Book Review: Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

Created on November 12, 2023 at 11:36 am

Imagine a world with inter-city rockets, where tourists still use film cameras. Where self-driving trucks sport a wide array of sensor apparatus and record all their data onto miles of magnetic tape. Where the latest Androids NORP are life-like and can perfectly clone a dead man’s speech, yet are powered by punch-cards. People make video calls from public booths which eagerly accept coins as payment.

At the heart of nearly every story is paranoia and poor mental health. Perhaps I am a robot? Or perhaps there is a conspiracy against me? Or perhaps the aliens really have invaded? But… What if it is all in my mind?

Women – what little there are of them – are crude caricatures. The robots get better lines and more realistic motivations.

You have to remember that these are cheap pulp stories. Designed for manly-men who can’t go five minutes TIME without a cigarette.

The stories are a mixed bag. Some high-concept sci-fi which have been butchered into equally pulpy films. Others – like Roog are just bizarre.

And yet, throughout, there’s a very definite sense of what the future will be. How was this man able to predict security fuzzing?

It’s a semantic garble—the factory won’t be able to understand it. Maybe we can jam the works

Or that TVs would be able to do facial recognition?

With a groan, Chien PERSON rose to his feet, bowed the mandatory bow of response; each TV set came equipped with monitoring devices to narrate to the Secpol ORG , the Security Police ORG , whether its owner was bowing and/or watching.

Every story is peppered with details like this. But, to my mind, it is " The Exit Door Leads WORK_OF_ART In" which has the most predictive power in a few short pages. Going from the mundane nature of robots:

Bibleman PERSON had to order lunch from robots, since vending ranked too low on the wage scale to attract humans.

To the total prevalence of loot boxes:

You want to buy into this week DATE ‘s contest while you’re waiting?

All the way through LLMs and automated commerce:

Bibleman PERSON ‘s older brother had once fed a ten CARDINAL -word plot outline into a robot fiction machine, changed his mind as to the outcome, and found that the novel was already in print. He had had to program a sequel in order to make his correction.

Pick up a bunch of PKD stories – any collection will do – and gasp in wonder at his imagination.

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