What’ll We Do with Ragland Park

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First published in Amazing Nov 1963

“What’ll We Do with Ragland Park” is a sequel to “Stand-by” and takes place shortly after the events of that story. 

Max Fischer has somehow figured out a way to once again disable the supercomputer Unicephalon 40-D, regain the Presidency and imprison the news clown Jim Briskin. Media mogul Sebastian Hada wants Briskin to prop up the failing CULTURE programming on his network which is of course difficult with Briskin in jail. 

While plotting how to get Briskin out and airing nonstop editorials on his network about how Briskin must be released Hada pursues a folksinger named Ragland Park for CULTURE. Hada soon realizes that Rags has a latent ability to seemingly predict (or create) the future through his ballads and with the help of his psychoanalyst gets Rags to write a ballad where Fischer frees Briskin. 

Fischer does release Briskin from prison, and after Rags performs his ballad on CULTURE everyone, including Fischer, seems to have a grasp on what Ragland Park can do. Everyone that is except Rags himself who remains clueless of his abilities. He writes a ballad about the FBI killing him and then that’s what happens, although Fischer thinks it’s his own psionic talents that affected the outcome.

Cast of characters

  • Jim Briskin – a news clown imprisoned by the FBI after what happened in “Stand-by.” Briskin shows up later in Dick’s novel The Crack in Space
  • Sebastian Hada – a media mogul 
  • Dr. Yasumi – Hada’s psychoanalyst
  • Nat Kaminsky – Hada’s production chief
  • Maximilian Fischer – the President of the United States
  • Leon Lait – Fischer’s cousin and Attorney General

Orpheus with Clay Feet

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First published in Escapade 1964

“Orpheus with Clay Feet” is another meta time travel story along the lines of “Waterspider” which Dick wrote just before this one. 

Jesse Slade has an unfulfilling job helping people legally dodge the draft for the war in Proxima, so for some excitement he decides to take a vacation at Muse Enterprises. Through them he can be sent back in time to inspire a famous historical artist to create their seminal work. Slade’s first choice, to inspire Beethoven, has of course already been done, so he settles on a visit to the 1950s science fiction author Jack Dowland in order to inspire him to write his masterwork “The Father on the Wall.” 

Slade travels back to 1956 but has such a disastrous meeting with Dowland that when Slade returns to his own time he finds that not only did Dowland not end up writing “The Father on the Wall” but Slade actually turned Dowland off from writing much science fiction at all. 

In a metafictional twist the only story Dowland did write was a barely-read story called “Orpheus with Clay Feet” published under the pseudonym Philip K. Dick which is in effect the story we are reading. Based on Slade’s unprecedentedly bad performance the owner of Muse Enterprises has the idea to send him back in time to meet Hitler so Slade can uninspire him to not write Mein Kampf.

Cast of characters

  • Jesse Slade – travels back in time to ‘inspire’ Jack Dowland
  • Mr. Manville – owner of Muse Enterprises
  • Jack Dowland – fictional 1950s science fiction author and also the pseudonym this story was first published under IRL

Waterspider

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First published in If Jan 1964

The Emigration Bureau has run into a small problem in their attempt to send humans to other solar systems. When traveling at nearly the speed of light the humans lose mass and shrink to only one inch tall. So far only convicts have ‘volunteered’ for these secret experimental trips in exchange for their freedom, even though the puzzle of how to restore mass to them once they arrive at their destination hasn’t yet been solved. 

Edwin Fermeti and Aaron Tozzo who work at the Emigration Bureau have an unorthodox idea. They will go back in time and find out from one of the famous twentieth century pre-cogs how to deal with their re-entry problem. 

These ‘pre-cogs’ turn out to be science fiction authors of the 1950s. Tozzo and coworker Craig Gilly travel back to 1954, kidnap author Poul Anderson from a San Francisco science fiction convention and bring him to the future hoping he can use his precog abilities to tell them how they can restore mass to the humans in space travel. Anderson initially escapes from them but gets recaptured and writes them a story which does include the formula they need. They can’t send him back to his time with knowledge of the future so first they wipe his memory. 

They realize their error as soon as Anderson is gone. Because his memory was wiped he couldn’t write the story the future was based on, and the ripple effects from this change create an alternate reality where Tozzo, Gilly, Fermeti and the Emigration Bureau itself is transformed into something from a different story.

When Anderson returns to 1954 the only clue he has to his adventure is a piece of paper with notes scribbled on it which he doesn’t remember writing and which he hands over to be auctioned off at the end of the convention. 

The inclusion of a boatload of Dick’s sci-fi contemporaries and the fish-out-of-water scenarios are both great. This is a very meta story. I’m only a wannabe scholar of mid-century sci-fi (I had to look up half the authors he mentioned), so I have a feeling a lot of it went over my head.

