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Minority Report: Volume Four of the Collected Stories
Philip K. Dick
Victor Gollancz Millennium, 380 pages

Minority Report
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. He went on to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Now Wait For Last Year
SF Site Review: Dr. Bloodmoney
SF Site Review: Beyond Lies the Wub and The Father-Thing
SF Site Review: Second Variety
SF Site Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and A Scanner Darkly
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

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A couple of tales into Minority Report, volume four of the collected stories, the idea begins to niggle at the reader that perhaps Philip K. Dick missed his calling. Someone who could spin out such a variety of stories centering around conspiracy, deception and a fundamental suspicion of power and those who wield it would surely be a perfect choice to head up writing chores for The X-Files, television's weekly hour of enigmas wrapped in mystery. Halfway through these 18 tales, however, the truth becomes quite obvious -- Dick's personal brand of misdirection and paranoia is so out there that Scully and Mulder would likely view them with a mix of bafflement, confusion and outright skepticism.

The late Philip K. Dick, to put it mildly, just wasn't like any of his contemporaries. While many of his stories are set in far-flung, planet-spanning futures, Dick's world of tomorrow looks very much like the solar system was colonized by the Eisenhower administration. There are no flying rocket cars here, no recombinant genetics and certainly no jacked-in, jacked-up vision of cyber-reality. This is firmly Studebaker territory, and Ozzie and Harriet live on Io.

But Dick doesn't need flashy space liners and self-aware robots to make his stories work. He was much more concerned with the world of today than what may lie down the road a billion years from now. He says what's on his mind, and most of the time succeeds admirably. The science fiction, really, is incidental -- using such tools just happens to be the most effective way of posing the questions that burn for Dick. Almost every story here is good, and a few are flat-out brilliant.

The title story, "Minority Report," encapsulates all that is great about Dick's writing, and then some. By far the most powerful work featured here, it tackles all the classic issues -- power, corruption, conspiracy and creates a few more issues for good measure. Dick turns his skeptical eye towards the wheels of justice here, and the result is a penal system that apprehends felons before they have a chance to commit their heinous crimes, through the use of precogs, idiot savants that literally see into the future. Of course, the morality of punishing someone for a crime they haven't yet committed is morally questionable at best, so three precogs are required for the job -- at least two in agreement of the potential future results in a majority report and an arrest warrant being issued, while a dissenting view, the minority report, is filed away as unreliable. The Precrime system undeniably works, as evidenced by the fact that criminal activity is virtually non-existent... so naturally when Precrime Commissioner John Anderton stumbles across a majority report that accuses him of the future murder of a man he's never even met, he begins to question the basic tenants of the rule of law he helped create. He gets plenty of answers, but few are pleasant and most just serve to show that Anderton is asking the wrong questions entirely.

"Days of Perky Pat," a thoroughly depressing post-apocalyptic story of inane games adults play to quell their longing for the luxurious life they led prior to World War III, served as the basis of Dick's landmark novel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Perky Pat is, quite obviously, a thinly-veiled stand-in for the ubiquitous Barbie doll, complete with her own thinly-veiled version of Ken as well. When a rival doll, Connie Companion, is discovered to exist in a nearby enclave, a challenge goes out for a winner-take-all match between the champions of Connie and Pat. Thinly-veiled or not, Dick takes a very dim view of the whole 10-inch-fashion-doll phenomenon, as well as consumerism and America's obsessively materialistic society. It's an unsettling story, where the winners of the game are ultimately losers to those most skilled in the practice of self-delusion.

Not everything here is gloom and doom, however. "Waterspider" is a thematically slight work to be sure, but it pulls out all the stops and evolves into a veritable tour-de-force of inside jokes and audacious wit. What if, Dick proposes, the forerunners of the precogs he's so fond of using in his stories are actually 20th century science fiction writers? And all their writings are true, in a Nostradamus sense? And what if a future society based an intergalactic space program on one of these works -- only the writer left a crucial equation out of the story? The answer to the latter question is a grand example of linear thinking -- commandeer a time machine and take it back to 1954 San Francisco, where said writer will be abducted from a SF convention and forced to write the complete version of the story, equations and all. Along the way, A.E. van Vogt utters the immortal words, "There goes a man with my pants," and it is learned why it is not wise to allow Poul Anderson to run amok in the future.

There are many more stories here worth noting -- far too many to give a fair accounting. "The Mold of Yancy" skewers corporations, conformity, mass media and herd mentality. "If There Were No Benny Cemoli" explores the author's personal belief that many of history's greatest individuals were made-up figures, conjured to fulfill some purpose of those in power. In "What the Dead Men Say," the world's most powerful man dies, leaving his vast empire to his crazy, drug-addled granddaughter and a list of enemies miles long. But suddenly it seems he's not quite dead yet, as radio telescopes begin picking up his voice coming from somewhere beyond Pluto.

Strange and engaging, and always thought-provoking, you'd have to search long and hard to find anything remotely similar to the stories in this volume. Dick had a quirky, unpredictable style all his own, developing sub-plots only to abandon them abruptly, introducing key characters late in the game or even dropping viewpoint characters midway through whatever yarn he was spinning. His good guys are bad, and his bad guys indifferent, and all the obvious plot points are twisted 90 degrees to the unexpected. If you don't believe me, you can always ask that Blobel driving by in the Studebaker.

Copyright © 2001 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html


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