Short Stories

Cadbury, The Beaver Who Lacked

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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In this odd fable with a confusing message a beaver named Cadbury is nagged by his wife for being an all-around failure and his psychiatrist isn’t much help. One day Cadbury floats a letter downstream seeking companionship (hopefully female). A few days later he receives a letter in return from Carol Stickyfoot and they correspond. He finds out from his psychiatrist that Carol is also a patient but he goes to visit her anyway, and at some point over coffee Carol splits into three women with different hostile personalities who all berate Cadbury until he disappears in a puff of smoke. 

Dick is working through his issues with women here. I’ll just leave it at that.

Cast of characters

  • Cadbury – the titular beaver
  • Hilda – Cadbury’s wife
  • Dr. Drat – Cadbury’s psychiatrist
  • Carol Stickyfoot – Cadbury’s love interest

Return Match

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Galaxy Feb 1967

Officer Tinbane is on another stakeout trying to finally catch some outspacers who are running an illegal gambling operation. As usual they destroy the building when they find out the cops are on to them, although this time a pinball game is recovered from the wreckage. 

Back at the police lab Tinbane continues to play this pinball game even after they can tell the machine is constructing a defense mechanism in the form of a catapult that will launch the pinball back at the player. The game takes advantage of Tinbane’s gambling nature, and as he is trying to beat the game and destroy the catapult the machine is building a scan of his brain pattern. When he goes back to his apartment that night (after narrowly avoiding death when the machine fights back with its catapult) he finds he is now in the center of a giant pinball game himself as he is attacked by enormous pinballs, and he hopes the police lab can construct a large catapult for him before it’s too late.

Cast of characters

  • Joseph Tinbane – a Superior Los Angeles police officer
  • Falkes – an S.L.A. police officer
  • An unnamed police lab technician 
  • Ted Donovan – the lab chief

Not By Its Cover

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Famous Science Fiction Summer 1968

Obelisk Books on Mars is receiving complaints about errors in its latest book, a translation of the first-century B.C. poem De Rerum Natura (aka On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius. Since it’s already gone through an expensive print run there is nothing Obelisk president Mr. Masters can do, but he agrees to meet with a scholar anyway who outlines all the problems with the translation. 

De Rerum Natura deals with the fleeting nature of life, but certain passages have been altered to indicate a philosophy of immortality. They eventually realize only the books bound in wub-fur have been changed. The wub is a native Mars creature, generally agreed upon to be pretty stupid, that is nearly impossible to kill, but when it does die the pelt continues to live. Through the books it is communicating this message of eternal life. Based on all this Mr. Masters calls his lawyer and updates his will. He wants his coffin after he dies to be lined in wub-fur. 

Dick returns here to the theme of one of his earliest stories: never underestimate a wub.

Cast of characters

  • Barney Masters – president of Obelisk Books
  • Mr. Brandice – member of Watchmen Over Distortion and Forged Artifacts Generally
  • Jack Snead – Obelisk’s copy editor
  • Luther Saperstein – business agent for the firm Flawless, Incorporated that procures the wub-fur

Holy Quarrel

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Worlds of Tomorrow May 1966

The Genux-B supercomputer wants to nuke Northern California based on a premise that doesn’t make any sense. An engineer jams the computer’s take up reel with a screwdriver and the FBI brings in the computer repairman Joseph Stafford to help them figure out what is wrong with the Genux-B before it ends up starting another war. 

The Genux-B thinks Herb Sousa, a man who operates a penny gum ball machine business in California, is a threat who needs to be eliminated. Stafford and the others feed data into the computer in an attempt to figure out why it has targeted Sousa, and the output they eventually receive from Genux-B is that Herb Sousa is the devil. 

At that point they conclude the Genux-B is severely malfunctioning and shut it down. Stafford returns to his apartment with a couple of Sousa’s gum balls in his pocket that they had picked up in order to rule out all possibilities of a threat. In the morning the gum balls have multiplied. In a few days 15,000 gum balls are spilling from his apartment and when Stafford tries to contact the FBI they are no longer able to answer the phone.

Should we trust computers completely? Do we even have a choice anymore? “Holy Quarrel” is a fun (and creepy) read.

Cast of characters

  • Joseph Stafford – Genux-B computer repairman
  • Unnamed computer engineer
  • Three unnamed FBI agents

Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Amazing Aug 1966

This is either Dick’s stupidest premise or his most brilliant. It’s hard to tell sometimes with him, but I’m going with the former. I’ll do my best to summarize.

A man named Ludwig Eng invented something called a swabble. It’s not clear what the swabble actually does but it introduces into the world something called the Hobart Phase which causes time to flow backwards in a strange way where people eat and smoke in reverse and get younger instead of aging. 

In this backwards world librarians destroy books instead of preserving them. One book coming up for eradication is Eng’s book HOW I MADE MY OWN SWABBLE OUT OF CONVENTIONAL HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS IN MY BASEMENT DURING MY SPARE TIME. Only a few people seem to realize if Eng’s book is eradicated then the swabble won’t be invented and the Hobart Phase won’t be created causing time to move forward once again. But then Eng will just write his book and the process will be repeated trapping everyone in a time loop. 

After dealing with another party who wants the Hobart Phase to continue for their own obscure reasons the librarian Niehls Lehrer meets with Lance Arbuthnot who wrote a book he hopes to get eradicated that will somehow counteract Eng’s book. The effects of the Hobart Phase are weakening though so they better move fast.

Dick expanded “Your Appointment Will Be Yesterday” a few years later into one of my least favorite novels Counter-Clock World.

Cast of characters

  • Niehls Lehrer – a librarian
  • Ludwig Eng – wrote the book that created the Hobart Phase
  • Carl Gantrix – attorney for Bard Chai
  • Carl Junior – Gantrix’s robot
  • Bard Chai – head of the Clearness Council
  • Anarch Peak – leader of the Free Negro Municipality 

A Terran Odyssey

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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“A Terran Odyssey” is a curiosity since it’s just an abridged version of Dick’s novel Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb. I don’t believe it was published anywhere until it was included in a short story collection in 1987, and it’s not clear to me if he assembled this story after Dr. Bloodmoney or if he wrote it before. Either way it appears to be identical to what’s in the novel except Bruno Bluthgeld is nowhere to be found (although they do mention Jack Tree at the beginning), and some subplots like the one involving Walter Dangerfield have been expanded in the book. Dr. Bloodmoney is a favorite of mine so I would suggest just reading that instead.

Cast of characters

See notes on Dr. Bloodmoney