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The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick (Dover Books on Literature & Drama) Paperback – August 22, 2013
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This volume is worth acquiring for “The Turning Wheel,” a sendup of various religious beliefs that takes place in a post-apocalyptic future that is class-based and Asian-centric. The story pokes fun at religious beliefs that brand pleasure as sinful, but it’s particularly noteworthy for its references to a revered individual named Elron Hu, a name that is suspiciously similar to L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who founded an imaginary but lucrative religion that has been embraced by Hollywood.
Most of the other stories are also entertaining, although none are as mind-blowing as his later work. Most follow the pattern of developing a science fiction theme and then giving it a surprise twist at the end.
“Prominent Author” deals with an ordinary worker who is testing a form of instantaneous transportation from his residential community in Pennsylvania to his office in downtown New York City. Taking the trip gives him a glimpse of another universe and the feeling that, by interacting with it, he may be changing it. The nature of the universe and the worker’s impact on it are the surprises that Dick delivers at the end. While this is a story that could have been fleshed out in greater detail, it’s a classic example of Dick’s clever imagination.
“Small Town” is about a model railroad enthusiast who has spent years making an exact replica of the town he hates -- until he decides to turn it into a town he can love. The story might be a bit predictable, but it would have been a good Twilight Zone episode.
In “Exhibit Piece,” a twentieth century museum exhibit becomes the reality of the man who curates it. The story ties into some current theories about the nature of reality, but those theories weren’t yet hatched when Dick played with the idea. The ending has a twist that again would have made this a fun Twilight Zone episode.
Former Terrans who now consider themselves a “superior mutant race” are convinced that their colony is subjected to constant attacks by an unknown enemy. “Shell Game” considers how paranoia destroys the paranoid and how the paranoid destroy everyone else.
“Adjustment Team” is one of several works by Dick that inspired Hollywood films -- in this case, The Adjustment Bureau. The story is quite short, providing only the starting point for a movie, but it introduces a theme to which Dick often returned -- the nature (and manipulation) of reality.
“Meddler” is a time travel story. Two observations of the same point in the future reveal vastly different results. A man from the present is sent to the future to find out what went wrong. The twist at the end again has a Twilight Zone feel.
“Progeny” is about a future in which parents aren’t given the opportunity to mess up their kids. Instead, children are raised by robots, a fact that is upsetting to a father who has been off planet for some time. The ending is deliberately ambiguous and a little chilling.
“Upon the Dull Earth” is a quasi-supernatural story about a woman who “crosses over” and regrets her decision. Crossing back turns out to be a bad thing for human existence. The story has some of the religious overtones of Dick’s later work, but it’s the weakest story in the volume.
“Foster, You’re Dead” is a pointed criticism of the military-industrial complex. The characters in the story are fueled by the same paranoia that drives modern-day preppers (along with the desire to buy cool prepper gear). In Dick’s story, the desire (and peer pressure) is to buy cool bomb shelters. The story effectively conveys the idea that the threat of disaster is more often a marketing gimmick than an actual threat.
“Human Is” is an “alien mind takes over human body” story. Dick gives it a predictable but fun twist.
This isn’t by any means a “Best of” collection but it isn’t meant to be. For a PKD completist, it is an essential acquisition. For a reader who is new to PKD, I would recommend a “Best of” collection, but I suspect most science fiction fans would enjoy these stories, even if Dick’s earliest work wasn’t his best work.
Some of the included works (specifically "Beyond Lies the Wub," "Second Variety" and "The Variable Man") are familiar titles but it's been a long time since I had read these (I've read most of Dick's work).
All of these stories were written in the early 1950's and sometimes it's pretty obvious. The Cold War paranoia that becomes much more overt in some of Dick's later works (I love <em>A Scanner Darkly</em>) is evident here at times. We also Dick being 'cute' - something we don't often see - and clever.
One of the things we discover, as we enjoy these stories, is that writing talent often manifests itself even in the authors earliest writing. Some of these stories don't stand the test of time very well, but all of them are still strong works of fiction. Rochelle Kronzek's introduction to the book is a nice abridged history of Dick and these particular works.
This collection includes:
Introduction by Rochelle Kronzek
"Beyond Lies the Wub"
"The Crystal Crypt"
"The Variable Man"
"The Eyes Have It"
"Piper in the Woods"
"Tony and the Beetles"
"Beyond the Door"
Looking for a good book? <em>The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick</em> is an important collection for anyone interested in the Golden Age of Science Fiction and/or the writing of Philip K. Dick.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Take on the book with your eyes open. This is not great stuff but it is the work of a great writer in his formative years. He goes on to do much better.
I received a review copy of "The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick" by Philip K. Dick (Dover) through NetGalley.com.