Transwarp Tuesday! The Early Science Fiction of Philip K Dick

Sci-fi from the Cold War era…


This collection includes 12 of Philip K Dick’s early stories, published between 1952 and 1954 in some of the many sci-fi magazines that were in their heyday in the ’50s. I’ve already reviewed one of the stories, The Variable Man, taken from the book, but now it’s time to look at the other eleven for this week’s…



The Early Science Fiction of Philip K Dick


the early sci-fi of philip k dickPhilip K Dick was one of the biggest names in sci-fi in the second half of the twentieth century, and his stories have been the inspiration for some blockbuster movies – Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report among others. These early stories already show the imagination and story-telling skills that would mark his later work.

Certainly on the basis of these stories, Dick’s work couldn’t be classed as ‘hard’ sci-fi – the ‘science’ aspect is frequently so unscientific that even I can spot it. However, in general, there is an internal consistency to the made-up science that allows the stories to work. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is how many of the stories are clearly influenced by the Cold War which was well under way by the time of writing – there is a feeling of paranoia that runs through many of the stories. Most of the stories involve war in some form or another, often between people on Earth, but just as often between Earth and alien species. Nuclear holocaust is central in more than one, and there are mentions of terrorism and spies. None of these wars are glorious though and victory, if it comes at all, comes at a terrible price. As a collection, it is an intriguing and enlightening look at the fears of Dick’s contemporary society.

beyond lies the wub

Fortunately, amidst all this bleakness, there are a couple of lighter stories with some quirky and occasionally black humour. In Beyond Lies the Wub, we have a psychic Martian creature who wreaks a form of poetic justice on the Earthman who eats him; while Beyond the Door might easily be retitled as The Disagreeable Husband and the Revenge of the Cuckoo Clock! Dick also heads off into the field of (pseudo)psychology in Piper in the Woods, as men on an outpost on an asteroid suddenly start believing they have turned into plants. As with the war stories, this story seems to grow out of the stresses of Dick’s own times, and as a result probably resonated more with contemporary audiences than it perhaps does today.

Philip K Dick
Philip K Dick

Overall, the collection is both interesting and enjoyable. I’m not sure that I would recommend it as an introduction either to the genre or necessarily to Philip K Dick – the bleakness and narrow focus of the majority of the stories might give an unfairly grim impression of either to the new reader. However this would be an intriguing read for anyone who admires Dick’s later work, or who is interested in seeing how sci-fi writers used the greater freedom that the genre gave them to examine real-life contemporary concerns.


Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Dover Publications.

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29 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday! The Early Science Fiction of Philip K Dick

  1. FictionFan – I always find it fascinating to see how the world views, concerns and so on of a given era are woven into the writing of that time. I’m not at all surprised that you’ve found that in this case. You make a really interesting point too that sometimes sci-fi stories can be engaging – even compelling – even if the science isn’t exactly accurate…


    • Yes, it’s something that always intrigued me about sci-fi – although the same applies to a lot of crime writing too of course. And while I prefer ‘hard’ sci-fi, so long as the author can make it feel credible I can go along with a more ‘fantasy’ approach sometimes.


  2. What an interest! You lie sic-fi but you won’t watch Riddick! Do you know what that thing is supposed to be on the front of the book? Looks like a robot/man or something. The Cold War era was a mysterious time. You do know, don’t you, that the real war took place in outer space.

    (I bet BUS likes Blade Runner.)


    • Who’s Riddick?? What am I being accused of now?? Yes, I think it’s a robot – a few of the stories had robots in them. Did it? Who were the alien invaders – the Americans or the Russians? I bet it was the Americans…led by Space Cap’n Reagan and his Vulcan security guard, Thatcher…

      (See below!)


      • *laughing* Sorry! He’s Vin Diesel, of course! (I’m just going to torture you about that for a bit, bits, and little bits.) *laughing more* Well, they fought in space with space machines. That’s actually the premise behind a very old computer game. Kinda cool, I thought.



