Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume One: The King of the Elves (1947-1952)
Philip K. Dick
Subterranean Press, 488 pages

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume One: The King of the Elves (1947-1952)
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: Valis
SF Site Review: UBIK
SF Site Review: Ubik: The Screenplay
SF Site Review: Human Is?
SF Site Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
SF Site Review: The Zap Gun
SF Site Review: The Simulacra
SF Site Review: Lies, Inc.
SF Site Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
SF Site Review: Time Out Of Joint
SF Site Review: The Game-Players of Titan
SF Site Review: Minority Report
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 Richard A. Lupoff

Advertisement
The publisher describes this book as "the opening installment of a uniform, five-volume edition of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, expanded from the previous Collected Stories set to incorporate new story notes, and two added tales, one previously unpublished, and one uncollected."

Certainly this is a welcome publication, and I look forward to later volumes in the series.

It is remarkable that of all the science fiction writers of the Twentieth Century, Philip K. Dick is one of two whose works have had the greatest durability, and whose images and attitudes have penetrated the very fabric of world culture most extensively. (The other is H.P. Lovecraft, who wasn't exactly a science fiction writer anyway -- but close enough for present purposes.)

Dick struggled throughout his career to earn a meagre living. It was only in the last months of his life (1928-1982) that he found himself making any serious money. This was from the sale of film rights to his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which Hollywood inexplicably re-titled Bladerunner, having bought the rights to that title from science fiction novelist Alan E. Nourse. The film was released after Dick's death.

Since then he has become an obsession for the campus set, replacing J.R.R. Tolkien as a favored topic at late-night bull sessions. He has become the darling of Hollywood, with multiple feature films and television series based on his works either in release or in production. No fewer than three full-scale biographies have appeared, and we can be sure that there will be more as well as critical studies, graduate student theses, even comic books.

While Dick is best known for his novels -- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, The Man in the High Castle and many others -- he was also a talented writer of short stories. Now that he has been elevated to cultural iconhood, his works are popping up in edition after edition throughout the world.

A five volume set of his collected short stories was published in 1987. Now, almost a quarter century later, we have received the first book in a revised and expanded version of the collected stories. The initial volume covers the earliest years of the author's career. All of the stories are at least competently written, and several of them show the flash of dark brilliance that informs his later works.

Circa 1950, Dick attended the University of California in Berkeley for a short time. During this era and the years immediately following he became a protégé of the late William Anthony Parker White, better known as Anthony Boucher. Dick attended a writers' workshop conducted weekly by Boucher, and Boucher bought the first story that Dick ever sold, as well as a number of others in later years. In introducing an early Dick story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Boucher said this:

  By now he has appeared in nearly every science fiction publication -- and what's more surprising, in each case with stories exactly suited to the editorial tastes and needs of that particular publication: the editors of Whizzing Star Patrol and of the Quaint Quality Quarterly are in complete agreement upon Mr. Dick as a singularly satisfactory contributor.  

Boucher was, of course, correct. The themes and narrative styles of the stories in the present volume vary wildly, each appropriate to the market in which it originally appeared. Dick's first sale, "Roog," was to Boucher for F&SF. It was and remains a fascinating exercise in viewpoint and perception, the vision and understanding of the world as seen by dogs watching garbage collectors going about their business.

Boucher was so impressed by the story that he recommended it to Judith Merrill for inclusion in her Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year anthology. Merrill turned the story down, sending a rather harsh note challenging Dick's notion of how dogs perceived humans. Thirty years later... wait a moment, as the narrators used to say on classic era radio shows, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I first met Philip K. Dick in 1964. The Man in the High Castle had been published by then and had won a Hugo. I was discussing the book with science fiction fan Ed Meskys, standing in a hallway at a house party during the World Science Fiction Convention.

A bearded man with a cigar in his mouth kept trying to break into our conversation. Meskys and I tried to keep on talking. Finally I turned to the newcomer and asked, very annoyed, "Who are you?"

"I'm Philip K. Dick," he said.

