Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Beyond Lies the Wub
The Father-Thing
Philip K. Dick
Orion Millennium, 404 and 376 pages

Beyond Lies the Wub
The Father-Thing
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: 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 Rich Horton

Advertisement
Philip K. Dick died in 1982, just on the cusp of achieving great popularity, fueled in good part by the outstanding movie Blade Runner (based on Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), released just months after his death. That led to several other movies based on his work, none as good as Blade Runner, but still sufficient to make him well-known. Now, almost 20 years after his death, many of his novels are still in print, available in very nice large sized paperback editions. And, perhaps even more surprising, his Collected Stories are in print, in 5 volumes, available in large-sized paper from the UK publisher Millennium.

Dick is best known for his novels, notable among them his Hugo winner The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip, Ubik, and his strange late "trilogy" consisting of Valis, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. I have to say this is correct: he was at his best as a novelist. A significant reason for this is that his career followed a common path: a period of apprenticeship writing short fiction, leading to novel sales. After he started selling his novels, he wrote much less short fiction, presumably because novels pay better. I have on hand for review the First and Third volumes of his Collected Stories, which are arranged chronologically by order of composition. These books include stories written from 1951 to 1954. Thus, in the first three years of a 30-year career, Dick produced approximately 60% of his short fiction.

It is, then, not much of a surprise that the stories collected in these two books are much lesser creations than his great novels. In many cases, Dick appeared to be writing to market, and his main markets were the lesser pulps of the early 50s. He did make some sales to Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy; and his favourite early market appears to have been If, which throughout most of its 20 some years was a quirky and valuable second tier magazine.

These early stories, as a group, do not really reflect much of Dick's later obsessions with the nature of reality and memory, though there are a few hints to that effect. The biggest obsessions in these stories, however, are the threat of nuclear war and the subsequent danger of mutation. Another major theme (often an offshoot of the mutation theme) is psi powers. And, finally, the stories reflect the 50s concerns with advertising and the growth of the suburbs. Of course some of these ideas are present in some of Dick's novels. There is the occasional story in these books that directly prefigures later work: for example, "Shell Game" presents a world of paranoids escaped from a hospital ship, much like the more developed situation in Clans of the Alphane Moon.

For all that many of these stories are minor, there are some jewels. From Volume 1 there is "Beyond Lies the Wub," Dick's first published story (though not his first sale), which builds to a cute conclusion. "The Preserving Machine" takes an utterly strange idea -- turning music into animals -- and makes it work in an odd, haunting, fashion. "Meddler" is a legitimately scary look at time travel, and "Colony" is a scary look at a planet in which everything is a predator. Definitely a prefiguration of some later Dick themes. And "Nanny" takes on suburban life, planned obsolescence, and the fight to "keep up with the Joneses" effectively.

From Volume 3, "The Father-Thing" is scary and psychologically effective SF horror. "The Golden Man" is a brilliant and honest look at what an "advanced" human race might really be like, and how it might regard us "primitives."  "Misadjustment" is one of several stories (including "The Golden Man") in which mutations are regarded with fear and strictly controlled, and in this case the paranoia thus induced is beautifully observed. "A World of Talent" and "Psi Man Heal My Child!" take quite different looks at a curious variant of time travel which I really haven't seen treated much: a person with this time travel ability can change places with his own self at different times on his worldline, but can't go back before his birth or after his death.

I don't think anyone would conclude from the contents of these volumes of short fiction alone that Philip K. Dick was destined to become one of the field's greats, though I think one could conclude that he had the potential to be one of the field's true originals. Neither collection is by itself a landmark, but all these collections are worth the attention of anyone interested in the work of Philip K. Dick or in the history of the SF field. And in their own right they provide a lot of interesting reading, if relatively few moments of brilliance. Moreover, the story notes at the end provide interesting details about date of composition, original publication, and in some cases, Dick's own views on the story or its origin.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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