Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Minority Report and Other Stories (1987) by Philip K. Dick

The Minority Report and Other Stories (1987) by Philip K. Dick, containing the following stories:

  • Autofac (1955) 
  • Service Call (1955) 
  • Captive Market (1955) 
  • The Mold of Yancy (1955) 
  • The Minority Report (1956) 
  • Recall Mechanism (1959) 
  • The Unreconstructed M (1957) 
  • Explorers We (1959)  
  • War Game (1959) 
  • If There Were No Benny Cemoli (1963) 
  • Novelty Act (1964) 
  • Waterspider (1964) 
  • What the Dead Men Say (1964)  
  • Orpheus with Clay Feet (1987) 
  • The Days of Perky Pat (1963) 
  • Stand-By (1963)
  • What'll We Do with Ragland Park?  (1963) 
  • Oh, to Be a Blobel! (1964) 

A typically excellent collection of stories by Philip K. Dick, this text being part of the five-volume Collected Philip K. Dick first issued in 1987. There's a perceptive introduction from the late James Tiptree, Jr. (the writing name of Alice Sheldon) and notes by PKD on some of the stories culled from a couple of earlier Dick collections. One story from the early 1960's, "Orpheus with Clay Feet", gets its first publication here.

This hefty volume covers stories long and short from the 1955 to 1964. Dick's typical atypicality is in full flight here -- his protagonists are ordinary, often neurotic characters trapped in strange realities. The plots often defy anything resembling typical plotting, one of the things that makes Dick so difficult a nut to crack in film and TV adaptations.

"The Minority Report" is a pretty good example of why Hollywood almost never "gets" Dick. (Haha!) 

The central concept of Dick's story appears in the Spielberg/Cruise film, but pretty much everything else is different, and lesser. There is a Precrime division that uses precognitives to allow the police to arrest murderers before they murder. And the head of that division in one city is indeed flagged by Precrime as a Murderer-to-be. But that's about it when it comes to correspondences. And there's certainly none of the technological gimcrackery of the Cruise movie. Dick is almost never interested in presenting the visual wonder of machines. He's not about spectacle. 

Nor is there anything to do with freeing the Precogs -- in Dick's story, precognitives are the victims of terrible genetic mutation that leaves them essentially mindless conduits for the future, derisively referred to as "monkeys" by many of those in Precrime. There's nothing sentimental in Dick's story, no stirring speeches about free will. The protagonist is a frightened, flawed, but pragmatic man who does the right thing in the end. He's no Tom Cruise.

There are many stand-outs here, and a few fascinating oddities -- including a piece of metafiction ("Waterspider") starring sf great Poul Anderson and many other cameos from science-fiction writers of the 1950's and 1960's, themselves believed to be Precogs by the time-travellers who come back from the far future seeking their help.

Dick's fiction doesn't remain relevant because of accurate technological prediction. It remains relevant because Dick's observations and speculations about the social, psychological, and political effects of technology are startlingly prescient, primarily because they're based on what he saw around him. 

Stories about the social impact of Fake News ("The Mold of Yancy," "If There Were No Benny Cemoli") still resonate in the Trump Era because "fake news" was around in the 1950's and 1960's for Dick to ponder upon. "Novelty Act" posits an America involved in an endless, state-mandated talent show aimed at getting people to perform for the First-Lady-for-Life on TV. It seems weird right up to the point that it seems weirdly believable, even with its easy flights to Mars and 1950's conceptions of talent shows (the protagonist and his brother perform classical music... by blowing on jugs). 

Yes, it's Philip K. Dick's Jug-band Crisis.

As with any collection of PKD stories, The Minority Report and Other Stories crackles with wit, horror, and humanity. Some people do good things. Some people are just small and mean. Their rewards are not commensurate with their moral worth. Highly recommended.

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