Second Variety published 1953

A war between Russia and the U.S. left the world’s cities destroyed. The American government fled to a secret base on the moon, while behind on Earth a skeleton crew of soldiers fights what remains of the Soviet Army. The Americans have the vicious robotic claws on their side until the claws learn to evolve. Deep in underground factories the claws begin to build machines, indistinguishable from humans, that kill without loyalty to Russia or the Americans.

While traveling to meet with the Russians, the American Major Hendricks finds this out when he encounters the young child David, the third variety of these robot simulacra. The Russians tell him about the first robot variety, but then the question becomes which one of them is the second variety pretending to be human.

This is Dick starting to get at the question ‘what is human?’ early on in his career.

The 1995 movie Screamers based on “Second Variety” starring Peter “RoboCop” Weller sticks close to the short story and managed to entertain me in spite of some 90s-era special effects.

Cast of characters

  • Major Hendricks – our protagonist
  • David – the third robot variety
  • Klaus Epstein – a Russian soldier
  • Rudi Maxer – a corporal in the Soviet army
  • Tasso – a young girl embedded with the Russians