Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Father-Thing

Philip K. Dick The Father-Thing (1987)

This is the third volume of Dicks' short stories, assembled by the order in which they were written and following on directly from those collected as Second Variety. The big surprise for me as I plough through these five collections with only a vague idea of how much of this material I've read on previous occasions, is how much I'm not actually enjoying it, at least not in terms of my expectations. It could be, as I found when recently making my way through a Kornbluth collection of such volume that it could have been used to stun cattle, that God did not mean for us to read quite such a massive stack of short stories by any one author in one go, and that the twenty-three featured here probably worked better as single servings in the pages of If, Galaxy, Fantasy & Science-Fiction and others as nature intended. On the other hand it might just as well be the case that Philip K. Dick was simply doing too much, hammering these things out on a near weekly basis and thus forgetting to include the jokes that tend to make his stories so readable. There's nothing actively poor here, and certainly nothing I either regret reading or would necessarily wish to avoid reading ever again, but I really found my attention drifting at certain points.

Again the influence of A.E. van Vogt is fairly pronounced with Strange Eden resembling The Enchanted Village, and notably so in Null-O which serves in partial homage to both van Vogt's The World of Null-A and Jonathan Swift, what with the tone and its featuring a character named Lemuel. It seemingly serves as a refutation of van Vogtian supermen with a few probable jabs at bullshit of Ayn Rand type, as do The Golden Man and a few of the other stories, although the majority seem dominated by themes relating to cold war paranoia and related predictions of nuclear apocalypse. Sometimes it works - as with The Turning Wheel with its amusing portrayal of Scientology after the bomb - but at other times, it's easy to forget who wrote these.

Still, the three or four outstanding shorts are of such quality to justify the collection as a whole, so I'm not complaining; and it's also nice to remind oneself of what The Golden Man looked like before Nicholas Cage got hold of the rights and decided to set down the story he thought Dick had really been trying to tell, the little bollix.

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