BooksOfTheMoon

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 2: Second Variety

By Philip K. Dick

Rating: 3 stars

This volume contains a hefty collection of Dick’s early work from the 1950s. Despite being from early in his career, there’s only the odd clunker, with most of them being well-polished, although the latter ones moreso, as he continues to develop as a writer. Themes of what it means to be human and individuality vs systems recur aplenty (themes that he would return to throughout his career).

Standouts for me included Jon’s World, which is one of the few stories in which Dick returns to the world of a previous story (Second Variety, also in this collection) and which sees the invention of a time machine; Some Kinds of Life, a satire about unending war for resources and the inevitable conclusion; A Present for Pat in which a man brings back a very unusual present from a business trip for his wife; and Planet for Transients about the changing nature of humanity after a global nuclear war.

Most of the stories are quite short and there’s a lot to enjoy from dipping in and out of them. A good read both for existing fans of Dick and for people who want a taste of his work.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857988802
Publisher: Millennium / Orion
Year of publication: 1987

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

By Philip K. Dick

Rating: 3 stars

The tone of this collection of Dick’s stories is set in the introduction, which is spent discussing the nature of reality and what it means to be human, in the context of events in Dick’s own life, and the coincidences that occurred following the writing of his novel, Flow my Tears the Policeman Said. It’s a fairly dark collection, with The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford being the exceptional light, moderately fluffy story of a machine that annoys things into becoming alive. The Alien Mind is a very short and very darkly humorous tale of an arrogant spaceman and the title story is one that lingers in the mind, with its nightmare of a man whose cryogenic sleep unit partially fails, so that he is conscious throughout his ten year journey, and the lengths that the ship will go to keep him sane.

The recurrent themes of meaning in human life, and questioning humanity are present in almost all of Dick’s work, but this collection of shorts has them to the fore. The lightness of touch of other of his short fiction is missing here which made reading the stories in quick succession sometimes difficult, but the book is still definitely worth reading. Although I might recommend taking it slowly, and interspersing it with other stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9780312908386
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Year of publication: 1985

The Variable Man and Other Stories

By Philip K. Dick

Rating: 4 stars

Billed as a complete novel along with a selection of shorts, The Variable Man itself is more of a novella these days. A man is pulled accidentally from his own time into the 22nd century where his very existence is a variable factor that the computers planning the war against Centarus can’t plan for.

This story is very much of its age, with the idea of all-seeing computers, where you just feed in the data to complex sociological questions and the answer pops right out. Thomas Cole, the variable man himself, is a sort of genius with his fingers, able to repair almost anything. Dick couldn’t have predicted the integrated circuit revolution that was only a decade away and which would change so much, with pathways being embedded directly into silicon, removing the need for micro-wiring and effectively rendering the whole premise obsolete. Beyond that, Dick does raise the spectre of the human versus the machine that is such a mainstay of the genre, with the slavish obedience to the output of the machine being played against human creativity which works well.

I enjoyed the other stories in the collection as well, apart from Autofac about a network of automated factories that were no longer needed and the attempts of the human population to shut them down. I don’t know why this didn’t engage me, but it felt flat all the way through.

Minority Report is a pretty different beast from the Hollywood film of the same name, but is an enjoyable action romp, with a bit of Dick-ian twisty logic thrown in there; Second Variety is about the evolution of robots designed for war and A World of Talent shows the ultimate psi talent emerging, but unrecognised, on a breakaway colony world.

A good collection of fairly early PKD and solid SF of the era.

Book details

ISBN: 9780722129623
Publisher: Sphere Books Limited
Year of publication: 1957

The Preserving Machine

By Philip K. Dick

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve got to admit that PKD is a large gap in my science fictional life. I’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but before this collection of short stories, that was it, and I’ve got to say that I didn’t hugely enjoy that. However, I’ve been very impressed with this collection and will probably look out for more Dick short stories.

As the state of reality and mental illness were recurring aspects of Dick’s own life, it’s natural that they would occur in his fiction as well, and those themes do crop up in this collection but it’s also got a lot of other acute observations on life and nature. Highlights probably include We can remember it for you wholesale, War Game and Pay for the Printer.

There’s also a mischievous sense of humour, albeit quite a dark one at times, running through these stories which made them fun to read. Certainly a collection that has made me look again at Philip K. Dick again.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586069387
Publisher: Grafton
Year of publication: 1969

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