Category: Short Stories

Explorers We

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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan 1959

A crew of explorers returns from an expedition to Mars crash landing their ship just outside of San Francisco. When they make their way into town they expect a hero’s welcome, but instead everyone who sees them flees in terror. 

The FBI eventually shows up and burns them alive with napalm without listening to any pleas from the men who think the FBI must believe them to be Commies. 

We find out that the Mars spacecraft actually crashed on that planet’s surface two years ago and what has been repeatedly returning to Earth, twenty-one times and counting, are aliens disguised as humans (although the aliens clearly don’t know that’s what they are). The story ends with the same Mars crew, thrilled to be arriving back on Earth, again crash landing their craft outside the city. 

Cast of characters

  • Captain Stone, Parkhurst, Barton, Leon, Merriweather, Vecchi – the crew of Mars explorers 
  • Scanlan, Wilks – FBI agents

The Unreconstructed M

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First published in Science Fiction Stories Jan 1957

A clever machine kills a man named Rosenburg in his home and carefully places forensic evidence to frame someone for the murder. Leroy Beam, an independent researcher investigating the crime, comes across the machine and finds out it belongs to Paul Tirol, operator of an illegal planetary slave trade. At the same time, the police decide their prime suspect is Tirol’s competitor David Lantano based on the planted evidence.

Beam discovers that Ellen Ackers, wife of Interior policeman Edward Ackers, is working with Tirol with a plan of her own to steal Tirol’s machine and use it to frame her husband in order to make him grant her a divorce. In the meantime Ackers has picked up Lantano for the murder of Rosenburg, and so Ackers is ruined and forced to resign since this machine shows the police got the wrong man. 

As punishment Tirol is banished and sent at light speed to a random planet in the far reaches of the solar system. He tries to get back to Earth through his own illegal slave trade only to find out the  freighters there are operated by Lantano. 

Cast of characters

  • Edward Ackers – Interior policeman
  • Harvey Garth – pretends to protest the banishment system outside the Interior Department while feeding information to the independent researchers
  • Heimie Rosenburg – murdered by Tirol’s machine
  • Paul Tirol – owner of Tirol Enterprises operating an illegal planetary slave trade
  • David Lantano – Tirol’s competition in the slave trade. Dave Lantano is also the name of a Yance-man in The Penultimate Truth
  • Leroy Beam – an independent researcher investigating Rosenburg’s death
  • Ellen Ackers – Ackers’s wife secretly working with Tirol

Recall Mechanism

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First published in If July 1959

Ever since he was a child Paul Sharp has suffered from a fear of falling. As an adult he seeks treatment from a psychoanalyst for this worsening problem. His analyst Humphreys uncovers repressed memories and figures out Sharp is a latent precog due to the radiation from the nuclear bombs that detonated in Northern California when he was young. Unaware of his abilities, Sharp’s fear comes from a vision of his own death at the hands of a man named Giller (also from Northern Cali) who wants Sharp, through his job at the Division of War Destruction Salvage, to rebuild Petaluma-Sonoma which was destroyed during the war. 

Although he doesn’t tell Sharp this, Humphreys decides there is nothing he can do for him. The story ends with Giller meeting with his own psychoanalyst and complaining about the compulsion he’s always had for great heights and the irresistible urge to push people. 

Cast of characters

  • Paul Sharp – suffers from a fear of heights and falling
  • Humphreys – Sharp’s psychoanalyst
  • Giller – wants Sharp to rebuild the Petaluma-Sonoma area in Northern California

The Mold of Yancy

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First published in If Aug 1955

Terra can’t understand how the society on Callisto has managed to maintain a totalitarian political structure without resorting to political prisons, terrorism or extermination camps. It’s almost like the citizens are willfully going along with whatever the government wants even though they are free to believe and act however they choose. 

Terra sends Peter Taverner undercover to the moon to investigate. He comes across the curious broadcasts of John Yancy, whose homespun advice and folksy wisdom have been very persuasive in creating a docile population. Yancy though isn’t real. He’s just a simulacrum created by some state-controlled advertisers called Yance-men. With the help of a Yance-man named Sipling who realizes how dangerous this level of control is, Taverner finds out the goal is to convince the Callistotes that most war is bad but some wars (like one with Ganymede for instance the government is prepping for) are just wars. 

Knowing this Terra takes over the Yance-men, and led by Sipling they begin to subvert the Yancy broadcasts to promote independent thought. 

Yancy reminded me of Reagan when I read it, but Dick said the model for Yancy was (obviously) Eisenhower. A version of Yancy and the Yance-men show up in Dick’s later novel The Penultimate Truth.

Cast of characters

  • Leon Sipling – the Yance-man who leads a revolt
  • John Edward Yancy – a neighborly simulacrum priming the residents of Callisto for a ‘just’ war
  • Babson – head Yance-man
  • Peter Taverner – sent to Calisto to understand how that moon’s totalitarian government operates
  • Eckmund, Dorser – fellow undercover cops sent to Callisto
  • Kellman – the police director on Terra

Service Call

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First published in Science Fiction Stories July 1955

A repairman shows up at David Courtland’s apartment late one night to service his swibble. Courtland has no idea what a swibble is and sends the man away only to find out from a paper left behind that the man is from nine years in the future. He gathers a group of his coworkers to await the repairman’s return hoping to learn as much as possible about this futuristic swibble presumably so his business can attempt to build one. 

When the repairman returns Courtland leads him on and they eventually find out the swibble is some kind of quasi-organic, telepathic device that forces conformity on the society of the future, although it’s not clear who is really in control, the swibbles or the humans. When the repairman learns that Courtland doesn’t actually own a swibble and that he was sent back to the wrong time he disappears and almost immediately a swibble installation crew from the future knocks on Courtland’s door with a swibble for his apartment.

Cast of characters

  • David Courtland
  • Fay Courtland – Courtland’s wife
  • The unnamed swibble repairman
  • Pesbroke – Courtland’s boss
  • Jack Hurley, Parkinson, Anderson, MacDowell – the crew Courtland assembles to interrogate the repairman

Survey Team

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First published in Fantastic Universe May 1954

After nuking Earth’s surface an entire generation of humans grow up living in underground bunkers to hide from the radiation. A small crew of explorers is sent to Mars with the hope the neighboring planet can sustain human life, since their subsurface existence is slowly driving everyone mad.

On Mars this survey team finds abandoned cities and resources that have been mined and completely depleted. They uncover reports though that the Martians discovered a lush, green planet to escape to just like the humans hope to do. The team wants to follow them there, confident they can overtake anyone if necessary, until they realize this new verdant planet is the one they came from and already destroyed.

Cast of characters

  • Halloway, Young, Van Ecker, Carmichael, Doctor Judde, Captain Mason – the survey team exploring Mars