This is recommended for those interested in studying Philip K. Dick’s evolution as a writer. The title is self-explanatory with the notable, significant exception of “Roog.” It was his first sale or first story to see print, I can’t remember which because I’m loaded up with cough syrup and am old. It’s also the most “PKD” of his early stories. Was he discouraged from writing that way, and veered off into this much more conservative ordinary 50’s sci-fi?
These are some of the most ‘science-fictiony’ of his stories, with plain characters flying around in rocket ships dealing with problems and then solving them. Once he got the hang of it, or thought he could sell this stuff, he started exploring the subjects that would fascinate him for the next thirty years.
Beyond Lies the Wub is basically a joke with a punchline that appeals to young scifi fans. The story of a creature that tries to talk humans out of eating it, it’s a good read if you need to see how lame a beloved writer of yours could write early on.
The Gun already shows a big leap less than a year after his first sale. A space ship crew is blasted out of the sky over an alien world and must figure out who shot them down. I think my all-purpose spoiler warning suffices so you won’t be mad that I spoil this one: it’s an automatic weapon that is also self-repairing–a hint of PKD things to come.
Mr. Spaceship shows PKD already skillfully grafting market needs to his own interests, or vice-versa, in its tale of a spaceship with a human brain inside. The ending is a bit lame, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. It reads like early Heinlein, which I’m sure horrifies both of them wherever they are now.
The Variable Man (the last I’m writing about because I’m starting to wonder if my flu is some kind of alien mind-control trick) is about a man from the past who is brought into the far future, upsetting the calculations of victory over the alien enemy. You can see PKD trying to write in that Popular Sci Fi tradition. This could have used a lot of cutting, but when you realize how early in his career it comes it’s impressive.
I’m not arguing that this stuff is genius-level literature; it doesn’t hold up, would never be published in a major magazine today. But we’ve come a long way in nearly seventy years. That’s why this isn’t for the casual reader (who should start with some PKD stories before moving on to the best of the novels) but for those interested in studying THIS writer’s warming up, wondering what these wings can do.
The end notes are a bit of a drag, seeing how I love the end notes in the collections by PKD, Zelazny and Sturgeon. Too much time is spent talking about publication dates, but that stuff’s easy enough to skim. A little more worrying is the casual assumption that the reader will agree that VALIS is PKD’s masterpiece.
But that’s a story for another whatever.
“He felt all at once like an ineffectual moth, fluttering at the windowpane of reality, dimly seeing it from outside.” ― Philip K. Dick, Ubik