Philip K. Dick 1928-1982
(Full name Philip Kindred Dick; also wrote under the pseudonym Richard Phillips) American short story writer, novelist, and essayist. See also Philip K. Dick Literary Criticism (Volume 10) and Philip K. Dick Literary Criticism (Volume 30).
The following entry presents an overview of Dick's short fiction career through 2002.
Dick has been hailed as one of the most original and thought-provoking writers of science fiction. He is regarded as one of the most prolific writers of the form during the mid-twentieth century. Since his death, Dick's work has been the subject of numerous critical studies and cinematic adaptations. Critics praise his short stories as innovative and provocative, contending that Dick's fiction cleverly explores scientific, social, and metaphysical issues of concern to post-World War II America.
Dick was born in Chicago on December 16, 1928, but lived most of his life in the Berkeley and San Francisco areas of California. He had a twin sister, Jane Charlotte, who died at eight weeks from an allergy to her mother's milk. Dick held his mother responsible for the death and for his own unhappiness during childhood. In 1931, Dick's father abandoned the family. At a young age, Dick began taking amphetamines to relieve asthma, an abuse that continued most of his life. Dick was an introverted student and became engrossed in the science fiction pulp magazines that were flourishing in the 1940s. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for one year in 1950, and, among other sporadic jobs, Dick managed a record store in Berkeley. Dick sold his first science fiction story in 1952, and his first novel, Solar Lottery, was published in 1955. Initially, Dick attempted to become a mainstream fiction author, but this hope languished, as four of his realistic novels failed to sell between 1955 and 1957. Dick's desire to be a serious author of mimetic fiction was posthumously realized when many of his early works saw publication for the first time during the 1980s and 1990s. Frustrated by the strictures of science fiction and his rejection from mainstream publishers, Dick set upon a massive writing course. During the 1960s, he produced voluminous works of fiction, scripting eleven novels in two years, yet much of it varying in quality. It was also at this time that Dick began to undergo a succession of anagogic visions. In 1974, he underwent a further series of visions. This was a profound occurrence in Dick's personal and professional life, and it shadowed everything he wrote subsequently; Dick spent the final portion of his life seeking an understanding of these revelations. Dick died of heart failure following a stroke on March 2, 1982, shortly before the release of the film Blade Runner, which was based on Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). The film Total Recall is based remotely on Dick's short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” originally issued in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1966. His story “Impostor,” initially published in the periodical Astounding Science Fiction in 1953, and one of the first works to demonstrate Dick's preoccupation with what is essentially human, was made into a film of the same name in 2002. Futhermore, Dick's short story “The Minority Report,” first published in the magazine Fantastic Universe in 1956, was adapted for the screen and directed by Steven Spielberg in 2002.
Major Works of Short Fiction
From the sale of a story entitled “Roog” to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1952 and his first published story, “Beyond Lies the Wub,” in Planet Stories in the same year, Dick's writing career has followed a prodigious course: six short fiction collections and thirty-six novels were published during his lifetime. Of Dick's over one hundred short stories, twenty-eight were published in 1953 and another twenty-eight in 1954, but beginning with the appearance of Solar Lottery, he turned primarily to the novel. Dick often recycled leitmotivs, themes, characters, and details from short stories to novels, and from novel to novel. Some principal topics from Dick's early short stories that were later used in multiple novels and/or stories include: The difficulty of distinguishing between illusion and reality (“Second Variety,” first published in the journal Space Science Fiction in 1953); divine impotence (“Prominent Author,” originally issued in the periodical If in 1954); and the gradual mechanization of the environment and the contribution made to human alienation by this process (“Autofac,” initially published in the journal Galaxy in 1955). In “Second Variety” evolving war machines create fake people as bait to ensnare real humans. The story “Autofac,” like “Second Variety,” furthers Dick's theme of the intricate relationship between man and machine, depicting autonomous factories that design their own products and ignore their human creators.
Dick often investigates the metaphysical question “What Is Real?” in his short fiction. In his novella Faith of Our Fathers, first published in Harlan Ellison's omnibus Dangerous Visions in 1967, Mr. Tung Chien, a minor bureaucrat in a totalitarian government buys some snuff from a street peddler, goes home, and watches a speech by the leader of the government on television. He is shocked when he sees not a human talking, but a hideous mechanical construction. Thinking the snuff is a hallucinogen, he discovers that it is instead an anti-hallucinogen—the entire population has been drugged into thinking that their leader is in human form. Dick's tale “Impostor,” the short story “The Electric Ant,” first seen in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1969, the 1972 novel We Can Build You, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? all share similar spiritual dilemmas. When the narrator of “The Electric Ant,” Garson Poole, says, “What I want … is ultimate and absolute reality, for one microsecond. After that it doesn't matter, because all will be known; nothing will be left to understand or see,” a dominant leitmotiv of Dick's concerns both in fiction and life is declared. Many of Dick's novels began as shorter pieces that were later expanded upon. Novellas such as “A Glass of Darkness,” first published in Satellite Science Fiction in 1956; “Vulcan's Hammer,” first published in Future in 1956; “Time Pawn,” first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1954; and “A. Lincoln-Simulacrum,” serialized in Amazing in 1969-70, later became the novels The Cosmic Puppets (1957), Vulcan's Hammer (1960), Dr. Futurity (1960), and We Can Build You (1972), respectively. We Can Build You shares with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and much of Dick's short fiction a proclivity for androids and synthetic reality. The tale “All We Marsmen,” first seen in the pulp Worlds of Tomorrow in 1963 and later published as the novel Martian Time-Slip (1964), depicts schizophrenic, precognitive colonists on Mars. One of the Mars-dwellers is an autistic child that transposes his own subconscious world onto the reality of others. Dick frequently reused the precog and schizophrenic themes in further short stories and novels. A late tale by Dick, “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon,” first appeared in Playboy in 1980 under the title “Frozen Journey” and won the magazine's best short story of the year by a new contributor award. This story, along with nine others, comprises the collection I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (1985), Dick's final offering in the short story form.
