Beyond the Door

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First published in Fantastic Universe Jan 1954

Larry buys his wife Doris a cuckoo clock, mostly because he was able to get it for a good price, not because he cared that she really wanted it. Doris loves it in spite of Larry’s intentions, but the cuckoo, apparently a good judge of character, doesn’t get along too well with Larry and takes a nick out of his thumb while he’s winding the clock. Doris knows her antique-loving friend Bob would appreciate the cuckoo clock, but Larry catches the two of them together when she is showing it to him, and he throws her out of the house. 

Larry keeps the clock though, since he paid for it after all, but the cuckoo refuses to come out on the hour. When Larry approaches it angrily with a hammer the cuckoo strikes him in the eye and kills him. The doctor rules that he died from a fall, but only Bob suspects the truth about what happened. 

Cast of characters

  • Larry and Doris
  • Bob – Doris’s friend

The Cookie Lady

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First published in Fantasy Fiction Jun 1953

An elderly woman tempts a schoolboy to her house with freshly-baked cookies where she siphons away his life force to become young again. 

Cast of characters

  • Bernard “Bubber” Surle – a cookie-loving schoolboy
  • Mrs. Drew – the titular cookie lady
  • May and Ralf Surle – Bubber’s parents

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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Second Variety and Other Classic Stories is the third of five volumes of Dick’s collected short stories published by Citadel Press. 

“The Hanging Stranger”, “Sales Pitch”, the horror/fantasy “Upon This Dull Earth”, and the marquee title “Second Variety” are standouts for me from this collection.

Two stories here have been adapted as movies: “Second Variety” as Screamers in 1995 and “The Golden Man” as Next in 2007. “The Hanging Stranger”, “The Father-Thing”, “Exhibit Piece”, “Sales Pitch”, and “Foster, You’re Dead” were all adapted for the first season of Electric Dreams, but it’s too bad none of those episodes are particularly good. 


Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Science Fiction Quarterly Feb 1957

John Eggerton is a titan of industry. He also happens to be targeted as a possible parakineticist by the Agency which identifies latent P-Ks before they can roam unchecked and destroy society. 

Doris Sorrel tries to serve Eggerton his notice to submit to the Agency, but he escapes with a bounty on his head. Eggerton thinks the industrial bloc leaders are undermined by the Agency, even though the other id bloc leaders remind him some kind of check needs to exist against the P-K mutants. 

Eggerton agrees to give himself over to the mercy of the Agency before a showdown with a P-K who was unaware of his own abilities gives Eggerton the idea that everyone can monitor for P-Ks on their own without the need of the Agency. The only thing left is to get the id bloc leaders to agree with this plan. 

The last we see of Eggerton he is flapping his arms and flying through the sky, a mutant P-K after all who has yet to recognize it. 

Cast of characters

  • John Eggerton – an industrial bloc leader who is identified by the Agency as a P-K
  • Doris Sorrel – an Immune who works for the Agency
  • Harvey Sorrel – Doris’s husband
  • Townsand – an id bloc leader
  • Laura Townsand – Townsand’s wife
  • Jay Richards – doesn’t realize he is a P-K. Grows a plant that sprouts a transport vehicle

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