The Cosmic Poachers published 1953

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In the Sirius system some humans unexpectedly encounter an alien Adharan cruiser. They assume these aliens are pirates, and they confiscate their cargo of jewels, anticipating the haul will be a hot commodity back on Earth. It’s too bad the jewels are actually alien eggs which will hatch nicely in the warm Terran climate.

Cast of characters

  • Captain Shure
  • Navigator Nelson
  • Communications Officer Barnes

Jon’s World published 1954

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The robotic humanoid “claws” the United States built during their war with the Soviets in 2051 gave them the upper hand in battle, but soon the claws turned against the humans that created them, driving the majority of people off the planet to the safety of the Moon, before fighting and destroying themselves. 

Years later, League member Caleb Ryan and the businessman Kastner are selected to travel back in time to retrieve papers documenting the artificial brain that powers the claws from a scientist named Schonerman who invented it, so that the humans on Earth can use this knowledge to construct worker robots in the present day that can help rebuild the planet.

In the meantime Ryan’s son Jon is having visions of increasing intensity where he sees an entirely different peaceful reality untouched by war. Before leaving Ryan decides to have his son lobotomized, a rather extreme, albeit successful, “solution” to his son’s visions. 

Schonerman is accidentally killed when they go back in time, and since the claws had never been invented, when Ryan and Kastner return to their present time they find the peaceful world exactly as Jon had described it.

Dick wrote this just after “Second Variety”, his story about the robotic claws and the humans fighting them just after the war.

Cast of characters

  • Caleb Ryan – League member selected to travel back in time
  • Jon Ryan – Caleb Ryan’s son
  • Kastner – United Synthetic Industries Combine member who travels back in time
  • Walter Timmer – the medical director
  • Schonerman – scientist who developed the principles for the first artificial brain 

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Prominent Author published 1954

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Henry Ellis works at Terran Development, a company working on a teleportation device called a Jiffi-scuttler. Ellis is selected to test the Jiffi-scuttler before it is released commercially, and it cuts his one hundred and sixty mile commute to New York down to just a few steps through a tunnel. One morning during his trip through the Jiffi-scuttler he notices what appear to be tiny human beings beyond a small weak spot near the bottom of the tunnel. He keeps what he saw to himself and is unsuccessful when he tries to find out from the research team where the Jiffi-scuttler actually goes when it bridges time and space. 

The next day he sees more tiny humans in the tunnel and this time they pass him questions in an unfamiliar language. Ellis uses a ruse at the linguistics department to have the questions translated, which he then answers, has translated and then passes them back to the tiny humans who now show up in greater numbers and appear to be constructing shrines for him. 

Ellis’s boss puts a stop to this madness when he furiously lets Ellis know they inspected his Jiffi-scuttler and discovered the defect after they saw his translations (which turned out to be ancient Hebrew) at the Linguistics Department. The company knew all along the Jiffi-scuttler was warping through space time, and Ellis was supposed to report any problems. Before he fires him, his boss shows him the Bible from the Ancient Artifacts Archives that contains everything Ellis had written and given to the humans in the tunnel. Ellis, more proud than ever even after losing his job, spends his days in his study at home showing off the Bible and writing something new.

The Jiffi-scuttler pops up later in Dick’s novel The Crack in Space where another tear in this notoriously unreliable device leads to a parallel Earth. 

Cast of characters

  • Henry Ellis – employee at Terran Development
  • Mary Ellis – Henry’s wife
  • Dorothy Lawrence – Mary’s friend
  • Patrick Miller – in charge of research at TD
  • Earl Peterson – head of the Linguistics Department at TD

Beyond the Door published 1954

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Larry buys his wife Doris a cuckoo clock, mostly because he was able to get it for a good price, not because he cared that she really wanted it. Doris loves it in spite of Larry’s intentions, but the cuckoo, apparently a good judge of character, doesn’t get along too well with Larry and takes a nick out of his thumb while he’s winding the clock. Doris knows her antique-loving friend Bob would appreciate the cuckoo clock, but Larry catches the two of them together when she is showing it to him, and he throws her out of the house. 

Larry keeps the clock though, since he paid for it after all, but the cuckoo refuses to come out on the hour. When Larry approaches it angrily with a hammer the cuckoo strikes him in the eye and kills him. The doctor rules that he died from a fall, but only Bob suspects the truth about what happened. 

Cast of characters

  • Larry and Doris
  • Bob – Doris’s friend

The Cookie Lady published 1953

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An elderly woman tempts a schoolboy to her house with freshly-baked cookies where she siphons away his life force to become young again. 

Cast of characters

  • Bernard “Bubber” Surle – a cookie-loving schoolboy
  • Mrs. Drew – the titular cookie lady
  • May and Ralf Surle – Bubber’s parents

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories
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Second Variety and Other Classic Stories is the third of five volumes of Dick’s collected short stories published by Citadel Press. 

“The Hanging Stranger”, “Sales Pitch”, the horror/fantasy “Upon This Dull Earth”, and the marquee title “Second Variety” are standouts for me from this collection.

Two stories here have been adapted as movies: “Second Variety” as Screamers in 1995 and “The Golden Man” as Next in 2007. “The Hanging Stranger”, “The Father-Thing”, “Exhibit Piece”, “Sales Pitch”, and “Foster, You’re Dead” were all adapted for the first season of Electric Dreams, but it’s too bad none of those episodes are particularly good.