Dick is one of the most critically praised and seriously examined science fiction writers of his generation. Commentators observe that Dick's writing is best perceived as a perpetual body of work, as themes, motifs, and specific terms and names are shared from stories to novels to other novels, and back again. In Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin stated: “[Dick's] work is not easy to discuss, since it does not fall neatly into a few books of exceptional achievement and a larger body of lesser works. All his books offer ideas, situations, and passages of considerable interest. None quite achieves that seamless perfection of form that constitutes one kind of literary excellence. … His strength lies in the unique vision that informs all of his fiction, and the crisp serviceable prose in which he presents the most extreme events without acknowledging that they are anything but ordinary.” Dick's oeuvre is frequently lauded and belittled, as it highlights both the virtues and limitations of the science fiction genre. Although Dick's fiction style has been deemed wooden or awkward—even heavy-handed at times—at its most distilled and honest, his work embodies an acute sapience and unique imagination. Critically, Dick's writing is sometimes charged with being slapdash, containing a potboiler, hackneyed quality, and with being inordinately didactic in later work. Still, other commentators maintain that these faults are tempered by the author's consistent themes, subthemes, and speculative concepts being superjacent to dialogue and prose technique. Whereas Dick's writing has its detractors, others judge his best fiction to contain original scientific, social, and metaphysical cogitation bound together with a profound concern for the humanity of his characters. Dick's proponents have asserted that his complex narrative structures provide the framework for the philosophical questions that he asks of his readers. Critics have further observed that Dick adroitly weaves humor with pathos while detailing his protagonists' plights with sympathy. Some judge his output to be intensely uneven, claiming that many of Dick's lesser works fall away into a tangle of irresolutions—perhaps an effect of his mode of production, which seemed to involve bursts of frenetic creativity that often dissipated before projects were fully realized. Possibly more than any science fiction author before him, Dick introduced metaphysical and philosophical questions to a literarily marginalized genre. Alexander Star writing in The New Republic said of Dick, “throughout his career he wrote with qualities that are rare in a science fiction writer, or in any writer at all. These included a sure feel for the detritus and debris, the obsolescent object-world, of postwar suburbia; a sharp historical wit; and a searching moral subtlety and concern.”
Although far less esteemed and financially successful in life than death, Dick never went wholly without critical recognition during his lifetime. Dick received the World Science Fiction Society Hugo Award for best novel in 1963 for The Man in the High Castle (1962), and in 1975 won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974).
A Handful of Darkness 1955
The Variable Man and Other Stories 1957
The Preserving Machine and Other Stories 1969
The Book of Philip K. Dick 1973; also published as The Turning Wheel and Other Stories, 1977
The Best of Philip K. Dick 1977
The Golden Man 1980
Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities: The Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick [edited by Patricia S. Warrick and Martin H. Greenberg] 1984
I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon 1985
The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. 5 vols. 1987-1990
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SOURCE: Abrash, Merritt. “Elusive Utopias: Societies as Mechanisms in the Early Fiction of Philip K. Dick.” In Clockwork Worlds: Mechanized Environments in SF edited by Richard D. Erlich and Thomas P. Dunn, pp. 115-23. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.
[In the following essay, Abrash examines Dick's early short stories and novels that portray technology and the institutional use of machines to symbolize “the values and operating principals of societies which … are clockwork worlds in their essential nature.”]
Philip K. Dick is not a utopian writer. The word “utopia,” if it appears in his work at all, carries no overt thematic significance, and...
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SOURCE: Warren, Eugene. “The Search for Absolutes.” In Philip K. Dick, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 161-87. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1983.
[In the following excerpt, Warren explores the struggle of Dick's characters to find an “Absolute Reality” and the profound ambiguities caused by the dependence on such a reality.]
Philip K. Dick's fiction is based upon a vision of reality that gives his novels and stories tremendous force and that has undergone a clear pattern of development through his career. His fiction focuses on an intense, frightening view of our society—its mass population, its artificial environment,...
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SOURCE: Warrick, Patricia S. “The Labyrinthian Process of the Artificial: Philip K. Dick's Androids and Mechanical Constructs.” In Philip K. Dick, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 189-214. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1983.
[In the following essay, Warrick investigates “what is truly human and what only masquerades as human,” as suggested by the work of Dick.]
What is the authentically human? What is the nature of the alien elements that are threatening and vitiating living, intelligent human beings? These questions are deeply rooted in Philip K. Dick's work, and to them he has provided a bizarre variety of answers, answers...
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SOURCE: Dick, Philip K. “Now Wait for This Year.”1 In Philip K. Dick, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 215-27. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1983.
[In the following essay, which was written in 1978, Dick discusses rereading his early stories, the autobiographical elements of his fiction, and his professional role and personal life as an outcast science fiction writer.]
When I look at my stories, written over three decades, I think of the Lucky Dog Pet Store. There's a good reason for that. It has to do with an aspect of not just my life but of the lives of most freelance writers. It's called poverty.
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SOURCE: Review of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, by Philip K. Dick. Publishers Weekly 230, no. 19 (7 November 1986): 56.
[In the following review, the critic considers this five-volume set of Dick's short fiction to be both “wonderful reading” and “a publishing event.”]
Even before his untimely death in 1982, Dick was a cult favorite, read by a large number of people who were not otherwise interested in SF. His reputation has steadily grown since then. Now we have a five-volume set [The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick] of all of Dick's short stories, novelettes and novellas, many of which have never been collected between book...
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SOURCE: Warrick, Patricia S. “Philip K. Dick's Moral Vision.” In Mind in Motion: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick, pp. 194-203. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Warrick provides a critical overview of Dick's short fiction with a focus on the notion of morality.]
This critical study of Dick's fiction is a work without a concluding chapter—and appropriately so. To summarize his ideas, to categorize his work, to deliver the final word would be to violate Dick's vision. He saw a universe of infinite possibility, with shapes that constantly transformed themselves—a universe in process. He had not delivered his final...
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SOURCE: Zoreda, Margaret Lee. “Bakhtin, Blobels and Philip K. Dick1.” Journal of Popular Culture 28, no. 3 (winter 1994): 55-61.
[In the following essay, Zoreda employs Bakhtin's idea of dialogism to analyze Dick's story “Oh, To Be a Blobel!”]
One of the notable contributions of the philosopher, linguist and literary theoretician Mikhail Bakhtin to cultural studies has been his unique and ubiquitous concept of dialogism: the encounter-juxtaposition of autonomous entities, whether words, sentences, discourses, subjects or cultures, that without merging conserve their identities in a mutually enriching bond (“Response” 7). As Morson and...
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SOURCE: Easterbrook, Neil. “Dianoia/Paranoia: Dick's Double ‘Impostor.’” In Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, edited by Samuel J. Umland, pp. 19-41. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Easterbrook cites the story “Impostor” as forming “several of Dick's paradigmatic gestures and traces a problem increasingly important to poststructural thought: that of the double and its emblematic representation of alterity.”]
The death of the Other: a double death, for the Other is death already, and weighs upon me like an obsession with death (19).
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SOURCE: Wessel, Karl. “Worlds of Chance and Counterfeit: Dick, Lem, and the Preestablished Cacophony.” In Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, edited by Samuel J. Umland, pp. 43-59. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Wessel explores the themes of forgery, conspiratorial “reality,” and paranoia in Dick's work and the writing of Stanislaw Lem, especially in the former's story “Shell Game” and the latter's novel Solaris.]
In his 1975 essay “Artifice as Refuge and Worldview: Philip K. Dick's ‘Foci,’” Darko Suvin lamented Dick's increasing preoccupation in his later works with private anxieties and opaque...
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SOURCE: Palmer, Christopher. “Philip K. Dick and the Nuclear Family.” In Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, edited by Samuel J. Umland, pp. 61-79. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Palmer regards Dick as an author “who mixes parable and fantasy with licentious impurity,” resulting in a reflection on morality and the question of humanness.]
Fantasy, as a literary form possessing a distinct mode and a distinct structure,1 has attracted much recent attention. This attention is an episode in the politics of a literary criticism that has become intensely alert to the menace of ideological complicity that...
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SOURCE: Umland, Samuel J. “To Flee from Dionysus: Enthousiasmos from ‘Upon the Dull Earth’ to VALIS.” In Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations, edited by Samuel J. Umland, pp. 81-99. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Umland analyzes the “‘Dionysus-element’ in Dick's fiction,” comparing the early short story “Upon the Dull Earth” to the later novel VALIS.]
During an interview with Paul Williams in late 1974, which was later incorporated into Williams's book Only Apparently Real, Philip Dick said (163):
The way I feel is that the universe itself is...
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SOURCE: Gillis, Ryan. “Dick on the Human: From Wubs to Bounty Hunters to Bishops.” Extrapolation 39, no. 3 (fall 1998): 264-71.
[In the following essay, Gillis considers the question of what is human as it applies to Dick's role as a writer of speculative fiction.]
Philip K. Dick viewed the act of questioning as a fundamental part of his role as a science fiction writer. The “science” aspect of science fiction, according to Dick, comes not from the integration of strict or hypothetical scientific principles into a body of writing, as it does in gadget SF, but rather from the intense scrutiny that the science fiction writer puts his subjects through and his...
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SOURCE: DiTommaso, Lorenzo. “Gnosticism and Dualism in the Early Fiction of Philip K. Dick.” Science Fiction Studies 28, no. 1 (March 2001): 49-65.
[In the following essay, DiTommaso investigates the dualistic, gnostic Christian themes in Dick's early short fiction and novels.]
It has been long recognized that gnostic Christianity and other such dualistic philosophies play highly influential roles in the speculative fiction of Philip K. Dick, and particularly so in his later work. To illustrate, even the casual reader cannot help but notice the degree to which explicit gnostic Christian themes and components pervade such works...
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SOURCE: Bertrand, Frank C. “Something Rich and Strange: P. K. Dick's ‘Beyond Lies the Wub.’” philipkdick.com (2002).
[In the following essay, Bertrand examines the role Jungian concepts of individuation, projection, and the unconscious have upon Dick's first published short story “Beyond Lies the Wub.”]
Sartre has written that “A fictional technique always relates back to the novelist's metaphysics. The critic's task is to define the latter before evaluating the former.” (Literary and Philosophical Essays. NY: Collier Books, 1962, p. 84) But, as A. W. Levi aptly points out, “The metaphysics cannot be defined before the technique is evaluated, because for the novel the definition of the metaphysics can be only an inference from the technique.” (Literature Philosophy & The Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1962, p. 167)
The verity of this proposition is exemplified by the stories and novels of Philip K. Dick. Norman Spinrad has stated that Dick is “a metaphysical novelist in a new sense” who “entertains a wide range of metaphysical systems” and “confronts ultimate metaphysical questions with the multiplex speculative viewpoint of the true science fiction writer.” (“Introduction.” Dr. Bloodmoney. Boston: Gregg Press, 1977, p. xiii) This assessment stems from the premise that “the central subject of speculative thought in Dick's work is the possible nature of new realities, and, by a kind of shifting mosaic of a multitude of these realities, the possible overall shape of metaphysical reality itself.” (ibid., pp. xii-xiii) That is, Dick is chiefly concerned with explaining the why and how of reality, its metaphysical meanings and concomitant psychological effects. This latter aspect is a fundamental clue and means to explicating Dick's fictional technique and inferring therefrom his metaphysics for, it is primarily via the psychological effects of his characters' various encounters with reality that Dick manifests his concept of metaphysical reality.
Initial evidence for such a manifestation can be found in P. K. Dick's first published short story, “Beyond Lies the Wub” (Planet Stories, July, 1952). It is a precursory microcosm of the wide range of metaphysical systems and ultimate philosophical questions Dick subsequently confronts and depicts in 115 stories and 35 SF novels. From it can be gleaned some of Dick's framework of metaphysical ideas and, more importantly, the manner in which literary concepts are often related to and frequently deduced from hidden but nonetheless controlling philosophical hypotheses. As S. P. Rosebaum indicates, “The discursive context of a philosophical idea may also illuminate its imaginative transmutation into something rich and strange in literature and even suggest related ideas that have less recognizably accompanied the change.” (“Introduction.” English Literature and Philosophy. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, p. 5)
Something rich and strange is indeed what Dick's “Beyond Lies the Wub” turns into when one explores beyond its apparent story. What at first reading appears to be a tale about exploitation, anthropocentrism and “exocannibalism” becomes upon closer scrutiny a intricately woven fabric of philosophical ideas depicting issues from the meaning of human-ness to free will vs. determinism. While most of these are implicitly embedded within the story a few are explicitly available for consideration.
The most obvious occurs during a conversation between the Wub and Peterson. In discussing myth symbols mutual to the Wub and Man, the Wub finds “Odysseus a figure common to the mythology of most self-conscious races. As I interpret it, Odysseus wanders as an individual aware of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation.” (“Beyond Lies The Wub.” The Preserving Machine. NY: Ace, 1969, p. 131) It's important to note that this is not said by a human character in the story but by a Martian “creature” that is described early on, by a human character, as “A huge pig. It must weigh four hundred pounds.” (ibid., p. 127) This “huge dirty pig,” though, is very respected by the Martian natives, is telepathic, and can speak English by having examined the “semantic warehouse” of one of the humans it comes in contact with. Furthermore, it characterizes itself as “Tolerant, eclectic, catholic. We live and let live. That's how we've gotten along.” (ibid., p. 130) Why, then, does the Wub talk about the “process of individuation”?
To answer this consider that the process rather than the principle of individuation is mentioned. We are, therefore, not directly concerned with the principium individuationis of Medieval Scholastic Philosophy, the principle by which an individual is constituted or comes into being. Just what “process” is being alluded to is indicated by something Dick says in a 1977 interview, “My idea of a fantasy was where the archetypal elements become objectified and you have an exteriorization of what are inner contents. And I remember, I had a term I used. Inner Projection Stories. Stories where internal psychological contents were projected onto the outer world and became three-dimensional and real and concrete. … I've read some interesting material on that—Jung was a major influence on me.” (Richard A. Lupoff. “Introduction.” A Handful of Darkness. Boston: Gregg Press, 1978, p. xiii) In a 1979 interview Dick states that “I was interested in Jung's idea of projection—what we experience as external to us may really be projected from our unconscious. … I began a series of stories in which people experienced worlds which were a projection of their own psyches. My first published story was a perfect example of this.” (Charles Platt. Dream Makers. NY: Berkley, 1980, pp. 147-148) The reason I quote Dick somewhat at length here is to contrast it with an “author's introduction” he wrote for a 1981 reprinting of “Beyond Lies the Wub.” Therein he writes that “The idea I wanted to get down on paper had to do with the definition of ‘human.’” (“Author's Introduction.” First Voyages. NY: Avon, 1981, p. 321)
That “Beyond Lies the Wub” has to do with the definition of “human” is more obvious than its having to do with Jung's concept of projection. But, there is another Jungian idea that exerts influence upon and is salient to this story, the process of individuation. Jung describes this process as “in effect, the spontaneous realization of the whole man. … But since everything living strives for wholeness, the inevitable onesidedness of our conscious life is continually being corrected and compensated by the universal human being in us, whose goal is the ultimate integration of conscious and unconscious, or better, the assimilation of the ego to a wider personality.” (“On The Nature Of Dreams.” Dreams. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1974, p. 78) This would seem to be what the Wub causes via its mental powers, the absorption of its ego into another (different species) personality, that of Captain Franco's. And this urge to individuation, Jung writes, “gathers together what is scattered and multifarious, and exalts it to the original form of the One, the Primordial Man. In this way our existence as separate beings, our former ego nature, is abolished, the circle of consciousness is widened. …” (Martin Bickman. The Unsounded Centre. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1980, p. 43)
The Wub's explanation for this is different from Jung's. In talking about Odysseus as a mythical figure common to most self-conscious races, the Wub says that “Odysseus wanders as an individual aware of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation. … The moment of separation is a temporary period, a brief journey of the soul. It begins, it ends. The wanderer returns to land and race. …” (“Beyond Lies The Wub.” ibid., p. 131) But how is the Wub going to return to its land and race after transmigrating into Captain Franco's body? The Wub will now indeed be separated from family and country. As it says of its former self, “it is only organic matter, now. … The life essence is gone.” (ibid., p. 133)
Two words in this, “matter” and “essence,” hint at another aspect of the problem of human-ness, that of form vs. content. Throughout “Beyond Lies the Wub” the actions and words of the Wub are more “human” than those of Captain Franco. Franco is depicted as a unfeeling, harsh, pragmatic individual whereas the Wub would rather discuss questions of Philosophy and the Arts and is addicted to various forms of relaxation. But, the Wub's form is that of a “huge dirty pig.” In transferring its “life essence” does the Wub lose its “wub-ness” and acquire “human-ness”? Is it form or content that makes one a Wub or a Man? In that “essence” is usually associated, philosophically, with universal, accidents, and form, whereas “content” is associated with existence, particular, and substance, the Wub's actions help indicate Dick's metaphysics. As the title of another Dick story, “Not By Its Cover” (Famous SF, Summer 1968), in which the Wub significantly figures, suggests one can “not by its form” solely judge a human, Wub, or a Phil Dick short story.
SOURCE: Bertrand, Frank C. “Form vs. Content in P. K. Dick's ‘The Father-Thing.’” philipkdick.com (2002).
[In the following essay, Bertrand analyzes two themes common to Dick's short stories and novels: what is reality and what makes a being human.]
From a wide perspective “The Father-Thing” (F&SF, December 1954) presents, in short story form, Dick's two essential themes, ones that are repeated in one manner or another in most of his other short stories and novels. The stronger and more pervasive one, in this story, is: what IS a “human” being, as opposed to any other kind of being? And the second theme, one that is prevalent in all of his fiction: WHAT is “reality”? In a sense these two are combined in this story, to the extent that we might ask: what is the reality of a “human” being? That is, how do I REALLY know that (how do I tell, how do I identify, how do I discriminate) this person sitting across from me IS a “human” being? What is REAL about being a “human”? As opposed to, let's say, an android.
A superbly made android should theoretically be, from the OUTSIDE, the same as a human. In an earlier P. K. Dick story, “Impostor” (Astounding, June, 1953), there is a “humanoid robot” who “would become Olham in mind as well as body. … He would look like him, have his memories, his thoughts and interests, perform his job.” It would be difficult for an average observer to tell the two apart, as it is in Dick' novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) or the 1975 film The Stepford Wives.
Or would it? In part V of his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason (1637), Descartes writes that:
… if there were machines which bore a resemblance to our body and imitated our actions as far as it was morally possible to do so, we should always have two very certain tests by which to recognise that, for all that, they were nor real men. The first is, that they could never use speech or other signs as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others. … And the second difference is, that although machines can perform certain things as well as or perhaps better than any of us can do, they infallibly fall short in others, by the which means we may discover that they did not act from knowledge, but only from the disposition of their organs.
I emphasize the term OUTSIDE because Dick suggests a couple of things that, in this story, would help to discern a difference, differences that are not unlike those posited by Descartes. On page 234 (The Best of Philip K. Dick, 1977) of “The Father-Thing,” six lines from the bottom, we find: “The insides were gone. The important part.” The second thing is the references, with respect to the father-thing, of: “alien and dark” (p. 232); “eyes were hard and dark” (p. 233); “emotionless voice” (pp. 240-41); “utterly without emotion” (p. 241). The implicit, if not explicit, suggestion here is that it is what is inside, along with emotion, that make one a HUMAN being. As Jane Eyre asks Rochester (Jane Eyre, 1847), “Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings?”
But, what does Dick mean here by inside? Strictly the physical indies, bone, organs, tissues, or something more? It would have to be something more because when the father-thing “eats” the father's “insides,” leaving the skin, it then “becomes” the father; it assumes its personality, its memories, etc. A similar process happens, in reverse, in Dick's first published story, “Beyond Lies the Wub” (Planet Stories, July, 1952). A telepathic alien, the Wub, who looks a lot like a “huge dirty pig” and would rather discuss questions of philosophy and the Arts, is eaten by earthmen whose food stores have spoiled. But upon doing so the leader of the group, Captain Franco, is taken over by the Wub who refers to its former self, “the think slab of tender, warm meat,” as “only organic matter, now. … The life essence is gone.”
Now, what makes this even more intriguing is that the father-thing itself is under the control of something else, the thin, red-brown, foot-long “bug” with a jointed metallic body, endless crooked legs, and a wicked looking tail. Its mind-force animates the father-thing, brings it to life, almost like a puppeteer controls a puppet. So, we have this life-form, this “bug”; it is not clearly implied if this bug is truly alien, from some other world, that lays small pulpy white larvae which grow and mature into a cocoon containing human replicas. (This is something like what happens in a popular 1956 film, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) But the “bug” has to maintain control of the replicas for them to function properly at all.
Let us now change our perspective from wide to NARROW and focus in on some explicit and implicit notions suggested by “The Father-Thing.” One notion implied by the “inside-outside” dichotomy is the form/content problem in Art and Philosophy. In Art form is the pattern or structure or organization which is employed to give expression to the content. In Philosophy form is usually equated with essence, or that which is the substantial essence of the whole thing, the structure constituting a substance or species of substance; the intrinsic, determining principle of existence of any determinate essence. Then there is Plato's theory of forms and the important role the concept of form has in Medieval Scholastic Philosophy. And Aristotle has noted that men such as Callias or Socrates consist of “such and such a form in this flesh and in these bones,” yet “they are different in virtue of their matter (for that is different) but the same in form.” I would maintain that it is the notion of “form” in Philosophy that lurks beneath the surface story of “The Father-Thing.” The father-thing is a metaphor for form (essence) vs. content (substance), and the quandary of which makes a “human” being REAL, or more real.
The resolution suggested by the story is that we can be fooled, deceived, by the FORM of a thing, its “outside.” And that what is most important is a thing's “inside” or content (substance). This is reflected in another P. K. Dick story, “Human Is” (Startling Stories, Winter 1955), where Rexorians take over several humans. “The original psychic contents are removed and stored—in some sort of suspension. The injection of the substitute contents is instantaneous.” It's also important to remember that the title of the story is “The Father-Thing.” And a “thing” is a material object without life or consciousness, an inanimate object. A comparative version of this can be found in Brian W. Aldiss's story “Outside” (New Worlds, January, 1955), wherein “Nititians possessed the alarming ability of being able to assume the identical appearance of their enemies.” They ultimately fail, however, because “Like Earth's insects which imitate vegetables, your cleverness cripples you. You can only be carbon copies. … The inhumanity inside will always give you away. … However human you are outside.”
More significant than any of this, though, is the fact that it is not Philosophy that exposes and defeats the “inhumanity inside” the father-thing. Nor is it Big Government, Science or Technology. The problem which “would have confounded Hillel,” a Palestinian rabbi (c. 60 BC-9 AD) who was the first to formulate definite hermeneutic principles, is solved by three children, ages 8, 9, and 14! It is the empathy of a child for its father that vanquishes the “inhumanity” of the father-thing. As P. K. Dick states it in his superb essay “Man, Android and Machine” (1976): “We must not posit a difference or essence, but a difference of behavior. … A human being without the proper empathy or feeling is the same as an android built so as to lack it, either by design or mistake.”
Malmgren, Carl. “Meta-SF: The Examples of Dick, LeGuin, and Russ.” Extrapolation 43, no. 1 (spring 2002): 22-35.
[In the following excerpt, Malmgren discusses “the relation between the fictive and the real” in the “meta-SF” work of Dick.]
Science fiction is less “about” science or the future than about fiction—world-making—and textuality—language, reference, interpretation.
George McKay, “It's not ‘about’ science, …”
Several critics have argued cogently for the appropriateness of the genre-name “science fiction” by focusing on the first term of the label....
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SOURCE: Lawson, Terry. “Author Gave a Blueprint of the Future.” Detroit Free Press (16 June 2002): G1, G6.
[In the following essay, Lawson investigates Dick's influence upon contemporary cinema, and discusses the numerous film adaptations of Dick's stories and novels.]
The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who use the words.
—Philip K. Dick
Forget Nostradamus. The real prophet for our age was Philip K. Dick. If you need proof, just go to the “news” section of the...
(The entire section is 1039 words.)
SOURCE: La Croix, James Keith. “You Lookin' At Me?” Metro Times, http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=3390 (19 June 2002).
[In the following excerpt, La Croix discusses the role of paranoia in Dick's life and writing, especially the short story "The Minority Report.”]
par-a-noi-a n. 1. a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions … ascribed to the supposed hostility of others. 2. a baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others … Gk. paránoia madness.
And with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise...
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SOURCE: Desowitz, Bill. “Casting a Timeless Shadow: Steven Spielberg's Minority Report is Only the Latest Film Based on the Work of Sci-Fi Author Philip K. Dick.” Los Angeles Times (19 June 2002): F1.
[In the following essay, Desowitz examines multiple film adaptations of Dick's work, including Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.]
It has been 20 years since the seminal sci-fi film Blade Runner first burst on the scene with its cyberpunk prophecy of a dehumanized 21st century. The dark and dank depiction of L.A. as a technological wonder and existential wasteland—part noir and part sci-fi—may owe its aesthetic to director Ridley Scott, but its...
(The entire section is 1560 words.)
SOURCE: Turan, Kenneth. “A Walk in the Dark: Steven Spielberg Gets All Creepy in Minority Report, But Tom Cruise Keeps Things Human.” Los Angeles Times (21 June 2002): F1.
[In the following review, Turan claims that what is most impressive about the film Minority Report stems from Dick's short story “The Minority Report.”]
It took paranoid visionary Philip K. Dick to do what Stanley Kubrick could not: Get Steven Spielberg to fully cross over to the dark side. The question now is, how happy are we to have him there?
Spielberg's Minority Report is amplified from a Dick short story [“The Minority Report”] by writers Scott...
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Koornick, Jason. “The Minority Report on Minority Report: A Conversation with Gary Goldman.” philipKdick.com.
[In the following essay, Koornick interviews the producer and co-writer of Minority Report and Total Recall, both films based on short fiction by Dick.]
Philip K. Dick may have no bigger ally in Hollywood than screenwriter/producer Gary Goldman. The New Orleans native has played a significant role in bringing two adaptations of PKD [Philip K. Dick] material to the big screen—Total Recall and Minority Report. Goldman says he has always strived to be faithful to the brilliant ideas of Philip K. Dick.
“I'm very proud that I tried to remain true to Philip Dick's intentions,” he said in a recent interview. “Most of the ideas that we came up with for both films were organic to Philip K. Dick and I believe that the end products absolutely reflect that. For example in Minority Report, nothing from Dick's story is ignored. It may be changed but it's all in there.”
Gary Goldman worked closely with director Paul Verhoeven as a writer on Total Recall and he was the producer who first optioned Minority Report in 1992 before it landed on Steven Spielberg's desk. He was also the original writer on Minority Report (along with Ron Shusett and Robert Goethals) and claims many of his ideas were used in later screenplay drafts by writers Jon Cohen and Scott Frank although he didn't receive writing credit when the film was released. He is credited as executive producer of Minority Report.
Goldman believes that his greatest gift as a producer and writer is the ability to spot new ideas and concepts that break from industry norms. “I am primarily interested in things that haven't been done before,” he said. “I'm also looking for projects that deal with ideas. That is why I like science fiction, because it's almost the only genre that allows you to explore ideas.”
His other credits include his spec script which became Big Trouble in Little China and Navy SEALS which he rewrote. He also contributed to Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct, penning the shooting script and also protecting it “from forces that wanted to make major changes to Joe Eszterhas' original,” he said.
Goldman has experienced all the ups and downs of working within the Hollywood system. He has worked closely with some of the world's most talented filmmakers but has also felt the frustration of having an idea snatched away. “Working in this business is very hard. Of all the subject matter in the world, Hollywood only deals with a tiny spectrum. In order to be successful in the film business, you have to figure out what that spectrum is.”
“The Dick situation is unique,” he said. “His stories have attracted the right kind of people. His best work has a combination of commercial ideas with profound insight.”
