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Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

Author:  Philip K. Dick
Rating: 4/5
Last Read: December 2018
Who Should Read: Sci-fi fans, short story fans

My favorite form of science fiction is the short story. The short story format enables science fiction writers to paint a picture and separate us from our day-to-day reality, while simultaneously holding up a mirror and highlighting aspects of our human experience that we may not consciously consider.

Philip K. Dick is one of sci-fi's short story masters. Somehow I avoided his writing for most of my sci-fi reading career, and I've been rectifying that by working through various collections. 

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick is an excellent entry point into his work. Contained within are twenty-one of his best short stories, showcasing work spanning his entire career. Many of these stories are sci-fi classics and inspired films, such as Minority Report and Total Recall

My favorite stories in this collection are:

  • "The Minority Report"
  • "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"
  • "The Exit Door Leads In"
  • "Rautavaara's Case"

My Highlights

Kabir, the sixteenth-century Sufi poet, wrote, “If you have not lived through something, it is not true.” So live through it; I mean, go all the way to the end. Only then can it be understood, not along the way.

The existence of a majority logically implies a corresponding minority.

“But there can be no valid knowledge about the future. As soon as precognitive information is obtained, it cancels itself out. The assertion that this man will commit a future crime is paradoxical. The very act of possessing this data renders it spurious. In every case, without exception, the report of the three police precogs has invalidated their own data. If no arrests had been made, there would still have been no crimes committed.”

“There were three minority reports,” he told Witwer, enjoying the young man’s confusion. Someday, Witwer would learn not to wade into situations he didn’t fully understand. Satisfaction was Anderton’s final emotion. Old and worn out as he was, he had been the only one to grasp the real nature of the problem.

“Where would you like to go first? New York City? Broadway? To the night clubs and theaters and restaurants . . .”
“No, to Central Park. To sit on a bench.”
“But there is no more Central Park, Mr. Biskle. It was turned into a parking lot for government employees while you were on Mars.”
“I see,” Milt Biskle said. “Well, then Portsmouth Square in San Francisco will do.” He opened the door of the ’copter.
“That, too, has become a parking lot,” Miss Ableseth said, with a sad shake of her long, luminous red hair. “We’re so darn overpopulated. Try again, Mr. Biskle; there are a few parks left, one in Kansas, I believe, and two in Utah in the south part near St. George.”
“This is bad news,” Milt said. “May I stop at that amphetamine dispenser and put in my dime? I need a stimulant to cheer me up.”

Ironically, he had gotten exactly what he had asked Rekal, Incorporated for. Adventure, peril, Interplan police at work, a secret and dangerous trip to Mars in which his life was at stake—everything he had wanted as a false memory. The advantages of it being a memory—and nothing more—could now be appreciated.

Glancing down the initial pages of the essay, Chien saw a quatrain familiar to him; it was called “Death,” and he had known it most of his adult, educated life.
Once he will miss, twice he will miss, He only chooses one of many hours; For him nor deep nor hill there is, But all’s one level plain he hunts for flowers.

“Don’t you see, Mr. Chien? You’ve learned something. The Leader is not the Leader; he is something else, but we can’t tell what. Not yet. Mr. Chien, with all due respect, have you ever had your drinking water analyzed? I know it sounds paranoiac, but have you?”
“No,” he said. “Of course not.”
Knowing what she was going to say. Miss Lee said briskly, “Our tests show that it’s saturated with hallucinogens. It is, has been, will continue to be. Not the ones used during the war; not the disorientating ones, but a synthetic quasi-ergot derivative called Datrox-3. You drink it here in the building from the time you get up; you drink it in restaurants and other apartments that you visit. You drink it at the Ministry; it’s all piped from a central, common source.” Her tone was bleak and ferocious. “We solved that problem; we knew, as soon as we discovered it, that any good phenothiazine would counter it. What we did not know, of course, was this—a variety of authentic experiences; that makes no sense, rationally. It’s the hallucination which should differ from person to person, and the reality experience which should be ubiquitous—it’s all turned around. We can’t even construct an ad hoc theory which accounts for that, and God knows we’ve tried. Twelve mutually exclusive hallucinations—that would be easily understood. But not one hallucination and twelve realities.”

