Review: The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick
★★★
Dover Publications, 2013.

Philip K. Dick was a giant of the sci-fi community. His mind-bending novels like A Scanner Darkly and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said are rightfully hailed as classics and have influenced generations of writers and filmmakers, from Tim Powers to the Wachowskis. Several of his works have been made into films, from Blade Runner to the recent Radio Free Albemuth. His untimely death in 1982 was a tragic loss, although it did spare him from seeing the original theatrical release of Blade Runner.

But even giants start small.

This new anthology collects 13 of Dick’s earliest writings, short stories from early 1950s pulp magazines. The collection starts with his first published work, “Beyond Lies the Wub,” about a space crew that brings a fat alien on board as food for a long interplanetary trip, only to discover the alien is sentient, and capable of mind control. Other stories include “The Crystal Crypt” about a terrorist attack on a Martian city, and “The Skull” which follows a time-traveling prisoner as he attempts to assassinate a would-be messiah.

The germs of Dick’s later work are evident in these early stories, with themes dealing with paradoxes, religion, alternate reality, totalitarianism, sentience and humanity.

And while they are uniformly good, these early writings are not great.

They are very much the works of a writer still struggling to find his voice in a field still trying to break out of its early thematic confines. These stories have the feel of Twilight Zone episodes, building to clever twist endings, but not the metaphysical mindfucks he would be known for later.

Dick quickly matured into the award-winning author we remember. Within two years stories like “The Adjustment Team” and “The Majority Report” established him as a leading sci-fi voice, and his masterpiece The Man in the High Castle would be released 10 years later.

These early stories are of interest to Dick disciples and advanced students of his work, but they are not an ideal introduction to this remarkable writer. Fans will find plenty to enjoy, but the casual reader is best served by his later, more familiar work like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

—Michael Senft

Buy The Early Science Fiction of Philip K. Dick

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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