A World of Talent

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

After years as second-class citizens the Centaurian colonies have decided to secede from Terra. The colonists have the advantage of Psi-class individuals who don’t exist on Earth, and the separatist movement is kept alive with the help of two precogs and the parakinetic talents of an overweight idiot savant Psi who keeps them safe.

Somehow the precog Curt locates the first known Anti-Psi Pat on the underdeveloped Proxima VI and with the help of the parakinetic Big Noodle brings her to Proxima III. The head of the telepathic corps sees a threat from an Anti-Psi who could block their abilities, and he has Pat killed just as he had done with the Anti-Psis he had found out about in the past.

Curt has Big Noodle send him to Prox VI where he hopes to find a Psi who can reanimate Pat. There he runs into an old man who he encountered several times earlier and discovers it is his son Tim. They believed Tim didn’t have Psi powers, except it turns out the offspring of the two precogs is a new class of Psi who has the ability to travel in time. Tim, to wrap this up, somehow manipulates the timeline and brings Pat back to life.

Dick would reuse some of these ideas along with the Anti-Psi character Pat Connley/Conley in Ubik

Cast of characters

  • Tim Purcell – an eight-year-old child of two precogs
  • Julie Purcell – Tim’s mother and a precog 
  • Curt Purcell– Tim’s father and a precog
  • Fairchild – a Norm-class bureaucrat
  • Reynolds – chief of the telepathic Corps
  • Sally – a thirteen-year-old girl and advanced Psi
  • Big Noodle – a parakinetic Psi with the mind of a three-year-old. Big Noodle is also the name of Earth’s vast artificial intelligence in The Divine Invasion
  • Pat Connley – an Anti-Psi with a counter talent against the telepaths. Pat Conley is also the name of the Anti-Precog in Ubik

Strange Eden

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Imagination Dec 1954

Two men on a survey of the galaxy touch down on an Earth-like planet. One man explores the forest and encounters an immortal woman whose race has visited Earth in the past inspiring many of Earth’s myths and legends about Gods and miracles. The woman fights off the man’s amorous advances, but then gives in, warning him first that if they have sex it will cause him to evolve. 

The next morning the woman approaches the ship and informs the captain the other man won’t be returning. As the captain leaves he sees a large cat-like animal gesturing angrily (in a way that is strangely human) as the ship flies away.

Cast of characters

  • Captain Johnson – captain of a survey ship
  • Brent – surveyor on the Terran ship
  • Aeetes and an unnamed woman – sibling inhabitants of the planet

The Father-Thing

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Dec 1954

In a story that sounds similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Charles Walton realizes his father has been replaced by an alien imposter. Charles enlists two friends for help, and together they find and burn the bug-like creature that controls the father-thing, which in turn destroys the father-thing and the Charles-thing which had just matured.

“The Father-Thing” was adapted for Electric Dreams as one of the better episodes of the first season.

Cast of characters

  • Charles Walton – eight-year-old boy whose father has been replaced by an alien
  • June Walton – Charles’s mother
  • Ted Walton – Charles’s father / the father-thing
  • Tony Peretti, Bobby Daniels – Charles’s friends who help him defeat the father-thing

The Last of the Masters

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Orbit Science Fiction #5 Nov-Dec 1954

200 years ago the Anarchist League overthrew all governments worldwide and destroyed all the robot leaders. All these years later one government integration robot remains, kept alive in secret, although its days are numbered as its parts wear out and there is no way to replace them.

Bors, this last of the robot masters, keeps one small government-run society going in isolation as a productive (yet pointless?) closed system. Three Anarchists eventually find them, and with the help of a society member who has turned, they confront Bors who then self destructs.

Cast of characters

  • Bors – the last of the government integration robots
  • Peter Green, Fowler, McLean – members of the government-run society who keep Bors operational
  • Edward Tolby, Robert Penn, Silvia Tolby– members of the Anarchist League
  • Laura Davis, Pete Davis – they sacrifice themselves in an attempt to kill the members of the Anarchist League

The Turning Wheel

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Science Fiction Stories #2 1954

Bard Sung-wu, a member of the highest class of holy men studying the teachings of Elron Hu*, is sent to Detroit to investigate the Tinkerists, a Caucasian cult from the lowest Techno class. Before leaving, Sung-wu once again previews his death eight months in the future after which he knows he will be reincarnated as a lowly fly. Eventually Sung-wu ends up at the house of Ben Tinker who is trying to reintroduce reason to the world and push back against the absurd beliefs of the upper classes. Tinker gives Sung-wu antibiotics to use in eight months after he finds out how Sung-wu will die, and Sung-wu in turn hands in a report to his superior that the Tinkerists pose no threat or any need of further investigation.

*Dick of course knew L. Ron Hubbard as a failed science fiction author, and this whole thing is a jab at Hubbard’s Dianetics which had been around for a few years at this point.

Cast of characters

  • Bard Sung-wu – sent to Detroit to investigate the Tinkerists
  • Bard Chai – Sung-wu’s superior
  • Bard Fei-p’ang – operates the mother-scanner where Sung-wu sees his future
  • Ben Tinker – founder of the Tinkerists
  • Frija Tinker – Ben’s daughter

The Golden Man

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

The DCA is in charge of rounding up and euthanizing all mutants, afraid that if any of them were allowed to thrive they could eventually take over the human race. Most mutants are destroyed when they are young, except for Cris Johnson, who has made it to the age of eighteen before he is caught. Johnson has the ability to see the immediate future before it happens. Beyond that he is not really a human at all, but survives only on instinct like an animal. He uses his other mutant trait, golden skin and hair, to seduce Anita Ferris after he is captured so he can escape. The DCA men realize Cris is the true homo superior, since he is the one they will never be able to kill.

In 2007 “The Golden Man” was adapted as the movie Next starring Nicholas Cage. Instead of hunting mutants, the FBI chases after the human Cris Johnson, who can see two minutes into the future, because they need him to help stop some terrorists from detonating a nuclear bomb that will wipe out Los Angeles. It’s illogical and forgettable. Jessica Biel plays a mystery dream girl and five years later would play another mystery dream girl in the equally bad Total Recall remake.

Cast of characters

  • Cris Johnson – a golden-skinned precog mutant
  • Nat Johnson – Cris Johnson’s father
  • Jean and Dave Johnson – Cris’s sister and brother
  • George Baines – a DCA man hunting Cris Johnson
  • Ed Wisdom – Director of DCA’s North American branch
  • Anita Ferris – George’s fiancée and Director of the Semantics Agency