Hardly an auspicious first encounter, but over the years we became good friends. I also interviewed him several times either for broadcast or print media. Even in 1978, when I interviewed Dick to gather information for my introduction to a reissue of his first short story collection, the Merrill incident rankled. "She didn't understand the story," he kept saying, "she just didn't understand that that's the way garbage men would look to a dog!"

Let's get back to The King of the Elves. The book contains twenty-four early stories from the late pulp and digest magazine era of science fiction, all of them originally published between 1952 and 1955. There are also two "new" pieces, one complete story and one fragment, both of them apparently apprentice work.

A notably high proportion of the stories deal with themes of warfare. This is not entirely surprising. Consider that Dick was born in 1928. He would have been thirteen years of age when the United States entered World War II and seventeen when the war ended. After only the briefest period of euphoria, the world slipped into Cold War mode. By the time Dick started selling fiction, the Korean War had broken out. In short, he had spent most of his life -- the portion during which he was aware of world conditions, at any rate -- subject to a constant news and propaganda bombardment designed to maintain a state of war hysteria.

The present reviewer is a few years younger than Dick, but was exposed to the same barrage and will testify that it unquestionably shapes and colors one's outlook on life!

Most of the stories in this collection are fairly conventional for their era and for the magazines in which they were published. Certainly "Roog" was a departure from the norm and remains a refreshing glimpse into an unusual mind -- that of the author, I mean, not just that of the canine protagonists.

"Beyond Lies the Wub" is a further foreshadowing of the convention-defying talent that Dick would exhibit in his more mature work. Involving a future expedition to an alien planet, the story concerns an alien life form that happens to resemble pigs, and is regarded as potential food for humans. However, the alien -- the "wub" -- is remarkably intelligent, articulate, and calm about its impending fate. There is also a marvelous little stinger in the end of the narrative.

Some of the stories are obvious. In one of them, a man builds a huge barge-like wooden craft in his backyard. He doesn't know why he's doing this, he just has to. The reader can figure out before the first paragraph is past that he's the new Noah and he's building his ark.

On the other hand, even when he's conventional, Dick manages to put his own special spin on familiar material. "Meddler" is one of those time-paradox stories. It is structurally almost identical to "Find the Sculptor" by Samuel Mines, published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1946. Dick's version, published in Future Science Fiction eight years later, is still a powerful and totally effective treatment.

While most of the stories in this collection are science fiction, some are pure fantasy. The title story does literally concern "The King of the Elves," and does so in a most satisfying manner.

All in all, this first volume in the series makes for good reading and holds the promise of wonders to come.

Unfortunately, as much as I admired the stories, I cannot give this book an unalloyed recommendation, as it is, by far, the worst example of editing and presentation that I have encountered in a lifetime of reading. The flaws start with the subtitle on the title page, which gives the dates of the stories as 1947-52. In fact, they were published between 1952 and 1955.

It wouldn't have taken the editors of the book long to research original publication data on the stories. I did it myself in a matter of minutes. Nowhere in the book is there a comprehensive list of original publication sources and dates.

There are story notes, but only for thirteen of the twenty-four previously published stories and one of the two previously unpublished or uncollected efforts. There is a nasty glitch on the contents page, in which the story "The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford" is apparently split into three segments and listed as if it were three separate stories.

There is no introduction to the book.

There is no editorial credit on the title page or anywhere else in the book. An inquiry to the publisher produced the answer that the executors of the Philip K. Dick Testamentary Trust provided the text as it stands.

I can only recommend that readers seek out the earlier five-volume Collected Stories, originally published in 1987, and bypass this dreadfully botched new edition. In the meanwhile, I would urge the publisher to withdraw this mess, correct the errors and omissions, and reissue the book.

[NB: The above review is based on an advance uncorrected proof of the book. The reviewer has not seen a copy of the final book, as formally published. He hopes that the flaws enumerated above will have been corrected in the formally published version.]

Copyright © 2011 Richard A. Lupoff

Richard A. Lupoff is a novelist, short-story writer, critic, and sometime academic. His most recent books are Visions (currently in production by Mythos Books) and Quintet: The Cases of Chase and Delacroix (Crippen & Landru). He is also the Editorial Director of Surinam Turtle Press, an imprint of Ramble House.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide