Friday, December 9, 2011

Minority Report (& Other Stories)

Minority Report (& Other Stories) by Philip K. Dick

During his life, Philip K. Dick didn't have the tremendous following or financial success that some of his contemporary science fiction authors enjoyed (Herbert, Asimov, Heinlein). But he was far more prolific than any of them and has probably seen more posthumous success. His name still doesn't have the same widespread recognition that those others do, but I bet far more people have enjoyed his stories, albeit unknowingly, than all those others combined.

Hollywood finally gave him the recognition that his stories deserved. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Imposter, Paycheck, Next, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau, and Minority Report are all adaptations of stories that he wrote, and I'm sure they won't be the last.

This book contained nine of his stories, and they were all great. Minority Report was the first, and while Spielberg took a lot of liberties with his adaptation, it's clear who the best parts of the story came from. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but the 45 page story was better.

Next was Imposter. It's about a man named Spence Olham who is accused of being an alien robot, sent to earth with the mission of taking over the identity of the true Spence Olham in order to detonate a bomb which would destroy the entire planet. A great story that leaves you guessing "is he, or isn't he" until the very end.

Second Variety takes place in the distant future during a war between Russia and North America. The Russian's first strike was an unexpected nuclear attack which left the whole North American continent desolate and forced its survivors to colonize the moon in an effort to retreat and regroup. The Americans retaliated by creating small crab-like robots that were exceptionally intelligent and capable of killing the Russians. But just when the Russians were nearly wiped out, a new variety of robots have begun to appear. Only these ones are indistinguishable from human beings and they don't have an allegiance to either side. They were created by the initial robots unleashed by the Americans and now the hole human race is their target.

War Game is about Wiseman, a man who works as a toy inspector for a company responsible for testing and monitoring toys imported to Terra. Terra is on the brink of war with Ganymeda and is therefore worried about possible threats that might slip through its defenses disguised as harmless imports. Three toys have come in for consideration, a toy soldier game where the soldiers attempt to attack and take control of a citadel, a virtual reality suit that causes its wearer to see and feel places from their past, and a Monopoly-like board game called Syndrome. It’s a red herring story that illustrates the best way to take down an enemy.

In What the Dead Men Say, after a person dies, there is a period of time called half-life in which they can be resurrected. Half-life is finite, so the longer they stay resurrected, the sooner their half-life is used up. A person who is resurrected for only brief periods at a time, can stretch their half-life to span centuries. This was both the longest and weakest of the nine stories in the book. But it still offered an interesting premise.

Oh, to Be a Blobel! takes place after the inter-species war between humans and blobels. Blobels are an interstellar species of very large, single-celled amoeba-type beings. During the war, soldiers from both species underwent physiological changes that allowed them to become a member of the enemy species in order to conduct acts of espionage. Now that the war is over, some of those soldiers are unable to revert permanently to their original species and are left living lives split between the two - a part of each day they're human, the rest blobel. (Dick wrote during the '60s and took advantage of the drug induced lifestyle that existed then, so that might explain some things.)

The Electric Ant is about a highly advanced robot named Poole. Poole has biological skin, flesh, and blood, so he's totally indistinguishable from a human being by all outward appearances. He communicates just like a human being and feels and shows emotions just like one as well. He also thinks like one too. In fact, Poole has no idea that he's not human. It's not till he's in an accident and looses his hand that the truth is revealed. When he realizes that, he also realizes that every aspect of his life has been a direct result of his programming. "Programmed. In me somewhere, he thought, there is a matrix fitted in place, a grid screen that cuts me off from certain thoughts, certain actions. And forces me into others. I am not free. I never was, but now I know it; that makes it different." So Poole becomes determined to locate his internal programming to see if he can disconnect it and finally begin to experience the real world.

Faith of Our Fathers is about Tung Chien, a Vietnamese man living in a time when communist China has control of the whole world. What no one realizes is that they're maintaining their control over the world's population by contaminating the water and food supplies with hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs prohibit people from seeing the leader of the ruling party for what he truly is - a being from another planet that is feeding on every living thing.

We Can Remember it for you Wholesale was probably my favorite story in the book. It's one of the shortest ones and instead of summarizing it I think it's enough to say it's what the movie Total Recall is based on.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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