Short Stories

The Turning Wheel

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Science Fiction Stories #2 1954

Bard Sung-wu, a member of the highest class of holy men studying the teachings of Elron Hu*, is sent to Detroit to investigate the Tinkerists, a Caucasian cult from the lowest Techno class. Before leaving, Sung-wu once again previews his death eight months in the future after which he knows he will be reincarnated as a lowly fly. Eventually Sung-wu ends up at the house of Ben Tinker who is trying to reintroduce reason to the world and push back against the absurd beliefs of the upper classes. Tinker gives Sung-wu antibiotics to use in eight months after he finds out how Sung-wu will die, and Sung-wu in turn hands in a report to his superior that the Tinkerists pose no threat or any need of further investigation.

*Dick of course knew L. Ron Hubbard as a failed science fiction author, and this whole thing is a jab at Hubbard’s Dianetics which had been around for a few years at this point.

Cast of characters

  • Bard Sung-wu – sent to Detroit to investigate the Tinkerists
  • Bard Chai – Sung-wu’s superior
  • Bard Fei-p’ang – operates the mother-scanner where Sung-wu sees his future
  • Ben Tinker – founder of the Tinkerists
  • Frija Tinker – Ben’s daughter

The Golden Man

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Apr 1954

The DCA is in charge of rounding up and euthanizing all mutants, afraid that if any of them were allowed to thrive they could eventually take over the human race. Most mutants are destroyed when they are young, except for Cris Johnson, who has made it to the age of eighteen before he is caught. Johnson has the ability to see the immediate future before it happens. Beyond that he is not really a human at all, but survives only on instinct like an animal. He uses his other mutant trait, golden skin and hair, to seduce Anita Ferris after he is captured so he can escape. The DCA men realize Cris is the true homo superior, since he is the one they will never be able to kill.

In 2007 “The Golden Man” was adapted as the movie Next starring Nicholas Cage. Instead of hunting mutants, the FBI chases after the human Cris Johnson, who can see two minutes into the future, because they need him to help stop some terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb that will wipe out Los Angeles. It’s illogical and forgettable. Jessica Biel plays a mystery dream girl and five years later would play another mystery dream girl in the equally bad Total Recall remake.

Cast of characters

  • Cris Johnson – a golden-skinned precog mutant
  • Nat Johnson – Cris Johnson’s father
  • Jean and Dave Johnson – Cris’s sister and brother
  • George Baines – a DCA man hunting Cris Johnson
  • Ed Wisdom – Director of DCA’s North American branch
  • Anita Ferris – George’s fiancée and Director of the Semantics Agency 

The Hanging Stranger

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

Ed Loyce is the only one who seems to find the dead stranger strung up from a lamp post in Pikeville’s town park out of the ordinary. He reports it to the police who want to take him in for questioning, but he escapes from them and discovers the town of Pikeville has been invaded by insect-like aliens from another dimension who have taken on the appearance of everyone in the town, including his family.

He flees to the neighboring town of Oak Grove and attempts to warn the police commissioner there. But the commissioner explains to Loyce that the stranger was hanged in Pikeville as bait to draw out anyone from the town who wasn’t yet under the control of the aliens. Loyce realizes too late he is fated to become the hanging stranger in the similarly-overrun Oak Grove.

“The Hanging Stranger” was adapted as the more politically-minded and muddled tv episode “Kill All Others” in the first season of Electric Dreams.

Cast of characters

  • Ed Loyce – owner of Loyce TV Sales and Service
  • Don Fergusson – salesman at Loyce TV Sales and Service
  • Jack Potter – works at the shoe shop by the town park
  • Jenkins – a stationary clerk
  • Margaret Henderson – works at the jewelry store by the town park
  • Janet Loyce – Ed’s wife
  • Tommy and Jimmy – Ed’s sons
  • The police commissioner of Oak Grove

Fair Game

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Sep 1959

Professor Douglas is alarmed one night to see a giant eye watching him through the window of his house, but it vanishes before his wife notices it. The next day an enormous face appears in the sky, gazing down at him before fading away. The other professors at Bryant College decide these apparitions must be aliens who are after Douglas because he is the best nuclear physicist in the world. Then Douglas is drawn from his house by the illusion of a woman in distress, and he escapes in his car as lightning bolts strike around him. 

When he is eventually captured by the aliens and carried into the sky in a net he resigns himself to the fact that the aliens want him for his knowledge and ability. Instead, just before he is cast into a frying pan, he finds the aliens only want to eat him.

The reversal here is amusing, but nothing about the setup really works.

Cast of characters

  • Anthony Douglas – a nuclear physics professor at Bryant College
  • Laura Douglas – Anthony’s wife
  • Bill Henderson – head of the Biology department at Bryant College
  • Jean Henderson – Bill’s wife
  • Milton Erick – head of the Math department

Nanny

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Startling Stories 1955

Tom and Mary Fields can’t imagine life without a robot Nanny to help take care of their children. But unbeknownst to them these Nannies are programed to duel to the death with Nannies produced by other manufacturers. When the Fields’ Nanny is destroyed by a neighbor’s Nanny at the park, Tom Fields upgrades to a bigger model. And after that Nanny gets its revenge on their neighbor’s Nanny, their neighbor plans to replace his demolished Nanny with the biggest one ever as the cycle of planned obsolescence continues.

Cast of characters

  • Tom Fields, Mary Fields, Bobby, Jean – a nuclear family who owns a Services Industries, Inc., Nanny