this regard, it may be possible to consider the story “The King of the Elves” as an allegory of Dick's career). “Sci-Fi Writer” became a kind of identity politics for Dick, as did “Drug Burnout” and “Religious Mystic”—these during the period when identity politics weren't otherwise the province of white American males. Here, from an introduction written for Golden Man, a collection of stories assembled in 1980, Dick reminisces:

  In reading the stories in this volume you should bear in mind that most were written when SF was so looked down upon that it virtually was not there, in the eyes of all America. This was not funny, the derision felt toward SF writers. It made our lives wretched. Even in Berkeley—or especially in Berkeley—people would say, “But are you writing anything serious?” To select SF writing as a career was an act of self-destruction; in fact, most writers, let alone most other people, could not even conceive of someone considering it. The only non-SF writer who ever treated me with courtesy was Herbert Gold, who I met at a literary party in San Francisco. He autographed a file card to me this way: “To a colleague, Philip K. Dick.” I kept the card until the ink faded and was gone, and I still feel grateful to him for this charity.…So in my head I have to collate the experience in 1977 of the mayor of Metz shaking hands with me at an official city function [Dick had just received an arts medal in France], and the ordeal of the Fifties when Kleo and I lived on ninety dollars a month, when we could not even pay the fine on an overdue library book, and when we were literally living on dog food. But I think you should know this—specifically, in case you are, say, in your twenties and rather poor and perhaps becoming filled with despair, whether you are an SF writer or not, whatever you want to make of your life. There can be a lot of fear, and often it is a justified fear. People do starve in America. I have seen uneducated street girls survive horrors that beggar description. I have seen the faces of men whose brains have been burned-out by drugs, men who could still think enough to be able to realize what had happened to them; I watched their clumsy attempt to weather that which cannot be weathered.… Kabir, the sixteenth-century Sufi poet, wrote, “If you have not lived through something, it is not true.” So live through it; I mean, go all the way to the end. Only then can it be understood, not along the way.

  The conflations in this passage are so perfectly typical—SF writer and uneducated street girl, Dick's suffering and yours. His self-mocking humility at Herbert Gold's “charity” is balanced against that treasured, ink-fading file card: a certainty that value resides in the smallest gestures, in scraps of empathy. Dick was a writer doomed to be himself, and the themes of his most searching and personal writing of the 1970s and early 1980s surface helplessly in even the earliest stories: the fragility of connection, the allure and risk of illusion, the poignancy of artifacts, and the necessity of carrying on in the face of the demoralizing brokenness of the world. Dick famously posed two questions—“What is human?” and “What is real?”—and then sought to answer them in any framework he thought might suffice. By the time of his death he'd tried and discarded many dozen such frameworks. The questions remained. It is the absurd beauty of their asking that lasts.

  On a personal note, I'm proud to make this introduction. Dick's is a voice that matters to me, a voice I love. He's one of my life's companions. As Bob Dylan sang of Lenny Bruce, he's gone, but his spirit lingers on and on. In that spirit, let Phil have the final word here. Again, from the Golden Man essay:

  What helps for me—if help comes at all—is to find the mustard seed of the funny at the core of the horrible and futile. I've been researching ponderous and solemn theological matters for five years now, for my novel-in-progress, and much of the Wisdom of the World has passed from the printed page and into my brain, there to be processed and secreted out in the form of more words: words in, words out, and a brain in the middle wearily trying to determine the meaning of it all. Anyhow, the other night I started on the article on Indian Philosophy in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy … the time was 4 A.M.; I was exhausted … and there, at the heart of this solemn article, was this: “The Buddhist idealists used various arguments to show that perception does not yield knowledge of external objects distinct from the percipient.… The external world supposedly consists of a number of different objects, but they can be known as different only because there are different sorts of experiences ‘of’ them. Yet if the experiences are thus distinguishable, there is no need to hold the superfluous hypothesis of external objects.…”

  That night I went to bed laughing. I laughed for an hour. I am still laughing. Push philosophy and theology to their ultimate and what do you wind up with? Nothing. Nothing exists. As I said earlier, there is only one way out: seeing it all as ultimately funny. Kabir, who I quoted, saw dancing and joy and love as ways out, too; and he wrote about the sound of “the anklets on the feet of an insect as it walks.” I would like to hear that sound; perhaps if I could my anger and fear, and my high blood pressure, would go away.

