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