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Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick Hardcover – April 16, 2013
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In The Days of Perky Pat, people spend their time playing with dolls who manage to live an idyllic life no longer available to the Earths real inhabitants. Adjustment Team looks at the fate of a man who by mistake has stepped out of his own time. In Autofac, one community must battle benign machines to take back control of their lives. And in I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, we follow the story of one man whose very reality may be nothing more than a nightmare. The collection also includes such classic stories as The Minority Report, the basis for the Steven Spielberg movie, and We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, the basis for the film Total Recall. With an introduction by Jonathan Lethem, Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick is a magnificent distillation of one of American literature's most searching imaginations.
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He has a talent for creating worlds and writing characters that are engaging and fully fleshed out. This will be one book I will read more than once.
This book showcases some of the abilities of PKD in the difficult art of the short story form. The 21 stories reprinted here are taken both from early, middle and late periods of his literary career. A representative (if not exhausting) treasury of Dick's best and most influential fictions. The reader unacquainted with Dick will soon realize while reading this book the big debt that most modern action and science fiction films owe to this author.
As with all anthologies, the materials here featured are somewhat uneven, and not all the stories have the same level of brilliance. My personal favourites are "Imposter", "Second Variety", "The Exit Door Leads In" and "Rautavaara's Case", all of which have struck me as literary masterpieces. Other quite good stories are the famous "The Minority Report, "Paycheck", "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", "Foster, You're Dead", "Upon the Dull Earth" and "Adjustment Team". Unfortunately, there are a few "duds" as well, being "The Days of Perky Pat", "Faith of Our Fathers", "A Game of Unchance" or the awful "The King of the Elves" some of the worst in the pack. The rest of the stories are alright, not great nor bad, just entertaining. Some of the plot details used in them have become slightly dated though, such as the Cold War, the atomic war craze, Eastern versus Western bloc, etc. But by the same token, other themes like consumerism, classism, cultural conflicts or corporate control are still relevant today and smartly dealt with in these pages.
Although PKD was far from being a great literary stylist, I think that his short stories tend to be fresher and better written than his novels (which for me are rather dreadful) and because of their short length they are usually able to convey Dick's recurrent themes of paranoia and unreality more proficiently. At his best, Dick can be extremely subversive and ingenious, and the thought-provoking quality of stories such as "The Exit Door Leads In" or "Rautavaara's Case" shouldn't be underestimated. He can be tragic, humorous, caustic, terrifying, extravagant, sadistic or just plain hallucinatory (sometimes all of it at once). Perhaps not a GENIUS in the strict sense of the word, but a worthy figure nonetheless that deserves the attention of anyone interested in literature with philosophical substance.
The material quality of the book is top-notch; the volume is a beautiful solid hardback printed on white (not recycled) paper. The font size of the text does not strain the eyes and the cover also comes with a dust-jacket plus an excellent binding. This printing is the kind of book that goes from one generation to another if proper care is taken about it.
Three stars for the overall contents of the book, plus one more for the quality of the edition.
It's those people, though, who would get the most out of Philip K. Dick. Dick falls into almost none of the pitfalls that I mentioned previously. His short stories are excellent examples of the form, with strong ideas and surprisingly rich themes to boot. Dick's work has obviously been adapted to the screen many times, and a good handful of stories from the book are recognizable from their film adaptations, but the original stories are frequently more interesting and more substantive than the feature films they inspired! So, the average-ish Ben Affleck thriller Paycheck turns out to have been inspired by a story not only about seeing the future, but also about commercial-government tensions and its character turns out to be an anti-hero, motivated by corporate greed. Minority Report was a more successful (and much better) film than Paycheck, and it too is vastly different from its film. The basic ideas (precogs, arresting murderers before they commit their crimes) but in the story, the protagonist has to stop a military coup in Washington (and it lacks the film's sappy ending, too, which is a plus). There are, of course, lots of cool stories here that have not been made into movies, like the post-apocalyptic "Second Variety", in which a few remnants of humanity have to fight against an army of rebellious androids that come in three varieties, as well as some of Dick's more trippy writing, like a story in which an elderly man is asked to become the "king of the dwarves" in their battle against the gnomes, in which it certainly seems like he's going crazy, but the story is told from his perspective and it leaves some ambiguity. It's scary, fascinating, sad, and brainy, but also a little funny in a darkly comic way: that's the Dick trademark, I suppose.
Most science fiction writers who become successful are good at coming up with nifty concepts and cool ideas, and Dick obviously has those, but even more impressive to me is the emotional component that Dick brings to his writing. This is a lot harder for me to deconstruct, but suffice it to say that Dick has that little extra something that turns a good story into a great one. When a story is supposed to be tragic, it almost always is. When the writing is supposed to be exciting, Dick pulls it off. His ability to define characters briefly and thoroughly certainly helps here, but Dick simply just knows how to engage the heart as well as the head, which is likely what has won him such an exalted place among science fiction writers over the years. That place is well-merited. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Top international reviews
Mit meiner Überschrift ist eigentlich schon alles gesagt. Die meisten Geschichten sind nachdenklich machend, anregend, oder spannend. Nicht zuletzt sind einige Stories als Ideenvorlagen in nicht ganz unbekannten Spielfilmen verwendet worden (Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Adjustment Team). Man hat den Eindruck, Philip K. Dick war (und ist?) erste Wahl, wenn die Ideen für eine Science Fiction-Verfilmung, die nicht unbedingt eine Space Opera werden soll, gesucht werden.
The only draw back would be that there are no dates to when these stories first appeared in magazines. Thank the Gods for wikipedia!
It's a shame that the volumes of his COLLECTED STORIES are so hard to come by.