An early collection of short stories touching on cold-war era fears, and other weird pseudo-realities.
Philip K. Dick is known fairly well for toying with reality in his fiction and meta-fictional stories. His ideas negotiate the fuzzy edges of existential questions. He pushes boundaries in his writing and yet his straight-ahead prose (sometimes criticized) makes his more “out-there” concepts easier to digest.
This book is a collection of early stories by the writer with a few from the middle of his career. The quality of the stories varies a bit from one to the other, however, even those that felt less satisfying to me may have deeper questions embedded behind their veneer that I haven’t quite appreciated during my first reading. Perhaps a later revisit will stir up more of the murky depths that I associate with PKD.
That’s how this author is. Sometimes you read his stuff and the whacky scenarios he sets up, and feel that it’s all a bit silly. The inner thoughts of a dog… a machine turning music into animals…an alien species that is basically just a giant amorphous blob…a multiplicity of alien grubs… and then there’s the “Wub” character which felt like something that came out of the mind of Dr. Seuss in a Simpsons parody.
Yet, throughout most of the words there is usually something more sinister going on. Some kind of undercurrent of malevolence that calls into question the human condition and what it means to be alive. The characters might fall victim to their own selfishness until they become a parody of themselves, or they may find themselves in some kind of odd alternate perception of reality or time and space that makes you reflect about the very concept of perception.
Despite PKD’s real-life personal issues, I found these stories easy to follow no matter how far-out they got. They are all intriguing in many ways and the author manages to hit enough deep notes to make this collection worthy of a reading. Especially so for fans.
My main issue would be that some of the stories ended in ways that seemed a little too contrived. They felt like “short stories” and while reading them I could almost sense the author circling back to tie up loose ends and bring closure. Not that the endings were bad or inappropriate. I just felt that some of the finales fell a bit short of what they could have been.
“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is among the tales in this collection. This story was made famous by the “Total Recall” movies. The author’s version differs from the movies—which is no surprise. Yet, all the pseudo-reality, questioning motives are present and offer a good insight into why Hollywood has continually mined the PKD library for movie fodder. The ending for this story is also wrapped up fairly neatly—but upon later reflection it does pose some lingering questions in the way a good short story should.
All in all, a solid read!
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).