Tuesday, 17 February 2015

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

Philip K. Dick We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (1987)
Well, there it is: the fifth and final collection of his short stories, so that's it for me and Dick's fiction, excepting re-readings, and unless he smuggled anything more explicitly imaginary into The Exegesis - which I've still been too scared to read - and ruling out the possibility of anyone finding the lost manuscript of Return to Lilliput, or of Dick himself writing a few new ones.

The stories here date from 1963 up until the man's death, so a much greater span of years is encompassed than in all four previous collections put together, and the dates suggest the author reaching a saturation point past which he no longer felt so inclined to hammer out the short stories at quite such a rate, presumably preferring to concentrate on novel length material. The quality of the stories reflects this to some extent, with a few of these more or less amounting to generic Dick-by-numbers in comparison with later efforts. For example, flicking back to Holy Quarrel to look up the names, I still can't quite remember what it was actually about beyond that I didn't enjoy it much, in contrast with previously unpublished material such as the wonderful Cadbury, the Beaver Who Lacked wherein Dick examines his own convoluted attitude towards women and relationships through a sort of theologically ponderous written equivalent to funny animal comics; and on the subject of self-aware literature, I'd swear that The Day Mr. Computer Fell out its Tree is Dick taking the piss out of his own style and themes, possibly during a moment of boredom.

There are some true greats here - The War with the Fnools, A Game of Unchance and Not By Its Cover - but of those which failed to appear in much earlier short story collections such as The Golden Man and The Turning Wheel, I can sort of see why they didn't make the cut on previous occasions; and if you squint at just the right moment you can actually see what looks like Phil beginning to tire of the short form, and this is most apparent when comparing those stories which either summarised or else ended up embedded in novels with those obliged to deliver all their major ideas in one twenty page dollop.

Without bothering to go back and re-read my own reviews, I have an impression of this being the most uneven of these five collections, with a few fairly dull efforts and Phil's not-particularly-welcome views on abortion to sour the picture; but the lows are nicely balanced by a few of his absolute absurdist best, and everyone is entitled to fire off a few blanks every now and then.

Lordy - what a great writer he really was.

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