A Terran Odyssey

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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“A Terran Odyssey” is a curiosity since it’s just an abridged version of Dick’s novel Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb. I don’t believe it was published anywhere until it was included in a short story collection in 1987, and it’s not clear to me if he assembled this story after Dr. Bloodmoney or if he wrote it before. Either way it appears to be identical to what’s in the novel except Bruno Bluthgeld is nowhere to be found (although they do mention Jack Tree at the beginning), and some subplots like the one involving Walter Dangerfield have been expanded in the book. Dr. Bloodmoney is a favorite of mine so I would suggest just reading that instead.

Cast of characters

See notes on Dr. Bloodmoney

The War with the Fnools

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Galactic Outpost Spring 1964

Once again the Fnools have invaded Earth intent on dominating the Solar System even though the humans defeated them before. This time, in the U.S., the Fnools are masquerading as real estate salesman in Utah. In Berlin they are appearing as VW inspectors, and in Poland they are disguised as chess players. Luckily they are only two feet tall and so they are easily spotted. 

CIA Captain Edgar Lightfoot travels to Provo to capture some Fnools and bring them back to Major Hauk. Since they are small they are easily apprehended, but while transporting two of them back in his ‘copter he lets them smoke a cigarette. Suddenly both Fnools are now four feet tall. Back at CIA headquarters Major Hauk is in despair over a possible Fnool victory. He drinks from a bottle of scotch and hides in a bunker with his secretary. 

When Lightfoot and the Fnools arrive the Fnools overtake Lightfoot while he is preoccupied with Hauk’s scotch. The Fnools then drink the scotch and instantly become six feet tall. Both Hauk and Lightfoot realize it is hopeless, since the aliens are indistinguishable from humans at that size. That is until the Fnools encounter Miss Smith in the bunker. After this third vice, a woman, the Fnools become eight feet tall. Confident no one will mistake them for humans now Hauk is assured the Fnools will be defeated.

Cast of characters

  • Edgar Lightfoot – Captain of the CIA
  • Julius Hauk – CIA Major
  • Miss Smith – Hauk’s secretary
  • Hochflieger – a General in the West German Security Service
  • Serge Nicov – local chief in Poland’s People’s Protective Agency for Preserving the Democratic Process
  • The Fnools

The Little Black Box

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Worlds of Tomorrow Aug 1964

Both the U.S. and Communist governments are threatened by the rise of Mercerism, a proto-religion formed around a man of unknown origin named Wilbur Mercer. Followers of Mercer watch him on a television screen and by grasping the handles on a black empathy box are able to feel the suffering Mercer feels as he walks through a desert on the way to his death. 

Everything else about Mercer is a mystery, but the State Department suspects he is an extraterrestrial connected somehow to jazz harpist Ray Meritan. In cahoots with the Chinese Communists they send Meritan’s mistress Joan Hiashi to Cuba under a ruse hoping she will connect Meritan to Mercer. 

While performing on a live TV broadcast Meritan exposes himself as a follower of Mercer, Joan is arrested in Cuba as a political agitator and all empathy boxes are rounded up and destroyed. Meritan avoids getting captured and finds one last remaining empathy box. When he grabs the handles he is connected telepathically to Bogart Crofts of the State Department who had been holding onto the empathy box at the same time. The state department knows then that Meritan is not Mercer but intend to arrest him anyway. Mercerism is illegal and with all the empathy boxes destroyed they are confident the religion will be eradicated. 

The state department releases Joan as bait to find out where Meritan is. When Meritan meets up with Joan they expect a hard time staying one step in front of the government, but help comes from a strange peddler who surreptitiously passes them instructions on how to assemble an empathy box out of ordinary household objects. 

The Mercerism religion makes an appearance later in Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Cast of characters

  • Bogart Crofts – works for the State Department
  • Joan Hiashi – Asian scholar in Zen Buddhism. Joan Hiashi is also in The Ganymede Takeover
  • Ray Meritan – a telepath and jazz harpist suspected by the State Department to be Wilbur Mercer
  • Douglas Herrick – Secretary of State
  • Mr. Lee – a Chinese telepath

The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories

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If many of the stories in The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories seem familiar it’s because quite a few of them were reworked into the novels Dick wrote during his prolific period in the mid-60s.

Elements from “The Mold of Yancy” were used in The Penultimate Truth, “Novelty Act” was folded into The Simulacra, “What the Dead Men Say” became Ubik, “The Days of Perky Pat” was used as a basis for The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and news clown Jim Briskin from “Stand-by” and its sequel “What’ll We Do with Ragland Park” is a prominent character in The Crack in Space.

The only TV adaptation from this collection comes from “Autofac” for season one of Electric Dreams, and “The Minority Report” is the only one to be adapted as a movie, although it’s probably his most well-known. 

Only a few like “Autofac” and “The Unreconstructed M” are kind of clunky (or too long like “What the Dead Men Say”), but Dick has really hit his amphetamine-fuelled stride at this point and most of the stories are well worth the read.

What’ll We Do with Ragland Park

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First published in Amazing Nov 1963

“What’ll We Do with Ragland Park” is a sequel to “Stand-by” and takes place shortly after the events of that story. 

Max Fischer has somehow figured out a way to once again disable the supercomputer Unicephalon 40-D, regain the Presidency and imprison the news clown Jim Briskin. Media mogul Sebastian Hada wants Briskin to prop up the failing CULTURE programming on his network which is of course difficult with Briskin in jail. 

While plotting how to get Briskin out and airing nonstop editorials on his network about how Briskin must be released Hada pursues a folksinger named Ragland Park for CULTURE. Hada soon realizes that Rags has a latent ability to seemingly predict (or create) the future through his ballads and with the help of his psychoanalyst gets Rags to write a ballad where Fischer frees Briskin. 

Fischer does release Briskin from prison, and after Rags performs his ballad on CULTURE everyone, including Fischer, seems to have a grasp on what Ragland Park can do. Everyone that is except Rags himself who remains clueless of his abilities. He writes a ballad about the FBI killing him and then that’s what happens, although Fischer thinks it’s his own psionic talents that affected the outcome.

Cast of characters

  • Jim Briskin – a news clown imprisoned by the FBI after what happened in “Stand-by.” Briskin shows up later in Dick’s novel The Crack in Space
  • Sebastian Hada – a media mogul 
  • Dr. Yasumi – Hada’s psychoanalyst
  • Nat Kaminsky – Hada’s production chief
  • Maximilian Fischer – the President of the United States
  • Leon Lait – Fischer’s cousin and Attorney General

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