Philip K. Dick–It all started with the sale of one short story

Everyone must start somewhere.  For Philip K. Dick, it was working in a record shop.  He thought he would have worked in that shop his whole life, but for writing one story, and one sale that gave him a bigger vision of his own future.

We all know Philip K. Dick now from his most popular works–posthumously, his short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” became Ridley Scott’s cult sci fi favorite Blade Runner.  And after that his short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” became Total Recall.

Then his short story “Paycheck” was made into a move of the same name.  Then Minority Report.

Then his novel “A Scanner Darkly” became the film of the same name.  And now The Adjustment Bureau made it to theaters this year based on Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.”   Previously other Dick works made it to the big screen:  Screamers starring Robocop‘s Peter Weller was based on Dick’s short story “Second Variety;” Impostor, starring Gary Sinise, based on the short story of the same name; and Next, starring Nicholas Cage, based on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man.”  In his lifetime Dick achieved fame first in 1963 with The Man in the High Castle, which won the Hugo Award for best novel, and then Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975 and was nominated for both the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award.

But back in 1951, Philip K. Dick worked in a record store.  Record stores and characters working in record stores would be revisited time and again in Dick’s works.  Dick wrote his first story, titled “Roog.”  Originally titled “Friday Morning,” Dick sold his first work of fiction for $75, to friend Anthony Boucher, editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine,  in October 1951.  It was first published in that magazine as the last entry in the February 1953 issue, with no mention of the unknown writer on the magazine’s cover.  Dick later described the impetus for his first story, his neighbor’s dog named Snooper.

“Snooper believed as much in his work as I did in my writing.  Apparently, his work was to see that no one stole the food from his owner’s garbage can.  Snooper was laboring under the delusion that his owners considered the garbage valuable.  Every day they’d carry out paper sacks of delicious food and carefully deposit them in a strong metal container, placing the lid down firmly.  At the end of the week the garbage can was full–whereupon the worst assortment of evil entities in the Sol System drove up in a huge truck and stole the food.  Snooper knew which day of the week this happened on; it was always on Friday. So about 5 am on Friday, Snooper would emit his first bark.  My wife and I figured that was about the time the garbagemen’s alarm clocks were going off. Snooper knew when they left their houses.  He could hear them.  He was the only one who knew; everybody else ignored what was afoot.  Snooper must have thought he inhabited a planet of lunatics… I was more fascinated by Snooper’s logic than I was annoyed by his frantic efforts to rouse us.  I asked myself, ‘What must the world look like to that dog?’  Obviously he doesn’t see as we see.  He has developed a complete system of beliefs, a world view totally different from ours, but logical given the evidence he is basing it on.”

“Roog” is a great, emotional story, among five volumes of short stories of ideas-ahead-of-their-time still in print today.  Dick called Roog “a serious story.”  “Roog” can be found in several out-of-print compilations like The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford and Other Classic Stories (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. 1) .

And without Snooper, and without writing his first work and selling it to Anthony Boucher, we would probably never heard of Philip K. Dick and his vast imagination, his speculative works, his great ideas.  Dick said in 1978, “Without [Boucher’s] help I’d still be in the record business. I mean that very seriously.”  Dick was pleased with his first publication, and it caused him to wonder if he could quit his job at a record store and work full-time as an author.

Lucky for us, Philip K. Dick made that first sale.

C.J. Bunce

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