That combination is what interests Goldman and has fueled his search for new ideas that can work in the studio system. “I liken myself to a ‘pre-cog.’ It has to do with a feeling of boredom I get with things the way they are. To a degree, I feel lucky to have had such a successful career being so contrary to the status quo.”
“I have a lot of affinities with Phil Dick's sensibilities. His sense of humor, his stories are about ordinary people living every day lives. To me, his characters behave realistically—they are fallible, inconsistent, greedy, jealous and recognizable,” Goldman said.
“Dick's biggest statement is that humanity isn't defined by flesh and blood but by values,” he said. “Certain of Phil Dick's ideas have entered the mainstream. Such as alternate realities and the whole notion of the consensual nature of reality that we see in Noam Chomsky or the Truman Show. With the creation of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, people are understanding that alternate worlds can be as real as what we like to call ‘reality.’ That we only see the world through our senses. Video-gaming technology has also made these ideas accessible to people.”
Goldman is encouraged by the success of movies like Memento and The Matrix. “There is a trend towards darker, more challenging work,” he said. “Starting with Star Wars and Jaws, there was a simplification in movies. The action genre went from being about the meaning of the story to being about achieving the greatest moment-to-moment impact. But this maximization strategy has maxed out. The way to get the biggest reaction these days is going to come from giving the audience something different that hasn't been tried before.”
“It's like the way that biology exploits these opportunities. After a while, there are too many dinosaurs and new creatures come along that find a new way to survive,” he said. “It's already happened recently with the emergence of the Sundance/Quentin Tarantino segment of the market. Small and quirky became more interesting than big and loud. But even this new approach has become normalized and lost some of it's impact.”
“Now, like in the Sixties, people are discovering new ways of telling stories by playing with the narrative structure and more complex use of cinema,” he said.
A CAREER IS BORN
Gary Goldman knew that he wanted to make movies when he was an undergraduate at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His ambitions were to direct. One summer he enrolled in an NYU summer program and “never looked back.” When he graduated Brandeis in 1975, Goldman enrolled in graduate film school at UCLA and managed to meet legendary French director Louis Malle with whom he worked on Pretty Baby, Malle's 1978 film with Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon. After that, he worked on a couple of documentaries in his hometown of New Orleans: Degas in New Orleans, which was invited to Cannes in 1978, and Yes Ma'am, about household workers in New Orleans that won first prize at the American Film Festival in 1981.
He moved back to Los Angeles around in 1980 and landed a job working with Larry Gordon and Joel Silver at Paramount Studios. He calls the Paramount job, “a real education,” during which he learned about the studio system and was involved in the production and development of movies, television and even a Broadway musical.
Goldman's sensibilities began to change as he worked in Hollywood. “I started out as an intellectual snob. Then I learned what the word ‘commercial’ meant,” he said. “I call my work crypto-intellectual—it has substance but that doesn't get in the way of good entertainment.”
Throughout his time at Paramount, Goldman never stopped wanting to be a director. When the job ended, Goldman teamed up with writing partner David Weinstein to pen Big Trouble in Little China, a movie that he compares to Shanghai Noon and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in style and substance—except it came out almost twenty years earlier. He claims the John Carpenter directed Big Trouble may have laid the groundwork for later Hong Kong-style Hollywood features. “It was a flop when it came out but has since become a classic,” Goldman said.
He continued to take jobs as a screenwriter after Big Trouble in Little China. In the '80s he wrote a script for Warner Brothers called Warrior based on Tibetan Buddhist iconography. Warrior was adapted from a book about out-of-body experiences. It attracted the interest of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven who was hot off the success of Robocop.
Verhoeven brought Goldman on as a writer to Total Recall, a project that had a legendary development history. The Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” had been previously optioned by Ron Shusett then set up with influential producer Dino De Laurentiis. Producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vanja paid over ＄7 million to acquire the property for Arnold Schwarzengger for their now-defunct company Carolco. Verhoeven came on board as director and hired Goldman to do a rewrite.
“I worked for nine months on the rewrite,” Goldman said. He worked closely with the director to come up with the shooting draft spending six months in Mexico while the film was lensing. “Paul is pretty exacting in his script development. He respects his writers and he wants them on the set. Which is rare in Hollywood, where often the writer isn't invited to the set.”
Although the finished product was radically different from Dick's 1966 short story, Goldman said that his contribution was to heighten the themes of identity explored in Dick's piece, which he calls “the most interesting part of the story.” He claims to have made the second half of the story more consistent with the first.
“I made a connection between why Quaid's mind was erased and the freedom movement on Mars and created the idea that Houser was a bad guy,” he said. “Paul and I took seriously the possibility that the memory implant had gone wrong and what was happening in the movie was an illusion.”
“In a general way, the short story was the basis for the first third of Total Recall,” Goldman said. “We wanted to extend his ideas from beginning to end and to take Phil Dick up on the idea of a false reality.”
Goldman said with Verhoeven, they tried to make the ending more ambiguous. “That's why the ending fades to white instead of black. We're trying to indicate that it isn't just rhetoric. We don't resolve it one way or another which world is real and which is artificial,” he said.
Working with Verhoeven was a pleasure, Goldman maintained. “Paul was intellectual but also a pop film-maker. He combines violent, erotic, raw energy with enormous intellectual power.”
Total Recall was a hit when it was released in 1990. That same year, Orion released an earlier Goldman rewrite of a script by Chuck Pfarrer called Navy Seals. They lured him with the prospect of Ridley Scott directing. He developed the screenplay with Richard Marquand (Return of the Jedi). Then the actual director “took everything that was good in my screenplay and shot the rest,” he said.
He teamed up with Verhoeven to refine the shooting draft of Joe Eszterhas' Basic Instinct. “We improved the screenplay where possible and also protected it,” Goldman said. “In the end I'm not closely associated with Basic Instinct because I didn't it change that much.”
