Short Stories

Piper in the Woods

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Feb 1953

One by one workers at a checkpoint garrison on an asteroid in outer space have begun to turn into plants, or so they say. As plants they shirk their duties and want to do nothing more than bask in the sun.

Dr. Henry Harris investigates this strange phenomenon, but all he has to go on are whispers about a mysterious group called the pipers who live in the woods near the base. After meeting a native of the asteroid in the forest, eventually Harris uncovers that there are no pipers. He realizes instead these over-worked young men and women suffer from a mass delusion as they wish to escape the pressure of constant training and stress of everyday life.

Harris has a lot of work to do to cure this malady of the modern age, but first he must relax in the dirt he gathered from the woods.

Cast of characters

  • Corporal Westerburg – patrolman on Asteroid Y-3 who thinks he’s a plant
  • Dr. Henry Harris – trying to figure out why people keep claiming to be plants
  • Commander Cox – Y-3’s base commander
  • Robert Bradshaw – chief biologist on Y-3 who also thinks he’s a plant
  • Lawrence Watts – Garrison Chief on Y-3

Mr. Spaceship

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Jan 1953

During a war between Earth and aliens from a planet in the Proxima Centauri system the Earth strategists decide to replace the guidance control in one of their ships with a human brain as a new approach to combat the organic mines that defend Proxima.

Dolores, wife of the engineer Kramer, suggests a professor from their college years as ‘the brain’, and Professor Thomas, quite old by this point, eventually agrees.

The professor though has lived long enough to understand the futility of war, and once his consciousness is in control of the ship it’s clear he has no intention of taking part in the plan to break through Proxima’s defenses. Instead he uses a couple of ruses to get both Kramer and Dolores on board and then sets off to find a habitable planet they can populate in order to build a civilization that can hopefully break the cycle of war.

Cast of characters

  • Kramer – an engineer in Earth’s war effort against the Yucconae of Proxima Centauri
  • Gross – Commander of Earth’s Internal Security
  • Dolores – Kramer’s estranged wife
  • Dale Winter – Kramer’s second in line
  • Michael Thomas – a professor who taught Kramer and Dolores when they were in school

The Defenders

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

It’s been eight years since a nuclear war between Russia and the United States has left the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. All humans live and work below ground, sending weapons up to the leadies, robots designed to withstand the deadly radiation who continue to fight the war by proxy.

When the head of Internal Security for the Americans notices a visiting leady is non-radioactive for some reason he organizes a party to the surface to investigate. Once there they find there is no nuclear fallout and in fact no ongoing war. The leadies have been faking the entire thing, creating miniature destroyed cities and sending down ersatz war footage as life above ground (minus humans) is thriving.

The leadies decided if they kept a fake war going long enough the human’s hatred would burn itself out and then all of mankind could be united… or something like that. Their scheme seems kind of dubious to be honest but also kind of cute. The leadies trap these Americans, who now know the grand plan, on the surface, since it’s not quite time to expose the fake war to everyone. They are introduced to a small group of Russians who also ventured above ground at some point and also found out the truth, and together the two factions must learn how to get along.

Dick would reuse and expand this idea in his later novel The Penultimate Truth, although the circumstances of the phony war in that one are much more complicated.

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

Cast of characters

  • Taylor – planner for the U.S. war program
  • Mary – Taylor’s wife
  • Moss – Taylor’s supervisor
  • Commander Franks – officer of Internal Security

The Skull

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Sep 1952

A man named Conger is sent two hundred years back in time to the 1960s to find and kill the mysterious Founder of the First Church, a subversive anti-science movement that preaches non-violence at odds with the present era’s ruling class that trusts a society governed by rationalism and the occasional war to clear out humankind’s weaker elements.

In order to identify the Founder and kill him before he is able to deliver the sermon that will lead to this new movement Conger is given the skull of the Founder which they obtain after raiding the First Church’s holy relics.

Once back in 1960’s Midwest America, it is fairly obvious that Conger himself is this Founder he is searching for. Because he arrives too late and is spotted by some townsfolk before traveling farther back in time to when the Founder is killed he gives the appearance of a resurrection which leads to the belief in the Founder’s divinity. Eventually, right before he is killed by a mob from the town that doesn’t trust outsiders, Conger realizes ‘wait a minute the teeth in this skull I’ve been carrying around are a dead ringer for my own.’

I get what Dick was going for here, although the 1960s setting makes it hard to believe Conger’s trite aphorism, spoken to the townspeople right before they take him down, would be enough to spark a global and long-lasting movement.

Cast of characters

  • Conger – sent back in time to find the Founder of the First Church
  • The Speaker – the council member who sends Conger back in time in search of the Founder
  • Mrs. Appleton – rents Conger a room in Cooper Creek
  • Ed Davies – store owner in Cooper Creek
  • Bill Willet, Lora Hunt – teenagers in Cooper Creek
  • Sheriff Duff – the sheriff of Cooper Creek

The Gun

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Planet Stories Sep 1952

The crew of a space craft examines what they think is a barren planet before an unmanned anti-aircraft gun shoots down their ship revealing the planet had in fact been populated some time in the past. This gun, it turns out, guards a vault of film, records, and books documenting the culture of the planet (possibly Earth in the far future after nuclear war?). The crew dismantles the gun in order to safely leave the planet’s surface, but soon after they are gone the gun begins a process of automatically repairing itself.

Cast of characters

  • The Captain
  • Tance – the ship’s archeologist
  • Dorle – chief navigator
  • Fomar – the ship’s biologist
  • Nasha – the vice-captain

The Little Movement

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Nov 1952

By infiltrating the homes of children a group of sentient toys plots to take over the world (or something along those lines) until a second group of toys manages to stop them. This one is as absurd as it sounds.

Cast of characters

  • My Lord – a sentient toy soldier. Part of a larger group of toys with plans of world domination
  • Bobby – the boy who ends up in possession of My Lord
  • Bonzo, Fred, Teddo – the other sentient toys who thwart My Lord and his evil machinations