Those of us that love books tend to have books and authors that feel like home to us. You all know what I mean, right? You crack open the spine and immediately a sense of “Oh, yes. This is exactly what I was missing,” washes over you. For those of us that are more emotional, just the act of picking up something by a much-loved author can leave us a little choked up.
Philip K Dick is like that for me. I know, I know – his prose is totally hack-ish and he re-uses all the same names, and YES many of his stories carry similar themes, but I think all of that contributes to my love affair with everything that he’s written. I have never read anything by him that I’ve hated, not one single thing. I’m not saying I’ve read everything (I started reading him in high school, when much of his stuff was out of print, still), but I’ve read a goodly amount – enough so that friends who grow interested come to me to figure out where to start. (The answer – in case you’re wondering – varies from person to person, but I will NEVER recommend the VALIS Cycle to a PKD newb. THAT BEING SAID, I’d recommend his short fiction to almost anyone because you can get a sense of the PKDness without committing to a full-length novel.) Gosh, run-ons, sj? Maybe you need to step away from the PKD and the wine.
ANYWAY. This volume – I’ve read some of the stories in this volume before, but many of them were new to me. Not so new that I didn’t instantly feel that favourite author homecoming within the first page of each, though. These stories are from his earlier years (all of the volumes of his collected short fiction are published chronologically – there are five and this one contained TWENTY SEVEN stories), and fairly typical of his work during the early ’50s. America was caught up in the Cold War and McCarthyism, so it was a pretty scary period for people with ideas. That fear and paranoia comes through loud and clear here. Humans did a lot of bad stuff to other humans during that period (well, when haven’t we really?), and it is pretty clear that our dear author had lost a lot of his faith in his fellow man at that point in time.
For example, in James P. Crow we have a future ruled by robots. Humans are better at some things (entertainment and butler-y type duties, mostly) but robots are the thing. To even qualify for an actual job, one must pass a series of tests – and only one human has ever managed to do so. We think we know how the story is going to go, but it does leave us wondering if humans are even best qualified to govern ourselves.
As I mentioned above, there are 27 stories in Second Variety. Of those, three have been adapted as films. I’ve seen ONE – Screamers, based on the titular story – and have doubts about the other two. Adjustment Bureau had Matt Damon, so I was immediately prejudiced against it. I read reviews of Impostor when it came out and Gary Sinise+NO, HIS TWISTS AREN’T TWISTY ENOUGH!=Nah, no thanks. I will never understand why Hollywood continues to mess with the stories of my favourite author, when enough of what he wrote would TRANSLATE PERFECTLY WELL to a screen of any sort.
I was talking about this very thing not too long ago on twitter with my PKD chums @teemcp and @KateSherrod. We came to the conclusion that the best way to handle Dick’s work would be for a weekly series on one of the cable networks. His short work especially would translate nicely to 60-minute segments, or even two stories in an hour. Showtime, HBO – if you’re reading, please look into this? Please?
Gah, I already mentioned I’d been drinking, so I’m starting to ramble. This usually means I need to cut things short, but there are a few stories I absolutely must talk about before I shut up for the night.
Human Is – If anyone, anywhere, reading this makes films of any kind, I beg you to turn this one into a movie/short film/something you make just to make me happy. Seriously, I can completely picture this one exactly in my head and would LOVE to see that on my television/in the theatre.
Planet for Transients, Survey Team and Martians Come In Clouds – I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times before I die – HUMANITY SUCKS. These are all stories worth reading, and none of them are very long. Of the three, I think Planet for Transients is the one I’d most like you all to read. Somehow it manages to be sad and uplifting at the same time.
The Cookie Lady, Beyond the Door, The World She Wanted and Of Withered Apples – These stories are straight up fantasy. I always find it interesting when PKD steps outside of the sf-realism box and writes something different. Beyond the Door is available for free at Project Gutenberg. I think you’ll find it both amusing and slightly terrifying.
The Trouble with Bubbles – This…this may be one of my favourite things he’s written. It’s difficult to discuss impartially (but isn’t that often the way with the works we claim for ourselves?), but if I could force everyone I know to read one Philip K Dick short story, it would be this one. In my oh-so-very-humble opinion, this is my favourite author at his very best. The concept behind this story is something I remember discussing in the dark, under the stars at a young age – it’s certainly not anything groundbreaking (maybe it was at the time, I can’t say since not even my parents were alive at the time it was written), but the way it’s handled is truly Dickian. Don’t bother reading the wiki summary for it, the person who wrote it obviously missed the entire point. It is, hands down, one of the best pieces of short fiction I’ve ever read. When I’m King of the World, this story will be required reading for everyone. So…get started early, ‘kay?
Okay, enough. Thanks for sitting through my ramblings, it’s always appreciated. Have you read this book? If so, do you agree with the stand-out stories I’ve chosen, or do you have other favourites? Honestly, I’m not sure what it says about me that PKD is my comfort author, but I’d love to know your thoughts.
(post script I: I wrote this accompanied by ieatpant’s The Empire Never Ended, an album inspired by the work of PKD. You can check it out here.)
(post script II: I was talking to my husband as I wrote this, and he insisted that my closing line be the following: “If you don’t know Philip K, you don’t know Dick.” Done – love you, baby!)