Another project on which Goldman was working at the time was X-Men. Carolco originally optioned the comic book property for Goldman in 1991. He wrote a draft of X-Men in association with James Cameron's company. A decade later, a different version of the film was released to critical and box office success. “I thought that X-Men would make a great movie when I read it as a teenager,” he said. “Often I see things too early. Timing is everything. Sometimes I am able to benefit from it.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MINORITY REPORT
Gary Goldman first became aware of Minority Report in 1992 when a family friend and fledgling screenwriter showed him the 1956 Philip K. Dick short story [“The Minority Report”]. Goldman was impressed and optioned the short story for him and the friend to adapt. Goldman's intention was to direct a low-budget version of the movie.
Goldman approached director Paul Verhoeven to serve as executive producer. Verhoeven suggested turning the project into a sequel to Total Recall which had enjoyed tremendous success. Goldman agreed and writer/producer Ron Shusett was brought on board as a third writer as per his contract. The project was set up at Carolco. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to reprise his role as Douglas Quaid. The team wrote a draft of the script on which Verhoeven passed deciding to direct Showgirls instead. The project went dormant at Carolco.
Soon after, Goldman secured the interest of producer/director Jan de Bont (Speed, The Haunting) shortly before Speed was released. Carolco, however went bankrupt in 1995 and the rights to Minority Report reverted back to Goldman and Shusett.
The producers set up the project at 20th Century Fox with de Bont attached to direct and Arnold Schwarzenegger still attached to star. The studio decided not to acquire the franchise rights to Total Recall and Minority Report forged ahead as a free-standing project. After two more screenplay drafts by Goldman and Shusett, the studio brought on screenwriter Jon Cohen who started almost from scratch. From that point on, Goldman and Shusett were no longer involved in the project although they were credited as executive producers.
Cohen's script found it's way to director Steven Spielberg through Tom Cruise, whom de Bont was courting as the lead actor. Spielberg liked Cohen's version and agreed to direct Minority Report. Spielberg brought in writer Scott Frank to rewrite the screenplay. Meanwhile, the director made A.I. his next project. Frank rewrote the screenplay using many elements from the Goldman/Shusett drafts, according to Goldman.
Goldman and Shusett got a chance to visit the Minority Report set when they met Steven Spielberg. The crew was shooting the chase in the car factory.
When the film was finished, the studio assigned tentative writing credits to Cohen and Frank. Goldman and Shusett went through the arbitration process with the Writers Guild of America only to see their case undermined by a myriad of rules and technicalities. Final credit went to Cohen and Frank although Goldman and Shusett retained their titles of executive producers.
What does Goldman think of the completed film which he claims incorporates many of his original ideas?
He calls Minority Report, “a brave, devilishly clever movie,” that was based on some “very smart decisions.”
“The movie is appealing to a general audience but doesn't go to the roots of Phil Dick's story. We always wanted to have the prophecy fulfilled,” he said referring to the crucial turning point of the story when John Anderton exercises free will and spares intended victim Leo Crow. Instead, the pre-cogs saw an optical trick when they predicted the crime.
Goldman believes that the Cohen/Frank script, “came very close to going all the way but doesn't go into unexplored territory.”
“The basic sentiment of the movie is that the U.S. constitution and our current ideas of civil rights are more important than having absolute truth,” he said. “These are good lessons but not what Philip K. Dick was writing. In his story, he is willing to contemplate that the system actually works, and if it does work, then we have to get used to new ideas about justice. Anderton's exercise of free will is accurately foreseen. He chooses to fulfill the prophecy—in part merely to prove that the system is infallible. But that's hard to wrap your mind around.”
“Jan and Steven took it as a given that there had to be free will, that the system was bad because it violated the constitution,” he said. “Dick was willing to question everything.”
Notwithstanding, Goldman admires Spielberg's boldness in choosing to direct Minority Report. “I feel that Steven was braver and more challenging than he's ever been,” he said.
Goldman said he has plenty of other script ideas in the works including some that incorporate Phil Dick's forward-thinking concepts. A script he wrote about alien abduction called Stowaway is an attempt to “fulfill deeper expectations” about the well-known but under-exploited subject matter. “My goal is to make it feel totally believable, and that means making it unlike anything you've already seen in the movies. But sometimes too much originality can make it hard to get these projects off the ground,” he said. “My immediate hope is that Minority Report will help Stowaway get made.”
He said that there are plenty of other projects in the works as well. “I have too many ideas to be able to write them all myself. But I want to make them happen, which is why I also work as a producer. I have ideas for books, plays, products, even politics,“he said. “It's actually rather exhausting.”
Review of Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, by Philip K. Dick. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 18 (15 September 2002): 1358.
Twenty-one stories [Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick] culled from Dick's (1928-82) considerable output; all have appeared in collections before, if only in the five-volume Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick (1986). Although the basis for the current selection isn't clear, the timing coincides with the release of yet another movie based on his work. Both “Beyond Lies the Wub,” Dick's first published story, and “Roog,” his first sale, appear. Most of the stories reflect Dick's dearest obsessions, “What is real?” or “What is human?,”...
(The entire section is 272 words.)
Sutin, Lawrence. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. New York: Harmony Books, 1989, 352 p.
Claims to be the first full-scale biography on Dick.
Attebery, Brian. “Super men.” Science-Fiction Studies 25, no. 1 (March 1998): 61.
Interprets Dick's short story “The Golden Man” as a critique of the superman story common to science fiction.
Bloom, David. “H'wood Can't Get Fill of Dick's Sci-Fi Visions.” Variety 387, no. 4 (10 June 2002): 7.
Remarks upon the somewhat ironic Hollywood ventures into Dick's short...
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