But His Greatness, Chien thought, jolted. He did not appear, on the TV screen, to be Occidental. “On TV—” he began. “The image,” Tso-pin interrupted, “is subjected to a variegated assortment of skillful refinements. For ideological purposes. Most persons holding higher offices are aware of this.” He eyed Chien with hard criticism. So everyone agrees, Chien thought. What we see every night is not real. The question is, How unreal? Partially? Or—completely?

All this time, he thought. Hallucinogens in our water supply. Year after year. Decades. And not in wartime but in peacetime. And not to the enemy camp but here in our own. The evil bastards, he said to himself.

And—he was curious. A bad emotion, he knew. Curiosity was, especially in Party activities, often a terminal state careerwise.

“Did it ever occur to you,” Chien said, “that good and evil are names for the same thing? That God could be both good and evil at the same time?”

the computer found no programming circuit. Do I want to interfere with the reality tape? And if so, why? Because, he thought, if I control that, I control reality. At least so far as I’m concerned. My subjective reality . . . but that’s all there is. Objective reality is a synthetic construct, dealing with a hypothetical universalization of a multitude of subjective realities.

Maybe what I want to do, Poole thought, is die.

What I want, he realized, is ultimate and absolute reality, for one micro-second. After that it doesn’t matter, because all will be known; nothing will be left to understand or see.

“Addi has got more to live for than we do.” “Every man has more to live for than any other man. I don’t have a cute chick to sleep with, but I’d like to see the semis rolling along Riverside Freeway at sunset a few more times. It’s not what you have to live for; it’s that you want to live to see it, to be there—that’s what is so damn sad.”

Explanations—that’s what we need. Explanations for problems that don’t exist yet; we can develop the problems later.”

It was hell living in the twenty-first century. Information transfer had reached the velocity of light. Bibleman’s older brother had once fed a ten-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.

To himself he thought, I was born in the wrong century. A hundred years ago this wouldn’t have happened and a hundred years from now it will be illegal. What I need is a lawyer.

The first pamphlet pointed out that it was a great honor to be admitted to the College. That was its name—the one word. How strange, he thought, puzzled. It’s like naming your cat Cat and your dog Dog. This is my mother, Mrs. Mother, and my father, Mr. Father. Are these people working right? he wondered. It had been a phobia of his for years that someday he would fall into the hands of madmen—in particular, madmen who seemed sane up until the last moment. To Bibleman this was the essence of horror.

“My point,” Major Casals said, “is simply that certain information such as architectural principles of long-standing—”
“Most architectural principles are long-standing,” Mary said. Major Casals paused. “Otherwise they’d serve no purpose,” Mary said.

Do you know yourself? But you’ll be getting into that when the College bombards you with early Greek thought. ‘Know thyself.’ Apollo’s motto at Delphi. It sums up half of Greek philosophy.”

“It is generally considered that Thales was the first rational man in history,” the terminal said.
“What about Ikhnaton?” Bibleman said.
“He was strange.”
“Likewise strange.”
“How do you spell that?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve just heard the name.”
“Then we will discuss Anaximander,” the College terminal said. “And, in a cursory initial survey, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Paramenides, Melissus—wait a minute; I forgot Heraclitus and Cratylus. And we will study Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Zeno—”
“Christ,” Bibleman said.
“That’s another program,” the College terminal said.

“Since you are so full of conflict, you should find Empedocles interesting. He was the first dialectical philosopher. Empedocles believed that the basis of reality was an antithetical conflict between the forces of Love and Strife. Under Love the whole cosmos is a duly proportioned mixture, called a krasis. This krasis is a spherical deity, a single perfect mind which spends all its time—”
“Is there any practical application to any of this?” Bibleman interrupted.
“The two antithetical forces of Love and Strife resemble the Taoist elements of Yang and Yin with their perpetual interaction from which all change takes place.”
“Practical application.”
“Twin mutually opposed constituents.” On the holoscreen a schematic diagram, very complex, formed. “The two-rotor Panther Engine.”

Blame is a mere cultural matter; it does not travel across species boundaries.

No wonder he loved Martine so; she herself loved back, loved the beauties of the world, and treasured and cherished them as she treasured and cherished him; it was a protective love that nourished but did not stifle.

“Hi,” Martine said, off the VF now. “What are you thinking?”
“Just that you keep alive what you love,” he said.
“I think that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Martine said.

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