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Oct042009

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

 

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

496 pages

Pantheon, 2002

 

For both Philip K. Dick aficionados and those newly attracted to his work through the medium of film and the multiple Dick stories that have become movies in the last several years, this is a wonderful collection of his stories. It contains such stories as Paycheck, and The Minority Report, both of which were made into films of the same names, as well as We Can Remember it for You, Wholesale, which became the Arnold Schwartzenegger movie, Total Recall.  But also there are a number of gems that never became films, such as The Electric Ant and The Days of Perky Pat. The Dickean themes of manipulation by an authoritarian regime, whether government or private enterprise, are present in many of the stories, as well as the familiar question of whether a character is a robot or a human, whether the questioner is the protagonist, as in The Electric Ant  or a puzzled antagonist as in  Second Variety, another Dick short story that was turned into the film, Screamers by Dan O’Bannon of Aliens, Total Recall, and Dark Star fame.

 

What is remarkable, when one moves from story to story in this collection, is the depth of imagination Dick was able to access and  use effectively. Although the themes are familiar, the settings and the characters rarely are. As I examined these stories for hints as to what Dick was able to do that many of his emulators, such as myself in some of my works, are not, I realized that one quality is the attitude of his characters. Anxiety and panic are sometimes present in their reaction to, most often, bizarre circumstances confronting them, but more typically the protagonists react with a jaded acceptance, portrayed most effectively by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, the screen adaptation of Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  This is an attitude that permeates Dick’s writings, although a study of his life suggests it was one he achieved in his writing more than in his real life.

 

Philip K. Dick has become a cult hero, a respected literary figure writing in a disrespected genre, and a tragic figure. Had he not died at age 53 after living a life riddled with addictions, paranoia and perhaps real mental illness, he would have become immensely rich and famous within his own lifetime. Like most cult heroes, he is a screen for his followers’ fantasies and tortured identities, so that he is regarded as a prophet, as someone who had discovered secrets revealed only through the study of esoteric sources, as a guru of the drug generation, etc. As a writer and psychologist, as well as a fringe cognitive neuroscientist, I too, see Dick as profound. Humans are machines made of living tissue. As technology progresses, the ability to mimic human machinery using non-human materials will continue to develop until one day humans and non-humans are indistinguishable. At that point, we won’t just have living beings asking themselves if they are really machines, as neuroscientists do now, we will have machines asking themselves if they are living beings.

 

I look forward to the day that this dilemma is upon us and I don’t know what answers will emerge. I do know that Philip K. Dick anticipated the questions and his anticipation of so many questions which we are now asking or are about to ask, is part of what makes reading his Selected Stories so entertaining.

 

Casey Dorman

 

References (6)

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    ラインオメガの前に世界の一時停止に静的、動的なう時間をみよう
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    Lost Coast Review - Book Reviews - Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
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    Lost Coast Review - Book Reviews - Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
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    Lost Coast Review - Book Reviews - Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
  • Response
    Lost Coast Review - Book Reviews - Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
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