tag: Consumerism

Service Call

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First published in Science Fiction Stories July 1955

A repairman shows up at David Courtland’s apartment late one night to service his swibble. Courtland has no idea what a swibble is and sends the man away only to find out from a paper left behind that the man is from nine years in the future. He gathers a group of his coworkers to await the repairman’s return hoping to learn as much as possible about this futuristic swibble presumably so his business can attempt to build one. 

When the repairman returns Courtland leads him on and they eventually find out the swibble is some kind of quasi-organic, telepathic device that forces conformity on the society of the future, although it’s not clear who is really in control, the swibbles or the humans. When the repairman learns that Courtland doesn’t actually own a swibble and that he was sent back to the wrong time he disappears and almost immediately a swibble installation crew from the future knocks on Courtland’s door with a swibble for his apartment.

Cast of characters

  • David Courtland
  • Fay Courtland – Courtland’s wife
  • The unnamed swibble repairman
  • Pesbroke – Courtland’s boss
  • Jack Hurley, Parkinson, Anderson, MacDowell – the crew Courtland assembles to interrogate the repairman

Some Kinds of Life

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First published in Fantastic Universe Oct-Nov 1953

Bob Clarke is called up to fight in the war against the Martians in order to secure access to the rexeroid deposits on Mars. Without rexeroid the control boards of the cars on Earth wouldn’t function and everyone would have to go back to manual steering. This conflict with the Martians is the latest in a string of skirmishes over Earth’s necessary domestic materials after the clashes with Venus over the kyron ore that maintains their home’s temperature and Pluto for the lonolite that powers their computers.

Bob is one of the many casualties of the rexeroid war, and boys under eighteen are then drafted in order to meet the quota for soldiers. Bob’s son Tommy is sent into combat against the natives on Calisto for the gleco that controls the keyless entry to their homes. He survives but dies not long after during the trektone war on Europa. Soon the only way for Terra to fill its ranks is to draft women, and Joan is enlisted for battle in the nymphite war on Saturn.

The last thing we see are aliens arriving from Orion some time later to find elaborate homes from an advanced civilization but no sign of the Terrans who used to live there.

In order to avoid having two stories credited to Philip K. Dick, “Some Kinds of Life” was published under the pseudonym Richard Phillips when it appeared alongside his story “Planet for Transients” in Fantastic Universe in 1953.

Cast of characters

  • Joan Clarke – our protagonist
  • Bob Clarke – Joan’s husband
  • Tommy Clarke – Joan and Bob’s son
  • Erickson – the Sector Organizer

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


Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Startling Stories 1955

Tom and Mary Fields can’t imagine life without a robot Nanny to help take care of their children. But unbeknownst to them these Nannies are programed to duel to the death with Nannies produced by other manufacturers. When the Fields’ Nanny is destroyed by a neighbor’s Nanny at the park, Tom Fields upgrades to a bigger model. And after that Nanny gets its revenge on their neighbor’s Nanny, their neighbor plans to replace his demolished Nanny with the biggest one ever as the cycle of planned obsolescence continues.

Cast of characters

  • Tom Fields, Mary Fields, Bobby, Jean – a nuclear family who owns a Services Industries, Inc., Nanny

Pay for the Printer

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Satellite Oct 1956

In this thinly veiled dig at 1950’s consumer capitalism, extraterrestrials called the Biltong settle on Earth after Earth’s nuclear war destroys much of civilization. These Biltong have the ability to create replicas of Earth items, and the human survivors use the aliens to rebuild their cities based around these ersatz goods. Soon the Biltongs begin to die from overwork. Anything they’ve copied starts to disintegrate, and so humans will have to relearn the lost art of building things with their own hands.

Cast of characters

  • Allen Fergusson – member of the Pittsburgh settlement
  • Charlotte, Ben Untermeyer – members of a settlement outside Pittsburgh
  • John Dawes – a survivor who has learned to craft a wooden cup

Foster, You’re Dead

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in STAR Science Fiction Stories no.3 1955

Schoolboy Mike Foster desperately wants a bomb shelter, partly to fit in (his is the only family not to own one) and partly for a sense of security (this is 1971 and the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union). Mike eventually convinces his father to buy the newest model shelter on an installment plan. His family though can’t afford it after the Russians develop a new weapon rendering all shelters obsolete unless owners pay for a costly upgrade. The shelter then gets repossessed sending Mike into a fit of despair.

‘Foster, You’re Dead’ was adapted as ‘Safe and Sound’ for the first season of Amazon Prime’s Electric Dreams. It’s not a terrible episode of television, but it shares very little in common with the short story.

Cast of characters

  • Mike Foster
  • Bob Foster – Mike’s dad and the last of the town’s anti-preppers
  • Ruth Foster – Mike’s mom
  • Bill O’Neill – shelter salesman for General Electronics