Ah, Philip K. Dick, is there any dead SF author I loveth more than thee? I think not. Let’s just get the gonzo stuff out of the way up front: I first *heard* of the guy when reading “Space Worlds, Wars, and Weapons,” an odd little cover art coffee table book from the late 1970s, which had a paragraph about Phil’s story “Imposter.” I knew Blade Runner, of course, and I knew nebulously of Phil thereby, but couldn’t remember his name. I do not remember the first story I read by him - odd how true love comes from sometimes murky beginnings, huh? - but I remember my friend John Sternamon loaning me his copy of “Blade Runner,” which I mostly read in my parent’s driveway while attempting unwisely to give myself skin cancer. (Not my stated purpose, of course, but that’ll be the ultimate result no doubt) I can honestly not recall if that was the first think I’d read by him, I seemed to already know who he was by that point, but maybe not. Maybe not.
In any event, by the mid-80s I had the right combination of boredom with Heinlein, over saturation with Niven, and the proximity to a really good college library, and that’s when I discovered crazy ol’ Phil. I instantly fell in love with his books: their odd tone, his weird humor, his weirder mopey qualities, his utterly unpredictable plot twists, his eerie religious speculation, and his general feeling that something was not quite right in reality - not just in the books, but in real reality as well. It encapsulated my mood, it felt as though he was writing just for me. I poured through at least a third of his work in about 18 months in ‘86-‘88, and picked the rest up piecemeal since then. In the early ‘90s I picked up “The Collected Stories” series, which reprints every known short story, including several unpublished ones.
Eventually, having exhausted everything, I kind of drifted away, and got more interested in the man himself. In the years since, I’ve become friends with a couple people who knew him well, and that’s changed my memory of his work, but to be honest, apart from kvetching ’bout how they get it wrong in movies, I haven’t really *read* anything by him in probably going on a decade. I have a semi-eidetic memory (Or at least I did when I was younger) so there wasn’t much point. Knowing what I know now, however, and gradually realizing my perspectives have changed over the decades, I thought “Hey, is this guy really as good as I remembered, or was it entirely because of who *I* was when I read him?”
“The Collected Stories” seemed the best place to start.
“Volume 1” consists of 25 stories written between 1947 and 1955, though the overwhelming majority are from the period between ’51 and ’53. This seems unbelievably prodigious to us today, but back in the pulp era there was a *huge* market for these things. Harlan Ellison wrote (And generally sold) a story a week in the late 50s. Phil was cranking ’em out, but in context, he was about on average with mid-list writers from his day, amazingly over-productive by our day. What makes him remarkable is simply his odd take on everything.
“Stability” (1947, previously unpublished) is a weird little time travel tale about a man who enters a causality loop by giving himself a time machine. The plot revolves around him inadvertently releasing a city so evil it was shrunken down and encased in glass by God in order to protect humanity. The stuff pertaining to the city is suitably weird and compelling, and this is our first experience of Phil’s casually cruel government bad guys. Interestingly, the question of who built the time machine vanishes once the causal loop is resolved: The machine simply evaporates, ceasing ever to have been. Wildly unsatisfying and clunky, not a great story, but it’s got a few glimmers. Phil would have been around 19 when he wrote this, and it shows.
“Roog” (1951) is another weird little tale, and Phil’s first story he got paid for. A dog barks at the garbage men who pick up the trash. His family is annoyed by this, thinking the dog can’t understand the trash men aren’t stealing from them, they’re simply doing their job. The dog is right, though: the garbage men are evil, and they’re doing something that neither the dog nor