        • Oh, d’you mean he’s an alien? That explains a lot… (So mean! Would John Carter torture Dejah Thoris? Assuming she’s alive…!) I reckon it would be great if all politicians went away and fought in space. (Feeling bitter – you can’t move here now without some politician ranting at you. I’ve had three different lots on the phone in the last two days trying to get my vote…)


          • He is an alien! Cool!! (Yes, didn’t he pick on her lots?) But if all the politicians went to space, there’d be no politics, and FEF loves politics!

            That is so neatio! You should feel important! Like really important! I hope you yelled at them.


            • That’s probably why he looks like a thoat. (I did think it was careless of him to let her be taken by the enemy…not gentlemanly!) Normally true, but you can have too much of a good thing… *goes into hibernation for a week*

              Haha! Me and the other 4,999,999 Scots! I wonder how important we’ll all be the day after the election…


            • Oh dear, I do hope Mr Diesel doesn’t read my blog… *chuckles at the thought of Mr Diesel reading anything* (But I didn’t see John Carter handing over his sword did you? Just left her there unarmed and…well…undressed…) Can I be a koala?

              And lead a rebellion against the government!!! Freedom for PA!!! Vince Wilfork for President!!! I like this idea – a lot!!!


            • *laughing even more* So very, very, very mean! But you might have a point. (She was dressed, wasn’t she?!) But that’s not a bear. Sunbears are…nice.

              *laughing* Vince Wilfork? How about the professor!


            • (In what, precisely? No, don’t answer that! I fear she was not! For a start, it would appear there are no skirt shops on Mars…) Oh dear! Those poor sunbears! I giggled so much at the googly images – one doesn’t like to be rude, but what ridiculous looking creatures! I really don’t think I could be one of them…

              The Professor is far too nice to be a politician. But once we get freedom, we can declare PA a monarchy and you can be King!


            • (*laughs* Then, I guess I should assume that she was not, but ERB never said she was!) Haha! Well, interestingly enough, they’re at home in the trees, but horribly awkward on the ground! I’m one of those.

              Wouldn’t you rather be queen?


            • (*chuckles* You are so sweet!) No, no, no! I’m sorry – you can’t be one of them. You must be a warrior bear, not a clown bear! Or you could be a fluffy Red Panda – I’d like to be one of them.

              I wouldn’t be able to master the language, I fear. I could be your Minister of Sugary and Deep-Fried things, though…


            • (Every other Sunday, maybe.) Red Pandas aren’t warrior bears! Yes, I do think that’s you…but you might be more of a cat, too…

              Deep-Fried things sound awesome. Very healthy too, I hear.


            • Ssh! Don’t tell Tuppence I might be a cat – she’ll boot me out the catflap.

              Oh yes! Much better than all those fruit and vegetables! Though of course they can be deep-fried too…


  3. I hate to say it, but I read most of these stories while the Cold War was still growing strong, and I well remember how frightened we were and how much we believed that Armageddon might just be about to happen.
    PS. BUS does like “Blade Runner”.


    • Definitely generational, because by the time I was aware of the Cold War I never really thought anybody would be daft enough to start a nuclear war.

      I don’t think I’ve ever watched it…


    • I don’t read a lot of short stories in general either but I’ve always thought the format really works for sci-fi for some reason. Often full-length sci-fi books feel as if they’re stretched a bit thin…


  4. We still have a very old paperback of early PK Dick. Cylons unite! I found myself desperately trying to remember if the movie Minority Report was based on PKD. It may have been.


    • According to the intro of this book, Minority Report is based on his story of the same name – which I haven’t read. Mind you, I haven’t seen the film either! Or Blade Runner… *laughs* In fact, I know almost nothing about PKD…oh, well! 😉


  5. A little paranoia is always a good way to begin into the world of Sci-Fi. I tend to like SF when it has a bit of futuristic features, but balanced with the behaviors of humans. I enjoyed Minority Report – watched it twice.


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