Orpheus with Clay Feet

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First published in Escapade 1964

“Orpheus with Clay Feet” is another meta time travel story along the lines of “Waterspider” which Dick wrote just before this one. 

Jesse Slade has an unfulfilling job helping people legally dodge the draft for the war in Proxima, so for some excitement he decides to take a vacation at Muse Enterprises. Through them he can be sent back in time to inspire a famous historical artist to create their seminal work. Slade’s first choice, to inspire Beethoven, has of course already been done, so he settles on a visit to the 1950s science fiction author Jack Dowland in order to inspire him to write his masterwork “The Father on the Wall.” 

Slade travels back to 1956 but has such a disastrous meeting with Dowland that when Slade returns to his own time he finds that not only did Dowland not end up writing “The Father on the Wall” but Slade actually turned Dowland off from writing much science fiction at all. 

In a metafictional twist the only story Dowland did write was a barely-read story called “Orpheus with Clay Feet” published under the pseudonym Philip K. Dick which is in effect the story we are reading. Based on Slade’s unprecedentedly bad performance the owner of Muse Enterprises has the idea to send him back in time to meet Hitler so Slade can uninspire him to not write Mein Kampf.

Cast of characters

  • Jesse Slade – travels back in time to ‘inspire’ Jack Dowland
  • Mr. Manville – owner of Muse Enterprises
  • Jack Dowland – fictional 1950s science fiction author and also the pseudonym this story was first published under IRL