tag: Mars

Not By Its Cover

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Famous Science Fiction Summer 1968

Obelisk Books on Mars is receiving complaints about errors in its latest book, a translation of the first-century B.C. poem De Rerum Natura (aka On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius. Since it’s already gone through an expensive print run there is nothing Obelisk president Mr. Masters can do, but he agrees to meet with a scholar anyway who outlines all the problems with the translation. 

De Rerum Natura deals with the fleeting nature of life, but certain passages have been altered to indicate a philosophy of immortality. They eventually realize only the books bound in wub-fur have been changed. The wub is a native Mars creature, generally agreed upon to be pretty stupid, that is nearly impossible to kill, but when it does die the pelt continues to live. Through the books it is communicating this message of eternal life. Based on all this Mr. Masters calls his lawyer and updates his will. He wants his coffin after he dies to be lined in wub-fur. 

Dick returns here to the theme of one of his earliest stories: never underestimate a wub.

Cast of characters

  • Barney Masters – president of Obelisk Books
  • Mr. Brandice – member of Watchmen Over Distortion and Forged Artifacts Generally
  • Jack Snead – Obelisk’s copy editor
  • Luther Saperstein – business agent for the firm Flawless, Incorporated that procures the wub-fur

Survey Team

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First published in Fantastic Universe May 1954

After nuking Earth’s surface an entire generation of humans grow up living in underground bunkers to hide from the radiation. A small crew of explorers is sent to Mars with the hope the neighboring planet can sustain human life, since their subsurface existence is slowly driving everyone mad.

On Mars this survey team finds abandoned cities and resources that have been mined and completely depleted. They uncover reports though that the Martians discovered a lush, green planet to escape to just like the humans hope to do. The team wants to follow them there, confident they can overtake anyone if necessary, until they realize this new verdant planet is the one they came from and already destroyed.

Cast of characters

  • Halloway, Young, Van Ecker, Carmichael, Doctor Judde, Captain Mason – the survey team exploring Mars

The Crystal Crypt

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Planet Stories Jan 1954

Before the last Terrans flee Mars ahead of an outbreak of hostilities a group of three saboteurs shrink down a major city and trap it in a small glass globe. In the last outgoing ship the humans are able to evade the Martians’ lie detector with some semantic trickery (they didn’t ‘destroy’ the city, they just captured it), but they get overconfident when they think they’ve escaped and confess to a Martian posing as a fellow traveler.

A low-budget short movie based on “The Crystal Crypt,” which I have yet to see, was released in 2013. Find out more here.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Thatcher – Martian posing as a Terran 
  • Mara, Ralf Erickson, Jan – the three saboteurs 

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Apr 1966

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” might be my favorite title of any PKD story.

Douglas Quail dreams of an exciting trip to Mars, but since he can’t afford it on his Earth salary he settles for the next best thing, a session at Rekall, Incorporated which promises to implant a memory of a visit to Mars indistinguishable from the actual experience. During the procedure we find out he’s already been to Mars as an undercover agent after which his memory was wiped. Once aware of the truth he has to deal with the Interplan officers who want him dead.

Anyone who has seen Total Recall knows the premise. The Schwarzenegger movie, another of Dick’s best-known adaptations, heads off in a different direction from the telegraphed ending of the short story. I understand the interest in an updated film that differs from the Paul Verhoeven 90s time capsule, but watching the 2012 remake starring Colin Ferrell is a boring chore.

Again (as he did in The Penultimate Truth) Dick makes use of the real-life address of his literary agent at 580 Fifth Avenue in New York, this time as the main barracks of Interplan.

Cast of characters

  • Douglas Quail – our protagonist
  • Kristen Quail – Douglas’s wife
  • McClane – Rekall, Inc. supervisor
  • Lowe – Rekall, Inc. technician

A Game of Unchance

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Amazing Stories July 1964

In A Game of Unchance Dick imagines colonists on Mars as small-town rubes being played for fools by a ring of traveling alien carnivals.

After being swindled by one of these carnivals and losing most of their crops, members of a Martian settlement vow to get back at the next carnival that drops in. When another traveling sideshow visits they put their plan into action. A boy with psychokinetic powers cheats to help them snag a big prize, but the tiny figurines they win turn out to be an army of robots that soon take over their land like a plague.

The UN assumes the robots were meant for something else and that the Martian colonists thwarted some grand nefarious carny plan by winning that game. But then the next traveling carnival arrives with more rigged games, including one with a prize of homeostatic traps that would capture the robots previously let loose, and Fred and the others just can’t seem to grasp the cycle of loss they are caught up in.

Cast of characters

  • Bob Turk – member of the Martian settlement
  • Hoagland Rae – the Martian settlement’s leader
  • Fred Costner – a young boy from the Martian settlement with psychokinetic abilities
  • Tony Costner – Fred’s dad
  • General Mozart, General Wolff  – UN officers

Precious Artifact

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Galaxy Oct 1964

Mars is desperately needed by both Earth and Prox for their overflowing populations, but only Milt Biskle suspects that the Proxmen and not the humans were in fact the victors of the war fought over that planet.

When Milt travels back to Earth after his successful Martian terraforming project he finds his suspicions confirmed. The Proxmen have constructed an elaborate illusion that life on Earth has continued so they can lure the human engineers back to their home planet in order to now terraform it for Prox, since the oceans were vaporized during the war.

Milt eventually resigns himself to this reality and heads back to Mars with a kitten, the titular precious artifact which is itself part of the Prox simulation, something Milt doesn’t recognize.

Cast of characters

  • Milt Biskle – a terraforming engineer on Mars
  • Dr. DeWinter – Milt’s psychiatrist
  • Mary Ableseth – Milt’s tour guide companion back on Earth