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Review: “Second Variety (1953)” by Philip K. Dick (3 1/2 Stars)

A post-apocalyptic cold war style tale early in this author’s career that contains entertaining edges and hints, emblematic of future efforts in plot ideation and explorations into uncertainties for which this author is known.

The world in which this story lies is bleak and barren, seemingly hopeless. Machines have been given a new genesis of artificial intelligence. Enter the minor “claw” universe of Philip K. Dick where Soviet forces decimated the planet in a preemptive nuclear strike and the UN responded by creating lethal, autonomous, and self-replicating robots which turned the tide in their favor.

Soldiers populate most of the narrative. Seemingly. The author does a good job of describing the stark emotion of living in such a ruined environment and also conveying the fear and trauma of having seen the vast might and precariousness created by humanity’s super weapons. This story encapsulates well the paranoias and fascinations of post-war nuclear potentials. In particular, and in typical PKD fashion, the author drills right down into the singular mind of the protagonist. After broadly painting the massive powers which hold the world in sway, PKD wastes no time in flinging the main character out into a terrible alternate existence. In this way, we the readers, feel the full weight of uncertainty and helplessness one person can feel treading among destructive titans of power.

And yet, none of the agency is lost. We still experience the character’s journey as he is sent on his mission to answer a strange request for parley amid the wastelands between the two long-warring armies. Then we truly enter the corridors of PKD’s mind as the protagonist is pitted against other individuals who he must decide whether or not to trust. Not that this author has a monopoly on questionable veracity, however it’s the clever method in which he weaves his uncertainties that makes him stand out.

In some ways this tale might be nothing new to a fan of PKD, and in that regard the manner in which things wrap up probably seems trite even for the time they were written. And yet, the sense of it all, and the way that we get inside the character’s head as he experiences the conflicts of his situation feels special. PKD has a way of exploring interesting ideas and concepts and then taking a wild left turn into the spiraling void that never seems to land the way it ought too. That’s what makes his work unique. He gives us protagonists that are sometimes barely fleshed out, but he also leaves room for us to inhabit them. There is just the right amount of detail filled in to allow us inside so that we can be taken on the strange journey which his tales usually take.

This story has these things. The setting is not particularly different. The robots are, though. They are like things we’ve seen before and things we know and things that are unimaginable, but things we can understand. Strange anomalies that populate the protagonist’s world that must be considered. The other characters feel that way, too. One wonders if that is how PKD felt sometimes. Our own world is full of odd and sometimes dangerous things that must be reckoned as we try to carry on with our existence. So read along on this entertaining narrative journey as you escape reality, only to dive deeper inside reality.

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 Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/08/20/review-second-variety-philip-k-dick

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Posted by on August 20, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review “The Preserving Machine & Other Stories” by Philip K. Dick (3 Stars)

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).

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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