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

Null-O

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Dec 1958

Lemuel is a troubled teen exhibiting classic troubled teen behaviors like arson and animal cruelty, and after he attacks a teacher with a knife his father promptly takes him to the psychiatric hospital. The sympathetic psychiatrist Dr. North recognizes Lemuel is a “perfect paranoid” (aka sociopath?), and Lemuel explains and demonstrates to the doctor his Null-O philosophy in which all of the world’s objects need to be obliterated. This impresses Dr. North for some reason, and he puts Lemuel in touch with another collection of Null-Os, in this case a group of scientists who want to destroy the universe. 

The Null-Os begin their grand scheme to detonate a progression of larger and larger bombs. Their country annihilating bombs are a success, but before they can detonate the earth bomb some pesky humans who have managed to survive attack them. In the melee Lemuel is shot. The other Null-Os escape in a spacecraft, and Lemuel, even as he is about to be killed by the humans, is at peace knowing the Null-Os will still complete their plan.

Presumably “Null-O” is some sort of satire of A.E. van Vogt’s stilted novel The World of Null-A which was quite a success (in spite of being bad) when it was published at the end of the 40s.

Cast of characters

  • Lemuel Jorgenson – our Null-O protagonist
  • Ralph Jorgenson – Lemuel’s father
  • Jean Jorgenson – Lemuel’s mother
  • Dr. James North – Lemuel’s psychiatrist
  • Dr. Jacob Weller, Dr. Frisch – part of a group of Null-Os hoping to destroy the entire universe

Tony and the Beetles

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Orbit Science Fiction #2 Dec 1953

A young boy has lived his entire life with his family on a planet in the Orion system. The Earth’s colonists have dominated the Pas-uedti natives which the humans refer to as Beetles both because of their appearance and because of Betelgeuse, the planet’s sun. When a Terran warfleet is defeated by the Beetles in a battle, the Pas-udeti begin to rise up against their oppressors, surprising the boy and teaching him a lesson about how the Pas-udeti really feel about the colonists inhabiting their planet.

Cast of characters

  • Tony Rossi – a young colonist on an alien planet
  • Joseph Rossi – Tony’s father
  • Leah Rossi – Tony’s mother
  • B’prith, Llyre – Pas-udeti children who Tony naively believes will remain his friends even after the tide has turned in the war with Terra