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Authors: Philip K. Dick

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Second Variety and Other Stories

BOOK: Second Variety and Other Stories
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Philip K. Dick
Complete Stories 3 - Second Variety and Other Stories
Introduction
By Norman Spinrad
Philip K. Dick's debut story, Beyond Lies the Wub, was first published in 1952. This volume,
SECOND VARIETY, contains 27 short stories published between 1952 and 1955, when his first novel,
SOLAR LOTTERY, appeared. What is more, it does not include every story he published during the first
four years of his career either.
That in itself is quite remarkable. Few writers could boast such prodigious publication in the first
four years of their careers, even in this period, when markets for short sf were relatively abundant and
editors had many slots to fill. And while it must be admitted that there are a certain number of fairly trivial
gimmick stories in this book, the majority of them already show many of the unique virtues of Dick's
more mature work, and even the least of them are written in his unmistakable voice.
four years of their careers, even in this period, when markets for short sf were relatively abundant and
editors had many slots to fill. And while it must be admitted that there are a certain number of fairly trivial
gimmick stories in this book, the majority of them already show many of the unique virtues of Dick's
more mature work, and even the least of them are written in his unmistakable voice.
There is not really an action-adventure formula story in here. No space opera. No nuts and bolts.
No fully-developed alien civilizations. No intrepid stock heroes, villains, mad scientists, no real good guys
versus bad guys at all. From the very outset, Dick wrote as if the commercial conventions of the sf genre
did not exist. Even the one-punch gimmick stories are Dickian gimmicks. From the beginning, Dick was
reinventing science fiction, turning it into a literary instrument for his own concerns, and yes, obsessions.
What we have here is a kind of fascinating time capsule, 27 stories published before Philip K.
Dick's first novel, the compressed short fiction apprenticeship of a writer who was to go on to become
one of the great novelists of the twentieth century and arguably the greatest metaphysical novelist of all
time.
Dick began writing during what at least in a publishing sense was the greatest transformation that
science fiction has ever seen. In the early 1950s, the magazines were still the dominant mode of sf
publication, meaning that short fiction was still the dominant form. By the time he published SOLAR
LOTTERY in 1955, the paperback book was on its way to becoming the dominant publishing mode, and
the novel therefore the dominant form.
In the 1950s, with the standard advance for an sf novel being about $1500, any writer trying to
eke out a precarious living writing sf was still constrained to crank out short stories for the magazines.
And what with novel slots still being limited, one was also constrained to make one's mark as a short
story writer before a publisher was about to grant a novel contract at all.
Nor, in hindsight, as evidenced by this volume, was this, in literary terms at least, a bad thing,
even for a writer like Dick, whose natural metier was the novel. These 27 stories, and the others
published before SOLAR LOTTERY, were an apprenticeship in the best sense of the term.
Reading these stories one after the other in a single volume, one is indeed struck by a certain
sameness, a certain repetitiveness, a certain series of recurrences, a sense of a writer staking out the
territory of his future oeuvre. We would see the same thing in the short fiction of other writers of the
period, and even much later, in the early short fiction, for example, of John Varley, William Gibson,
Lucius Shepard, Kim Stanley Robinson.
But in this book, what we see is a uniquely Dickian sameness.
Most sf writers who stake out a territory in their early short fiction that they will later explore at
greater length and depth tend to create a consistent universe like Larry Niven's "Known Space" or
recurring characters like Keith Laumer's Retief or a historical template like Robert A. Heinlein's "Future
History," and not infrequently all three.
In part this is a commercial strategy. A new writer naive or crazy enough to actually attempt a
career as a full-time sf short story writer has to write a lot of fiction rather rapidly to stay afloat. It is much
easier to reuse settings, history, and characters than to begin from zero each time out, and, as network
TV has long proven, the episodic series is the fastest way to build an audience too.
That, however, is not what Philip K. Dick did. There are no real recurring characters in these
stories. There is no attempt to set them all in a consistent universe. Except for some rather tenuous
connections between Second Variety, Jon's World, and James P. Crow, there is really no attempt at a
consistent future history either.
But there most certainly are recurrences of theme, imagery, and metaphysical concerns, and we
will see them again and again in Dick's subsequent novels, expanded upon, recomplicated, deepened,
made quite vast.
The Earth reduced to a nuclear ash heap. Robot weapons systems evolving towards baleful
anti-empathetic pseudo-life. Human freedom ground down in the name of military security, economic
prosperity, or even order for its own sake. Interpenetrating realities. Ironic time-loops and paradoxes.
Ordinary people holding ordinary jobs as the heroes and heroines trying to muddle through.
prosperity, or even order for its own sake. Interpenetrating realities. Ironic time-loops and paradoxes.
Ordinary people holding ordinary jobs as the heroes and heroines trying to muddle through.
But they show something much more. At a time when there was no little danger in voicing such
views, Dick spoke out loud and clear against the prevailing hysterias of the times -- against militarism,
security obsession, xenophobia, and chauvinism.