  * * * *

  Thanks to Pamela Jackson, whose 1999 dissertation “The World Philip K. Dick Made” helped clarify my thinking in writing this introduction.


  They had almost finished with the loading. Outside stood the Optus, his arms folded, his face sunk in gloom. Captain Franco walked leisurely down the gangplank, grinning.

  “What's the matter?” he said. “You're getting paid for all this.”

  The Optus said nothing. He turned away, collecting his robes. The Captain put his boot on the hem of the robe.

  “Just a minute. Don't go off. I'm not finished.”

  “Oh?” The Optus turned with dignity. “I am going back to the village.” He looked toward the animals and birds being driven up the gangplank into the spaceship. “I must organize new hunts.”

  Franco lit a cigarette. “Why not? You people can go out into the veldt and track it all down again. But when we run halfway between Mars and Earth—”

  The Optus went off, wordless. Franco joined the first mate at the bottom of the gangplank.

  “How's it coming?” he asked. He looked at his watch. “We got a good bargain here.”

  The mate glanced at him sourly. “How do you explain that?”

  “What's the matter with you? We need it more than they do.”

  “I'll see you later, Captain.” The mate threaded his way up the plank, between the long-legged Martian go-birds, into the ship. Franco watched him disappear. He was just starting up after him, up the plank toward the port, when he saw it.

  “My God!” He stood staring, his hands on his hips. Peterson was walking along the path, his face red, leading it by a string.

  “I'm sorry, Captain,” he said, tugging at the string. Franco walked toward him.

  “What is it?”

  The wub stood sagging, its great body settling slowly. It was sitting down, its eyes half shut. A few flies buzzed about its flank, and it switched its tail.

  It sat. There was silence.

  “It's a wub,” Peterson said. “I got it from a native for fifty cents. He said it was a very unusual animal. Very respected.”

  “This?” Franco poked the gre
at sloping side of the wub. “It's a pig! A huge dirty pig!”

  “Yes sir, it's a pig. The natives call it a wub.”

  “A huge pig. It must weigh four hundred pounds.” Franco grabbed a tuft of the rough hair. The wub gasped. Its eyes opened, small and moist. Then its great mouth twitched.

  A tear rolled down the wub's cheek and splashed on the floor.

  “Maybe it's good to eat,” Peterson said nervously.

  “We'll soon find out,” Franco said.

  The wub survived the takeoff, sound asleep in the hold of the ship. When they were out in space and everything was running smoothly, Captain Franco bade his men fetch the wub upstairs so that he might perceive what manner of beast it was.

  The wub grunted and wheezed, squeezing up the passageway.

  “Come on,” Jones grated, pulling at the rope. The wub twisted, rubbing its skin off on the smooth chrome walls. It burst into the anteroom, tumbling down in a heap. The men leaped up.

  “Good Lord,” French said. “What is it?”

  “Peterson says it's a wub,” Jones said. “It belongs to him.” He kicked at the wub. The wub stood up unsteadily, panting.

  “What's the matter with it?” French came over. “Is it going to be sick?”

  They watched. The wub rolled its eyes mournfully. It gazed around at the men.

  “I think it's thirsty,” Peterson said. He went to get some water. French shook his head.

  “No wonder we had so much trouble taking off. I had to reset all my ballast calculations.”

  Peterson came back with the water. The wub began to lap gratefully, splashing the men.

  Captain Franco appeared at the door.

  “Let's have a look at it.” He advanced, squinting critically. “You got this for fifty cents?”

  “Yes, sir,” Peterson said. “It eats almost anything. I fed it on grain and it liked that. And then potatoes, and mash, and scraps from the table, and milk. It seems to enjoy eating. After it eats it lies down and goes to sleep.”

  “I see,” Captain Franco said. “Now, as to its taste. That's the real question. I doubt if there's much point in fattening it up any more. It seems fat enough to me already. Where's the cook? I want him here. I want to find out—”