Short Stories

Prize Ship

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories Winter 1954

The only way for Terran ships to resupply the Earth’s colonies at Promixa is from the launching point at Ganymede. The Ganymedeans realize the leverage they have and hold their launch pads as ransom, demanding twenty per cent of all goods for their continued use. Just as Earth is about to give in to this arrangement they get a report of a captured Ganymedean ship.

Four men volunteer to pilot the ship hoping it can reach Promixa. The first place they land is populated by tiny humans six inches tall. The second place they encounter is ruled by giants. At this point the men have recognized the similarities to Johnathan Swift’s fictional lands of Lilliput and Brobdingnag. Before they are crushed by a giant they return to Earth where a Ganymedean, who has arrived to claim the Gany property, informs them they were actually traveling in time and explains how the relativity of size in the expanding universe shrinks the past and enlarges the future.

Cast of characters

  • General Thomas Groves, Major Stiller, Commander James Carmichel, Doctor Earl Basset – volunteers who take the captured Ganymedean ship on a test run

Colony

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Galaxy Jun 1953

A crew of explorers from Earth looking for a planet to colonize seem to have found a so-called Garden of Eden. That is until Major Lawrence Hall’s microscope tries to strangle him. Soon after corresponding reports pour in of other crew members being assaulted by inanimate objects in the same way.

They eventually figure out Planet Blue is home to a hostile native life form that can perfectly mimic non-biological items. The only chance of escape without inadvertently bringing this murderous bugger along is to board a rescue ship sans all their clothing. Too bad in the hubbub of getting naked no one considers the life form can mimic the rescue ship too.

In 1956 this story was adapted for NBC’s X Minus One radio series.

Cast of characters

  • Major Lawrence Hall 
  • Lieutenant Friendly 
  • Commander Stella Morrison
  • Captain Taylor – attacked by a rug
  • Lieutenant Dodds – attacked by his gloves
  • Corporal Tenner – attacked by a safety mat
  • Captain Unger – swallowed up by his car
  • Gail Thomas – presumably killed by her uniform
  • Corporal Hendricks – swimming with Gail Thomas when she disappears
  • Captain Daniel Davis – captain of the nearest Terran cruiser

Out in the Garden

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Fantasy Fiction Aug 1953

Before Robert Nye’s wife Peggy has even announced her pregnancy, his friend, when he sees Peggy in the garden with her pet duck, is reminded of the story of Zeus who took the form of a swan and gave Leda a child. Later Robert begins to wonder if the father of his son might actually be this pet duck his wife is so fond of, and his suspicions are confirmed when his young son invites him to a meal of spiders and worms.

Cast of characters

  • Robert Nye – suspects his son might not actually be his son
  • Peggy Nye – Robert’s wife
  • Tom Lindquist – Robert’s friend
  • Sir Francis – Peggy’s pet duck and possible lover and deity in disguise 
  • Stephen – Robert’s “son”

The Great C

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Cosmos Science Fiction #1 Sep 1953

In a post-apocalyptic, far-off future an artificial intelligence responsible for the Earth’s nuclear destruction demands a yearly sacrifice from the planet’s surviving humans. A youth from one of the tribes makes the long trek out to speak to the Great C to attempt to stump it with three questions. The Great C easily answers these questions (where does rain come from, what keeps the sun moving through the sky, and how did the world begin) and the youth is dissolved in a vat of acid providing fuel for the Great C for another year.

Both Tibor and Pete encounter the Great C in Dick’s Zelazny collaboration Deus Irae, although in that book the Great C is more of a trickster trying to feed on passerby.

In 2018 Secret Location released a VR movie based on this story that also borrows the idea of the computer’s female avatar from Deus Irae

Cast of characters

  • Walter Kent – the tribe leader
  • Tim Meredith – that year’s sacrifice to the Great C
  • Bill Gustavson, Anne Fry, John Page – members of the tribe

Meddler

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Future Science Fiction Oct 1954

In the tropey “Meddler” some men peek hundreds of years into the future using a machine called the Time Dip and discover humanity has been wiped out. They send a man forward in time to investigate why, and when he returns he inadvertently brings back the thing (in this case hyper-intelligent butterflies) that ends up destroying mankind.

Cast of characters

  • Wood – operator of the Dip
  • Hasten – travels into the future to find out what has doomed the humans

The Builder

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Amazing Dec 1953

In this quasi-retelling of the Biblical story of Noah a middle class suburban man begins constructing a boat in his backyard without any real understanding of why he is doing it. He spends more and more time away from his job, much to the frustration of his wife, and he endures the mockery of his neighbors who suspect he might be crazy. 

One of his neighbors points out that his boat has no sails or engine, something he hadn’t considered. Just as he is facing despair over wasting his time and energy building something so pointless it begins to rain. 

Cast of characters

  • Ernest Elwood – the titular builder
  • Liz – Elwood’s wife
  • Bob and Toddy – Elwood’s sons
  • Joe Hunt – Elwood’s neighbor
  • Jack Fredericks, Charlie, Ann Pike – Elwood’s co-workers