Category: Short Stories

Null-O

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Dec 1958

Lemuel is a troubled teen exhibiting classic troubled teen behaviors like arson and animal cruelty, and after he attacks a teacher with a knife his father promptly takes him to the psychiatric hospital. The sympathetic psychiatrist Dr. North recognizes Lemuel is a “perfect paranoid” (aka sociopath?), and Lemuel explains and demonstrates to the doctor his Null-O philosophy in which all of the world’s objects need to be obliterated. This impresses Dr. North for some reason, and he puts Lemuel in touch with another collection of Null-Os, in this case a group of scientists who want to destroy the universe. 

The Null-Os begin their grand scheme to detonate a progression of larger and larger bombs. Their country annihilating bombs are a success, but before they can detonate the earth bomb some pesky humans who have managed to survive attack them. In the melee Lemuel is shot. The other Null-Os escape in a spacecraft, and Lemuel, even as he is about to be killed by the humans, is at peace knowing the Null-Os will still complete their plan.

Presumably “Null-O” is some sort of satire of A.E. van Vogt’s stilted novel The World of Null-A which was quite a success (in spite of being bad) when it was published at the end of the 40s.

Cast of characters

  • Lemuel Jorgenson – our Null-O protagonist
  • Ralph Jorgenson – Lemuel’s father
  • Jean Jorgenson – Lemuel’s mother
  • Dr. James North – Lemuel’s psychiatrist
  • Dr. Jacob Weller, Dr. Frisch – part of a group of Null-Os hoping to destroy the entire universe

Tony and the Beetles

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Orbit Science Fiction #2 Dec 1953

A young boy has lived his entire life with his family on a planet in the Orion system. The Earth’s colonists have dominated the Pas-uedti natives which the humans refer to as Beetles both because of their appearance and because of Betelgeuse, the planet’s sun. When a Terran warfleet is defeated by the Beetles in a battle, the Pas-udeti begin to rise up against their oppressors, surprising the boy and teaching him a lesson about how the Pas-udeti really feel about the colonists inhabiting their planet.

Cast of characters

  • Tony Rossi – a young colonist on an alien planet
  • Joseph Rossi – Tony’s father
  • Leah Rossi – Tony’s mother
  • B’prith, Llyre – Pas-udeti children who Tony naively believes will remain his friends even after the tide has turned in the war with Terra

A World of Talent

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Galaxy Oct 1954

After years as second-class citizens the Centaurian colonies have decided to secede from Terra. The colonists have the advantage of Psi-class individuals who don’t exist on Earth, and the separatist movement is kept alive with the help of two precogs and the parakinetic talents of an overweight idiot savant Psi who keeps them safe.

Somehow the precog Curt locates the first known Anti-Psi Pat on the underdeveloped Proxima VI and with the help of the parakinetic Big Noodle brings her to Proxima III. The head of the telepathic corps sees a threat from an Anti-Psi who could block their abilities, and he has Pat killed just as he had done with the Anti-Psis he had found out about in the past.

Curt has Big Noodle send him to Prox VI where he hopes to find a Psi who can reanimate Pat. There he runs into an old man who he encountered several times earlier and discovers it is his son Tim. They believed Tim didn’t have Psi powers, except it turns out the offspring of the two precogs is a new class of Psi who has the ability to travel in time. Tim, to wrap this up, somehow manipulates the timeline and brings Pat back to life.

Dick would reuse some of these ideas along with the Anti-Psi character Pat Connley/Conley in Ubik

Cast of characters

  • Tim Purcell – an eight-year-old child of two precogs
  • Julie Purcell – Tim’s mother and a precog 
  • Curt Purcell– Tim’s father and a precog
  • Fairchild – a Norm-class bureaucrat
  • Reynolds – chief of the telepathic Corps
  • Sally – a thirteen-year-old girl and advanced Psi
  • Big Noodle – a parakinetic Psi with the mind of a three-year-old. Big Noodle is also the name of Earth’s vast artificial intelligence in The Divine Invasion
  • Pat Connley – an Anti-Psi with a counter talent against the telepaths. Pat Conley is also the name of the Anti-Precog in Ubik

Strange Eden

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Dec 1954

Two men on a survey of the galaxy touch down on an Earth-like planet. One man explores the forest and encounters an immortal woman whose race has visited Earth in the past inspiring many of Earth’s myths and legends about Gods and miracles. The woman fights off the man’s amorous advances, but then gives in, warning him first that if they have sex it will cause him to evolve. 

The next morning the woman approaches the ship and informs the captain the other man won’t be returning. As the captain leaves he sees a large cat-like animal gesturing angrily (in a way that is strangely human) as the ship flies away.

Cast of characters

  • Captain Johnson – captain of a survey ship
  • Brent – surveyor on the Terran ship
  • Aeetes and an unnamed woman – sibling inhabitants of the planet

The Father-Thing

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Dec 1954

In a story that sounds similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Charles Walton realizes his father has been replaced by an alien imposter. Charles enlists two friends for help, and together they find and burn the bug-like creature that controls the father-thing, which in turn destroys the father-thing and the Charles-thing which had just matured.

“The Father-Thing” was adapted for Electric Dreams as one of the better episodes of the first season.

Cast of characters

  • Charles Walton – eight-year-old boy whose father has been replaced by an alien
  • June Walton – Charles’s mother
  • Ted Walton – Charles’s father / the father-thing
  • Tony Peretti, Bobby Daniels – Charles’s friends who help him defeat the father-thing

The Last of the Masters

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Orbit Science Fiction #5 Nov-Dec 1954

200 years ago the Anarchist League overthrew all governments worldwide and destroyed all the robot leaders. All these years later one government integration robot remains, kept alive in secret, although its days are numbered as its parts wear out and there is no way to replace them.

Bors, this last of the robot masters, keeps one small government-run society going in isolation as a productive (yet pointless?) closed system. Three Anarchists eventually find them, and with the help of a society member who has turned, they confront Bors who then self destructs.

Cast of characters

  • Bors – the last of the government integration robots
  • Peter Green, Fowler, McLean – members of the government-run society who keep Bors operational
  • Edward Tolby, Robert Penn, Silvia Tolby– members of the Anarchist League
  • Laura Davis, Pete Davis – they sacrifice themselves in an attempt to kill the members of the Anarchist League