Saturday, 22 March 2014

Second Variety

Philip K. Dick Second Variety (1987)

This is the second volume of Dicks' short stories, assembled by the order in which they were written and following on directly from those collected as Beyond Lies the Wub. Again the influence of A.E. van Vogt is fairly pronounced, notably in the surreal imagery of stories such as Martians Come In Clouds with its silent invaders simply drifting to earth, getting caught in trees and the like - although that one example probably worked better once recycled in The World Jones Made; and again, it becomes apparent that Dick's distinctive understanding of a layered reality received greater emphasis in later writings, not because it was something developed in later years, but because it took him time to devise a satisfactory means of framing his concerns in narrative form:

'They're visions.' Jon's face was alive with radiance. 'I've known it a long time. Grant says they're not, but they are. If you could see them you'd know, too. They're not like anything else. More real than, well, than this.' He thumped the wall. 'More real than that.'

Ryan lit a cigarette slowly. 'Go on.'

It all came with a rush. 'More real than anything else! Like looking through a window. A window into another world. A real world. Much more real than this. It makes all this just a shadow world. Only dim shadows. Shapes. Images.'

'Shadows of an ultimate reality?'

...or at least a satisfactory means of reframing Plato in narrative form.

So, it ticks the boxes, but even so it's hard to avoid getting the impression that Phil was getting a bit fucked off with it all whilst writing this lot, hacking out story after story for the pulps and still no novel under his belt. Some of these shorts are very pulpy, and more so than most of the previous collection, to the point of there being a few which read like they could have been written by almost anyone. The Hood Maker in particular feels like uninspired fan fiction for one of those is Arnold Schwarzenegger real? explosive action adaptations.

That said, both Project: Earth and A Present for Pat demonstrate that Dick was still having the occasional good day, that he hadn't completely lost it, and he even remembered to incorporate a sense of humour into the latter. The standard generally picks up towards the end of the collection as the first few months of 1953 come around. It makes me wonder what else was going on in the author's life at the time, because you can almost see the shape of slump and subsequent recovery of wits in the dip into relatively uninspired pulp. It would probably be easy enough to look it up and find out, but I can't be arsed; much like the man himself during the second half of 1952, so it seems. Nevertheless, I'm not complaining - even Dick's less impressive b-sides remain worth a look.

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