Short Stories

Psi-man, Heal My Child!

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imaginative Tales Nov 1955

A nuclear war between the Soviets and the United States wiped out U.S. cities decades ago, and by 2017 an entire generation has grown up in militarized underground communes. 

The few who have psionic powers live outside the communes and struggle with how to guide normal humans toward a working society when the humans don’t want their help. Jack repeatedly travels back in time and tries to warn the U.S. chief of staff of the armed forces about the outcome of the war, but he doesn’t have any luck preventing what will happen. The other psionics in present day are more concerned with how to sustain peace going forward. 

In the end the communes stop the free flow of civilians to the village where the psionics live. Anyone who leaves the shelter of the commune won’t be able to return, and only time will tell if the humans will accept the help of the psionics to rebuild civilization. 

Cast of characters

  • Ed and Barbara Garby – a couple with a sick child in the commune
  • Porter – a precog
  • Jack – a time traveler
  • Thelma – a healer
  • Doris – a parakineticist
  • Stephen – a telepath
  • General Earnest Butterford – chief of staff of the U.S. armed forces before the war

The Chromium Fence

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Jul 1955

A civil war has broken out between the Naturalists, who believe it is a man’s right to smell bad, go bald and have halitosis, and the Purists, who insist every man should have his sweat glands removed, teeth whitened, hair restored, etc. Don Walsh doesn’t want to commit to either party, but with an upcoming election he’s forced to take sides or else deal with the consequences. 

It’s a goofy premise that just illustrates mankind’s destiny to create factions and fight to the death over the stupidest trivialities. 

Cast of characters

  • Don Walsh – our undecided protagonist
  • Betty Walsh – Don’s wife
  • Jimmy Walsh – Don’s son in the Purist Youth League
  • Carl – Don’s Naturalist brother-in-law
  • Charley – a robot psychoanalyst 

Shell Game

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

The leaders of a settlement on Betelgeuse II believe they are a superior mutant race who crashed on that planet during a war with Terra which is now repeatedly trying to sabotage their camp. 

When they finally raise their damaged spacecraft they learn the truth that they were actually paranoid mental patients on a ship en route to a mental hospital. Or at least it seems that way. Several of the leaders question whether the attacks by Terra are truly collective hallucinations. They devise a way to test their sanity which exposes four of them as Terran spies. The rest, now convinced they aren’t crazy, commit to defeating Terra. 

“Shell Game” is a prototype of sorts for Dick’s later novel The Clans of the Alphane Moon which takes this idea of a group of isolated mental patients in a different direction. 

Cast of characters

  • O’Keefe, Fisher, Portbane, Horstokowski, Daniels, Silberman, Lanoir, Tate, Domgraf-Schwach – the nine leaders of the camp on Betelgeuse II

Sales Pitch

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

Ed Morris and his wife are constantly harassed from all directions by advertising and robot salesmen. Ed dreams about immigrating to Proxima and living a simple life there among just a few thousand other people. Before he can convince his wife to agree to this plan a traveling robot salesman shows up at their door to sell them a fasrad. 

The robot smashes their furniture and demolishes their appliances before they realize the fasrad it is demonstrating is actually itself: a Fully Automatic Self-Regulating Android (Domestic). It repairs what it broke, demands to be bought and won’t take no for an answer. 

Ed flees in his tiny commuter ship and the fasrad catches up to him when he stops to refuel. Ed intends to make it to Proxima, but his small domestic ship can’t handle being pushed to its limits. The ship blows apart, and as the remains drift toward the nearest star where it will burn up Ed finally has some peace and quiet. That is until the damaged robot, now stuck in a loop, tries to sell him a fasrad.

“Sales Pitch” was adapted as the forgettable episode “Crazy Diamond” in the first season of Electric Dreams. Like several other episodes in this series it has nothing to do with the original premise of the short story, which is too bad because Dick’s story is hilarious. 

Cast of characters

  • Ed Morris – a commuter from Earth who works on Ganymede
  • Sally Morris – Ed’s wife

Exhibit Piece

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

A man in charge of the twentieth century exhibit at the History Agency two hundred years in the future passes through a time gate in his exhibit, ends up in a 1950’s suburban home with a wife and two kids and decides to stay.

“Exhibit Piece” was adapted for the first season of Electric Dreams as the episode “Real Life”, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the story it is supposedly based on.

Cast of characters

  • George Miller – in charge of the twentieth century exhibit at the History Agency
  • Controller Fleming – Miller’s boss
  • Don and Ted – Miller’s sons in the 1950s
  • Marjorie – Miller’s wife in the 1950s
  • Adam Grunberg – Miller’s psychiatrist in the 1950s
  • Director Carnap – the History Agency director

To Serve the Master

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Feb 1956

A post-apocalyptic mail carrier named Applequist stumbles on a heavily-damaged war-time robot in a ravine over a hundred years after all the robots had supposedly been destroyed. Applequist doesn’t understand the robots role in the great war, and his superiors won’t explain it to him. 

The robot tells Applequist the war was fought between two factions of humans, the moralists and the leisurists. According to the robot, the moralists, who believed God intended men to live lives of toil, overcame the leisurists and with no need for robots eliminated them all.

A life of leisure greatly appeals to Applequist, so he helps repair the impaired robot. Only then does Applequist finally find out from his supervisors that the war was actually fought between the robots and humans, and that the robots had killed millions of humans before the humans rallied to defeat them. By that point the repaired robot has escaped from the ravine leaving the humans scrambling to track it down. 

Cast of characters

  • Applequist – a lower class mail carrier
  • Jenkins – Applequist’s assistant supervisor
  • Director Laws – Applequist’s boss