Second Variety

8th February 2004 · Last updated: 5th October 2016


Second VarietyHaving spotted the second volume of the Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick today, after not being able to find it a long time ago, I finally bought it. (I also bought the following 3 books in the 5-volume series, just in case they sell out. Looks like I'm in for some longterm reading.) I've been a fan of Dick's since I read the first collection in this series, the strangely titled Beyond Lies The Wub. My mind was blown. Here was a genius of science fiction: the type I had only ever come across once before, when digesting all the fiction novels published by Isaac Asimov. (I had once read several library books containing numerous stories by a variety of science fiction authors, of which only Asimov's stood out. So he was the guy for me to read more of. But I don't think Dick had been represented in the books I read at all, or I would have known about him a lot earlier.)

I did once read Dick's novel The Man In The High Castle but wasn't blown away by it. But I was by the short stories in Beyond Lies The Wub. They were a cornucopia of ideas, written in a way that made you smile and think 'Damn, that's good'. A plot would twist to reveal a cunning outcome, or a weird and wonderful character would make you stop and think.

How had this author been hidden from the mass media for so long? Of course Blade Runner was the movie that brought him to light. It was famously based on one of his novels, which led Hollywood to chase other stories he'd written. Now we have a string of hit movies based on his work. The titles include Minority Report, Total Recall, Screamers and Paycheck. I'm looking forward to reading the original short stories of some of these movies - I hear they are even better.

Further Reading:

Comments (4)

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  1. Moose:
    CITE: "How had this author been hidden from the mass media for so long?"

    Not here in America. He's on the front shelves, actually. SF is madly popular here, for some reason, more than anywhere else in the world...

    On the other hand, it is close to impossible to find Lem here, at least was, before they made "Solaris" a movie.


    Posted on 8 February 2004 at 5:49 pm
  2. Chris Hester:
    Now here's where things get complex. It was so long ago when I read the first volume that I think the publishers have moved some of the stories around. I got suspicious when one volume was retitled "Minority Report" (obviously to cash in on the movie) while another said it was previously called "The Little Black Box", yet that story was in another volume!

    Well I started reading volume 2 today, finding myself gripped with addiction BTW, only to find I was re-reading a story I knew from before in the 1st volume! Confused? Yeah me too.

    Not to worry though - it's possibly my favourite Dick short story anyway, 'Second Variety'. Utterly brilliant if you ask me. I was going to say in my post that the Terminator movies were probably inspired by Dick. Well here's one story that could show that. It's set in the mood of the Cold War, when Russians and Americans have jointly destroyed most of the planet. The Russians appear to have won, only the Americans have created robotic units that can take down a soldier. Small metal spheres that hide in the radioactive ash everywhere. The war seems to be turning. But the self-running factories that create the robots are learning fast, generating new and more sophisticated models. Eventually it's realised that they've got to the point where both sides are now under attack from the machines, that their sole aim is to destroy humanity - and no-one can stop them. You'd have to read it to find out why.


    Posted on 8 February 2004 at 7:51 pm
  3. Phil Baines:
    Good choice mate!

    I am a big fan of Dick, and I have read a few books now. Beyond Lies the Wub is also one of my favorite collection of short stories. I think that The Variable Man is my favorite story in that book, but Paycheck is pretty cool too. Still aint seen the film!

    I would have to recomend that you read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich if you havn't already. That is the book that got me started on Dick, and blew my mind away. As it happens, Dicks mind was also blown away when he wrote this one, he was nuts (well getting there) at this point.

    You will find loads of info about PK DICK on including a review of that short story.

    Posted on 18 February 2004 at 9:51 am
  4. Chris Hester:
    Imagine my joy when I read the next story in the second volume, 'Jon's World', finding it carries on from the story 'Second Variety'! Set further in the future, when humans have fought back against the machines. Again the similarities with the Terminator movies were apparent - the time machine that goes back to steal the plans for the first robot brain.

    I'd read that Dick's stories don't follow the same future history - each one is unique - so I was surprised that these two stories were linked. (Yet still separate - you could read either one.)

    I also like the way his stories can often be quite 'plain' (for want of a better word) - barely science fiction at all. Such as 'Beyond The Door', which is about a cuckoo clock!

    I love short stories as you can read them when you get chance. With a novel, you have to keep going. I remember when William Gibson's early novels came out - I read all those. 'Neuromancer', 'Mona Lisa Overdrive', 'Burning Chrome' etc. He did some brilliant short stories too, some with Bruce Sterling. Haven't read any Gibson since then though. Is he still writing?

    These authors can offer ideas about society that leave you thinking for days afterwards. SF isn't about killer robots and spaceships - though they do figure - with Dick it's about concurrent themes such as paranoia, survival, societies where the basic freedom of humanity is under threat. I'm constantly reminded of Brazil, the movie by Terry Gilliam, which I saw for the first time over Christmas. It seemed very like Blade Runner to me. I imagine Dick's ideas and visions are in a lot of movies. Another example might be Twelve Monkeys, which is another Gilliam movie, so maybe he is heavily influenced by Dick. Then again it could all be my imagination. After all, what is real and what is not? Are we all in a Matrix? (And the Wachowski brothers have quoted one of Dick's novels as an influence for The Matrix!)

    Posted on 18 February 2004 at 10:39 am