Further, what these stories juxtapose against these large scale political evils are not equally large
scale political virtues but the intimate small scale human and spiritual virtues of modest heroism, caritas,
and most of all the empathy that, in the end, is finally what distinguishes the human from the machine, the
spiritual from the mechanical, authentic being from even the most cunningly crafted pseudo-life.
And if we already see here what was to be the great theme and the spiritual core of Philip K.
Dick's whole career, so too do we see in these stories the genesis of the characteristic literary technique
which so cogently brings it down to an intimate and specific human level -- Dick's use of multiple
viewpoint characters.
True, his use of multiple viewpoint techniques is not always perfect in these early stories.
Sometimes he cavalierly shifts viewpoint within a scene for mere narrative convenience. Sometimes he
introduces a new viewpoint character in media res just to give us a scene he cannot easily render from
viewpoints he has already established. Sometimes a viewpoint character appears for only a few
paragraphs and then disappears.
Dick is learning multiple viewpoint technique in these stories. Indeed, it may be more accurate to
say that he is inventing it, for few if any writers had really used multiple viewpoint this way before Dick,
and all of us who were to adopt it later owe a great debt to him, whether we consciously realize it or not.
For what the Dickian multiple viewpoint technique allows the writer to do is to tell the story from
within the consciousness, the spirit, the heart, of several characters, not merely one. It allows intimacy, it
grants the reader empathy, with the multiplexity of the human spirit within the confines of a single tale.
And in the hands of a master like Philip K. Dick, it becomes a series of windows into the metaphysical
multiplexity of reality itself, the perfect merger of theme and form.
These 27 stories are not perfect. It would be a disservice to the truth and to Philip K. Dick's
literary reputation to contend that they represent the full flowering of the mature talent to come. But they
too are a series of windows, windows into the past, into the beginnings of a great spirit's long and mighty
journey, and windows too into the future, into the fully developed vision of the mature master the talented
young apprentice who wrote them was one day destined to become.
Norman Spinrad
October, 1986
Paranoia, in some respects, I think, is a modern-day development of an ancient, archaic sense
that animals still have -- quarry-type animals -- that they're being watched... I say paranoia is an
atavistic sense. It's a lingering sense, that we had long ago, when we were -- our ancestors were -- very
vulnerable to predators, and this sense tells them they're being watched. And they're being watched
probably by something that's going to get them...
And often my characters have this feeling.
But what really I've done is, I have atavized their society. That although it's set in the future, in
many ways they're living -- there is a retrogressive quality in their lives, you know? They're living like our
ancestors did. I mean, the hardware is in the future, the scenery's in the future, but the situations are really
from the past.
many ways they're living -- there is a retrogressive quality in their lives, you know? They're living like our
ancestors did. I mean, the hardware is in the future, the scenery's in the future, but the situations are really
from the past.
The Cookie Lady
"Where you going, Bubber?" Ernie Mill shouted from across the street, fixing papers for his
route.
"No place," Bubber Surle said.
"You going to see your lady friend?" Ernie laughed and laughed. "What do you go visit that old
lady for? Let us in on it!"
Bubber went on. He turned the corner and went down Elm Street. Already, he could see the
house, at the end of the street, set back a little on the lot. The front of the house was overgrown with
weeds, old dry weeds that rustled and chattered in the wind. The house itself was a little gray box,
shabby and unpainted, the porch steps sagging. There was an old weather-beaten rocking chair on the
porch with a torn piece of cloth hanging over it.
Bubber went up the walk. As he started up the rickety steps he took a deep breath. He could
smell it, the wonderful warm smell, and his mouth began to water. His heart thudding with anticipation,
Bubber turned the handle of the bell. The bell grated rustily on the other side of the door. There was
silence for a time, then the sounds of someone stirring.
Mrs Drew opened the door. She was old, very old, a little dried-up old lady, like the weeds that
grew along the front of the house. She smiled down at Bubber, holding the door wide for him to come in.
"You're just in time," she said. "Come on inside, Bernard. You're just in time -- they're just now
ready."
Bubber went to the kitchen door and looked in. He could see them, resting on a big blue plate on
top of the stove. Cookies, a plate of warm, fresh cookies right out of the oven. Cookies with nuts and
raisins in them.
"How do they look?" Mrs Drew said. She rustled past him, into the kitchen. "And maybe some
cold milk, too. You like cold milk with them." She got the milk pitcher from the window box on the back
porch. Then she poured a glass of milk for him and set some of the cookies on a small plate. "Let's go
into the living room," she said.
Bubber nodded. Mrs Drew carried the milk and the cookies in and set them on the arm of the
couch. Then she sat down in her own chair, watching Bubber plop himself down by the plate and begin
to help himself.
Bubber ate greedily, as usual, intent on the cookies, silent except for chewing sounds. Mrs Drew
waited patiently, until the boy had finished, and his already ample sides bulged that much more. When
Bubber was done with the plate he glanced toward the kitchen again, at the rest of the cookies on the
stove.
BOOK: Second Variety and Other Stories
6.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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