Cast of characters

  • Aaron Tozzo, Craig Gilly – work for the Emigration Bureau
  • Edwin Fermeti – Tozzo and Gilly’s superior
  • Donald Nils, Pete Bailey – prisoners on a trip to the Proxima system
  • Poul Anderson – Hugo and Nebula award-winning author who Tozzo and Gilly kidnap in 1954
  • A.E. van Vogt, Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, Jack Williamson, Evelyn Page, Margaret St. Clair, Robert Bloch, Tony Boucher, Howard Browne – science fiction authors who have cameos at the convention

Novelty Act

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First published in Fantastic Feb 1964

With just some minor changes, “Novelty Act” was threaded into Dick’s novel The Simulacra as one of that book’s many subplots. 

In this matriarchal United States the First Lady holds more sway over the citizens than the President. Ian Duncan, an aimless member of the Abraham Lincoln apartments, longs only to perform for the First Lady Nicole Thibodeaux in a talent show. 

He and his brother Al used to play classical music in a two-man jug band, but Al currently works in one of Loony Luke’s Jalopy Jungles selling spacecraft to people who want to emigrate to Mars. Ian eventually convinces Al to try for the talent show, and with the help of Al’s artificial papoola (a telepathic Mars alien) they get their audience with the First Lady. Nicole finds them absurd, and the papoola, controlled at that time by Loony Luke, bites her. Suspecting the whole farce as an attempt on her life she first wants them arrested but then decides to just have their memories wiped. 

Ian, who no longer remembers he even had a brother, is then rescued shortly after from his apartment by Loony Luke in one of his jalopies to be reunited with Al. 

I still think the idea of a classical jug band is hilarious. “Novelty Act” is good, but since it’s nearly identical to what’s in The Simulacra maybe just read that instead.

Cast of characters

  • Ian Duncan – aimless member of the Abraham Lincoln apartment building
  • Al Duncan – Ian’s brother and jug band partner. Works for Loony Luke’s jalopy business
  • Patrick Doyle – skypilot for the Abraham Lincoln apartments
  • Edgar Stone – scheming member of the Abraham Lincoln apartments
  • Donald Klugman – current chairman of the Abraham Lincoln apartments 
  • Bruce Corley, Joe Purd, Mrs. Wells – members of the Abraham Lincoln apartments 
  • Nicole Thibodeaux– the First Lady
  • Taufic Negal – the President
  • Harold Slezak – White House A & R secretary
  • Loony Luke – owner of the jalopy jungles

Explorers We

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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan 1959

A crew of explorers returns from an expedition to Mars crash landing their ship just outside of San Francisco. When they make their way into town they expect a hero’s welcome, but instead everyone who sees them flees in terror. 

The FBI eventually shows up and burns them alive with napalm without listening to any pleas from the men who think the FBI must believe them to be Commies. 

We find out that the Mars spacecraft actually crashed on that planet’s surface two years ago and what has been repeatedly returning to Earth, twenty-one times and counting, are aliens disguised as humans (although the aliens clearly don’t know that’s what they are). The story ends with the same Mars crew, thrilled to be arriving back on Earth, again crash landing their craft outside the city. 

Cast of characters

  • Captain Stone, Parkhurst, Barton, Leon, Merriweather, Vecchi – the crew of Mars explorers 
  • Scanlan, Wilks – FBI agents

The Unreconstructed M

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First published in Science Fiction Stories Jan 1957

A clever machine kills a man named Rosenburg in his home and carefully places forensic evidence to frame someone for the murder. Leroy Beam, an independent researcher investigating the crime, comes across the machine and finds out it belongs to Paul Tirol, operator of an illegal planetary slave trade. At the same time, the police decide their prime suspect is Tirol’s competitor David Lantano based on the planted evidence.

Beam discovers that Ellen Ackers, wife of Interior policeman Edward Ackers, is working with Tirol with a plan of her own to steal Tirol’s machine and use it to frame her husband in order to make him grant her a divorce. In the meantime Ackers has picked up Lantano for the murder of Rosenburg, and so Ackers is ruined and forced to resign since this machine shows the police got the wrong man. 

As punishment Tirol is banished and sent at light speed to a random planet in the far reaches of the solar system. He tries to get back to Earth through his own illegal slave trade only to find out the  freighters there are operated by Lantano. 

Cast of characters

  • Edward Ackers – Interior policeman
  • Harvey Garth – pretends to protest the banishment system outside the Interior Department while feeding information to the independent researchers
  • Heimie Rosenburg – murdered by Tirol’s machine
  • Paul Tirol – owner of Tirol Enterprises operating an illegal planetary slave trade
  • David Lantano – Tirol’s competition in the slave trade. Dave Lantano is also the name of a Yance-man in The Penultimate Truth
  • Leroy Beam – an independent researcher investigating Rosenburg’s death
  • Ellen Ackers – Ackers’s wife secretly working with Tirol