Book name: The Philip K Dick Reader
Author: Philip K Dick
Publisher: Citadel Press
Genre: Science fiction
Publication Date: 1997
Star Rating: 5/5
No serious writer’s offering is complete without a ‘reader’ collating the most-loved elements of their work.
The Philip K Dick Reader contained 24 stories. These include a number that inspired successful films, as well as some less well-known pieces.
‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ was probably my favourite. This is the story that inspired the film ‘Total Recall’ in 1990 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Douglas Quail is representative of many Philip K Dick heroes. He lives a disappointing life that will never rise to the excitement of interplanetary travel. He longs for Mars but will never reach it.
On one level, the sheer ennui of his life should be enough to account for Douglas’s craving. Yet there are hints of something more below the surface.
Then Douglas discovers Rekal, Incorporated.
Rekal can implant false memories inside your brain. This persuades you that you did something outside your normal reach at a fraction of the cost of doing it for real.
When you’ve spent what Douglas considers to be an enormous amount of money on the experience, you are also given genuine artifacts to help sustain the belief.
The only thing Douglas won’t remember is Rekal, Incorporated.
Douglas’s memory implantation goes wrong almost from the beginning. The drive of his wish to visit Mars is explained, and he goes from a boring life to the imminent danger of being killed.
I loved the originality of the idea behind ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’.
Another story that inspired a very well-known film is ‘The Minority Report’, which was filmed as ‘Minority Report’ in 2002 starring Tom Cruise.
In the future world of this story, crime is solved pre-emptively when precogs (a favourite concept of Philip K Dick’s) predict that someone will commit a crime.
They are then arrested and detained in camps, both preventing the crime and giving a sense of justice to society.
The system works just fine until suddenly the man in charge of Precrime, John Anderton, sees his own name on one of the cards. He will kill a man in the next seven days!
Given that his successor has just turned up, Anderton assumes that he has been framed.
He tries to flee, and is initially supported by an underground organisation who claim to be devoted to freedom and human rights.
However, Anderton subsequently returns to his office and realises that the prediction may be genuine. This torments him. Why would he want to kill a man he’s never even heard of?
The answer lies in the political struggle between the police and the army. The latter are keen to discredit the precrime system and take more power for themselves.
Another story I really enjoyed, in this case for its rather complex plot, was ‘Paycheck’.
An engineer has worked for a company for two years in return for an enormous salary. To prevent trade secrets being shared with competitors or with the government, Jennings agrees to have his memory wiped after the two years ends.
Jennings is horrified when he is told that instead of receiving this big pay check, he has waived his right to that money in return for some apparently worthless items he can carry in his pocket.
As soon as Jennings leaves the building, he is pursued by government officials keen to learn what he was working on.
They can’t attack companies, but they can pressure individuals.
The worth of the tiny items in his pocket immediately becomes clear. He uses the thin wire to trip a lock when he is detained by the government for interrogation, and the bus ticket to make a getaway.
The other items, one after another, facilitate Jennings’s journey to the plant where he worked. He can then begin to use that highly secret information to extort a better payday from his former employer.
The idea behind ‘Paycheck’ was incredibly clever, and the plot was very complicated for quite a short story. I loved it.
There are so many other great stories that it was hard to narrow down the ones to discuss here. ‘Second Variety’ was particularly good, and it brings out one of Philip K Dick’s favourite themes: how do we tell the difference between humans and androids?
I can’t recommend The Philip K Dick Reader highly enough for its excellent choice of the shorter fiction.
Thank you for reading my review.
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