Monday, 18 August 2014

Minority Report

Philip K. Dick Minority Report (1987)

Moving onto the fourth collection of Dick's short stories, this one fares a little better than its predecessor. It may be significant that this assemblage brings together stories written over a period of nine years, as opposed to hammered out during a couple of afternoons as was the case with at least one of the earlier volumes; although the suggestion of a more leisurely pace may be misleading, as there's actually a five year gap somewhere in the middle here during which he was presumably churning out novels, fixing television sets, getting divorced and so on. Almost certainly of greater significance is Dick's return to short form in 1963 after a long break and, more crucially, immediately following the experience of a giant metal face staring down at him from the sky. Whilst a huge slit-eyed and morally ambiguous God checking him out for the best part of a week may  doubtless have been somewhat unnerving, the vision apparently did wonders for Phil's writing if this lot are anything to go by.

This collection is already off to a good start with Autofac and at least enough solid gold Dick classics to qualify the whole as effectively a greatest hits - The Mold of Yancy, The Unreconstructed M, and War Game being at least as good as any of his novels even without their eventually being woven into The Penultimate Truth and others. Things begin to get really weird with the post-giant metal face stories as Dick's sense of humour comes to the fore, whether through the Swiftian satire of If There Were No Benny Cemoli or the raging absurdity of Novelty Act and the Jim Briskin stories; and we almost go right over the postmodern edge with the peculiarly self-referential Orpheus With Clay Feet and Waterspider, the hero of which is Dick's fellow author, Poul Anderson; and whilst we're here, I also found it slightly irresistable that A.E. van Vogt should be referenced by name in these last two stories.

Minority Report is an impressive and satisfying collection, which comes as a relief after the relatively underwhelming third volume. It's also interesting that Minority Report, probably the best known of this lot thanks to the film, is one of the few that doesn't really do much.

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