Tag Archive: Philip K. Dick short stories and novels


 

Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick′s 1972 novel We Can Build You, his 22nd novel, has its strengths, the first half of the novel full of several thought-provoking ideas that each would have been better served pared down as one of Dick’s fantastic short stories.  From there it slides precipitously off the cliff into the incomprehensible–an attempt at showing a protagonist with an unstable mind inside what is by all other indications the set-up for a future America sci-fi story.  Originally written in 1962 and not published for a decade, and released first as A. Lincoln, Simulacrum, the story is centered on Louis Rosen, an entrepreneur in 1982 with questionable business acumen who co-owns a musical organ company.  We Can Build You begins to illustrate what it might be like to build a new race of artificial humans, previewing many specific elements that would become the framework of many later films, novels, and shows (like the Humans television series 45 years later).  The “simulacra” business branches off as a natural spin-off of a keyboard type organ that interacts with the mind in the future from the 1962 perspective–simulacra being a favorite early sci-fi construct in Dick’s works, also called a Replicant or android in his other works.

For a few dozen pages Dick examines what it is to be alive, for a human or a sentient robot, this time in a new way, showing two simulacra, one a nearly perfect construct of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, and later, a simulacra of President Lincoln himself.  Why?  Because of America’s fascination with the Civil War following the commemoration of its centennial in 1961 (when Dick was writing the novel).  How these highly functioning automatons react to these businessmen in the Pacific Northwest “in the future” and the ideas to use them concocted by the story’s wealthy progenitor to Elon Musk form the best sections of the book.  The biggest struggle is with the second half of the novel, when Louis, who serves as the novel’s narrator–with no prior warning–becomes fixated on his partner’s daughter, named Pris.  Louis slips rapidly into some form of schizophrenia, obsessed with the 18-year-old, and the reader becomes aware he also has the unfortunate malady of being a textbook unreliable narrator.

 

Was any part of this novel real?  Was the infatuation never mutual (like with Quentin Tarentino’s insane brother in From Dusk Till Dawn?).  Did his organ company really propose making simulacra as entertainment to re-enact the Civil War, or is the reader crazy for even believing that could have been a legitimate plot point?  Was Pris real or only a figment of his mind?  Did his brother really have an “upside down face” (Dick describes it as some kind of mutation of some future people) or Louis really believed this because of his mental disease and his false reality?  Was anyone real?  Every step of the way modern readers familiar with Dick’s more famous work Blade Runner (adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) will see the inspiration for the Replicant also named Pris in that later work, not published until a decade after We Can Build You, and will question whether this Pris is a simulacra, too, or something else.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

By the time of his death in 1982, science fiction writer and future visionary Philip K. Dick wrote some 44 novels and 121 short stories.  A master storyteller, Dick’s short story writing was often simple and straightforward, but it was packed with amazing worlds, prescient technologies (and glimpses at what would be real problems resulting from those technologies), plus truly unique and inspiring ideas and ideals.  The real genius of Dick can be found in these quick stories.  The 2017 British and American co-production Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is a science fiction series of ten episodes inspired by ten of his short stories, available now in the U.S. for the first time via Amazon Video.  If you find you’re not a fan of the series, don’t hold it against Philip K. Dick–the episodes are only very, very loosely based on his short stories, opting instead to expand on the stories and update most of the settings and plots, including swapping new technologies for those he wrote about.  Ideally those new to Dick’s works will be inspired by the ideas in the series to delve into his written works and experience his creations for themselves.

Written and directed by a variety of filmmakers, Electric Dreams is a hodgepodge of styles, storytelling, and continuity. Surprisingly the writers opted against sticking with the magic of Dick’s stories, deleting key memorable scenes, and choosing to add extra subplots with a few stories barely recognizable from their source material.  Most of the updates detract from the underlying story.  Three episodes fare the best–coincidentally or not, these are episodes that stay the truest to Dick’s own work.  The rest are less compelling, but each has its high points, either via surprisingly good special effects and production values for TV, or the choice of and performances by the actors (including Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, Source Code), Anna Paquin (X-Men series), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Fargo), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Total Recall), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), Terrence Howard (Wayward Pines), and Anne Reid (Hot Fuzz, Doctor Who, Marchlands).  Based on one of the best of all Dick’s stories, Impossible Planet follows the original story to create the best episode of the series, taking viewers on a final voyage home accompanying an old (more than 300 years old) woman played by Geraldine Chaplin (even this episode cuts the most powerful scene from the short story).  The Father Thing takes its time getting to the story, but once there it keeps the guts and spirit of the original story.  Loyal to the source material, it also has a great John Carpenter-esque soundtrack and Greg Kinnear is perfectly cast as the father.  For a person who was not remembered as a family man, Dick’s stories involving children are among his best and “The Father Thing” is no different.  Ideas furthered in a story familiar to most sci-fi fans, “The Minority Report,” are examined in The Hood Maker, complete with precognitive telepaths and the concept of pre-crime.  The episode follows the original story, and its “buddy cop” duo would make a great spin-off series.

The remainder of the series offers concepts that will be familiar to fans of Dick’s works, particularly those short stories previously committed to film, including “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” adapted into two Total Recall films, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, John Woo’s Paycheck, The Adjustment Bureau, and Next (from “The Golden Man”), among others.  Many Dick full-length novels have made it to the big screen, too, most notably Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? released as Blade Runner, and although it does not credit Dick, The Truman Show is obviously sourced in Dick’s novel Time Out of Joint.  In addition, recently Dick’s award-winning novel The Man From the High Castle made it to home video as another Amazon series.

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