Monday 22 April 2013

Some free Dick!

So, Philip K is pretty much the literary boss as far as I am concerned. In so many ways he poisoned the well, forcing the rest of us to have to make do drawing our muse-water from other less impressive wells. This hasn't stopped people from trying to drink from the well he frequented, but we see the stains at their lips and the wet coughing that belies the weakening beneath the surface, though still soft, has begun to interfere with the smooth delivery of the message. The message in this case revolved predominantly around paranoia, fear, death, war, morality, the divine and the boundaries of self. PKD excelled, because he wrote about things that were true for him.

His relationship with the human machine, with all its whirring parts, dark haired girls and representative governments, was predominantly based on the extreme opposite of trust. Not that his approach called for revolution, but came closer to the approach that one might have toward gravity if one were to live their entire life in some kind of floating castle. You would take precautions, and perhaps only spend as little time standing right on the edge as was required. This relationship caused Dick a number of problems involving both copyright registration and taxation throughout his life. Due in no small part to this seemingly abysmal aptitude for submitting correctly completed forms to the government a handful of his early short stories and novelettes are now in the public domain.

There are a couple of lists floating about that range from eleven or so stories to nearly thirty. From what I can make out, there are definitely about twenty. Just less than. These free stories mostly come from his first three years of publication ('52, '53 and '54), but some include stories from right up until 1957. For the most part these stories are obscur early works that never really gained much recognition, but "Second Variety", "Adjustment Team" and "The Golden Man" are amongst them, which were adapted into Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau and Next, respectively. None of these were particularly watchable films (with the disputable exception of Screamers), but the source material is in each case a far better exploration and realisation of the concepts presented.

More importantly the list of free Dicks also includes "Beyond Lies the Wub", "The Skull" and "Piper in the Woods", which are far better examples of both his early work and of early salvos into the concepts he would go full scale on later in his career.

If you teach English or creative writing and you want to talk to your class about points of view and perspective, you need "Beyond Lies the Wub" in your life. If you want to behold the first ever published story of a giant of a genre, you need "Beyond Lies the Wub" in your life. It is a clean and elegant short story that is structured like a joke.

"Piper in the Woods" is a pleasant mix of 1950s science fiction and European mythology that you might catch yourself thinking about whenever you wish you could just go outside for little while and sit on the grass.

"The Skull" is Philip K Dick's earliest story about religion (particularly Christianity) and self-determinism vs pre-determinism. This early on we see him start to take steps into the territory that would later yield all his religion-in-a-box themes during the sixties and seventies and finally become the VALIS trilogy. While those specific elements aren't present in "The Skull", it still represents an approach to the topic that would allow him to write the way he did.

If you are at all interested in the man behind the stories behind Blade Runner and Total Recall, some of his stories can be found in a number of formats on Project GutenbergWikisource and strewn about the interwebs.

For 10 points:
What is the most common name given to Dick's religion-in-a-box?

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