tag: Parallel Universes

The World She Wanted

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First published in Science Fiction Quarterly May 1953

“The World She Wanted” illustrates the best of all possible worlds theory: infinite timelines allow for mostly positive outcomes for everyone as the reality one person experiences in their timeline doesn’t necessarily have to correspond to anyone else’s timeline. Allison Holmes believes this when she spots Larry Brewster at his favorite run-down jazz club and decides she is going to marry him. It appears the theory she subscribes to is correct as she is able to avoid restaurant bills and win at the casino with almost no effort.

Larry goes along with this for a while even as it becomes apparent the life Allison wants for herself with expensive cars and McMansion homes doesn’t line up with Larry’s desire to one day live a peaceful life on a farm. Luckily for him this story isn’t told from her point of view. When they return to the jazz club a few days later and Larry finds that it’s been converted into a fancy bistro because Allison prefers it that way, Larry makes Allison disappear since we’ve been in his reality, and not hers, all along. 

I always enjoy a good multiverse story. The best of all possible worlds isn’t a bad principle to organize your life around as far as I’m concerned.

Cast of characters

  • Larry Brewster
  • Allison Holmes

The Commuter

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First published in Amazing Stories Aug-Sep 1953

One day while Bob Paine is selling train tickets in an unnamed city a commuter disappears into thin air right in front of him while attempting to purchase a ticket to Macon Heights. As far as Paine knows Macon Heights isn’t on the map and never has been. When the commuter shows up to buy a ticket the next day and vanishes a second time Paine has his girlfriend Laura investigate. She discovers Macon Heights was nearly a subdivision years ago before the expansion was defeated by the county board of supervisors, losing by only one vote. 

Eventually Paine is able to visit this phantom town, as the reality where Macon Heights survived the board’s vote is slowly bleeding into his own. In the end he comes home to find he is married to Laura and has a son, and the world in which Macon Heights didn’t exist is just a fading memory. 

“The Commuter” was adapted for the first season of Electric Dreams where Macon Heights is transformed into something more mystical as a place of escape for down-on-their-luck souls. The more successful adaptations in this series expand on what they have rather than create completely new stories. I might say this is one of the better episodes, although the bar is awfully low. 

Cast of characters

  • Bob Paine – a ticket seller
  • Ed Jacobson– Paine’s coworker
  • Ernest Critchet – the titular commuter who lives in Macon Heights
  • Laura Nichols – Paine’s girlfriend

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
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Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said breaks from the formula Dick had used in a lot of his earlier books. Instead of a down-on-his-luck everyman, Jason Taverner (blessed with strength, smarts and good looks due to a secret genetic experiment) is the host of a popular television show. After his mistress attempts to kill him, he wakes up in a world where he is no longer famous and evidently doesn’t even exist.

The mystery of how Jason ended up in a parallel universe with no identity doesn’t have a particularly satisfying conclusion, but Dick seems more concerned in this one with exploring ideas of love and grief. Ruth Rae has a long discussion with Jason about the importance of love for pets in spite of their short lives, and in a memorable sequence, the police general Felix Buckman has a nervous breakdown near the end of the book as he processes the death of Alys, who was not only his sister but also his incestuous lover.

Cast of characters

  • Jason Taverner – host of the Jason Taverner Show
  • Heather Hart – Jason’s girlfriend
  • Marilyn Mason – Jason’s mistress who tries to kill him
  • Kathy Nelson – the young girl who forges Jason’s documents
  • Inspector McNulty – Kathy’s police contact
  • Felix Buckman – Los Angeles police general
  • Alys Buckman – Buckman’s twin sister
  • Herb Maime – Buckman’s chief of staff
  • Ruth Rae – Jason’s former mistress who he meets in Las Vegas
  • Mary Anne Dominic – a potter. She helps Jason escape from the Buckman house

The Crack in Space

The Crack in Space
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I like The Crack in Space even though it’s obviously not one of Philip K. Dick’s greatest works.

A man repairing a Jiffi-scuttler finds a small tear that leads to a parallel Earth. This comes at a time of severe overpopulation and unemployment where the U.S. has warehoused over seventy million people in suspended animation to be thawed out once the labor market improves.

Jim Briskin, a candidate hoping to be the first black elected president, sees an opportunity to send the bibs (as they are called) through this ‘crack in space’ to colonize the parallel Earth. That plan falls apart when they discover this other planet is inhabited by some far distant ancestor on the evolutionary tree.

Here are some things I love about this book:

  • The introduction to Jim Briskin. “…he still wore a formal dark suit even in hot weather. That, and a flaming red wig, had been his trademark back in the days when he had telecast as a TV newsclown.”
  • The poorly-defined Jiffi-scuttler. It’s at the center of the story and I have no idea about its intended use. It’s only described as some kind of limited time travel device.
  • George Walt, the conjoined twins who share a single head. It’s so weird that I can’t even picture how a creature like that would move around, and maybe PKD couldn’t picture it either. “It’s a wonder George Walt can perambulate,’ Jim said. ‘Joined at the base of the skull, the way they are. Must be damned awkward.” Also, they own a satellite brothel in orbit.

If this book feels like too many different stories in one that’s because Dick evidently borrowed from several of his short stories when putting this together.

Cast of characters

  • Darius Pethel – owner of Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service
  • Lurton Sands – org-trans surgeon involved in a divorce
  • Myra Sands – Dr. Sand’s wife. An abort consultant
  • James Briskin – black candidate for president on the Republican Liberal ticket
  • Thisbe Olt – operator of the Golden Door satellite. Thisbe Holt is the girl in the bubble in The Broken Bubble
  • Stu Hadley – salesman at Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service. Stu Hadley is also the name of the main character in Voices from the Street.
  • Sal Heim – Briskin’s campaign manager
  • Patricia – Sal’s wife
  • Phil Danville – speechwriter for Briskin
  • William Schwarz – the incumbent president and Briskin’s opponent. A State’s Rights Conservative Democrat
  • Bruno Mini – advocate of a ‘planet wetting’ technique of terraforming
  • Frank Woodbine – a space explorer
  • Rick Erickson – repairman for Pethel Jiffi-scuttler Sales & Service
  • George Walt – the two-bodied, one-headed mutant owner of the Golden Door Moments of Bliss satellite brothel
  • Tito Cravelli – Myra Sand’s private investigator
  • Cally Vale – Dr. Sand’s mistress
  • Leon Turpin – chairman on the board at Terran Development, manufacturers of the Jiffi-scuttler
  • Don Stanley – Turpin’s administrative assistant
  • Bascolm Howard – TD’s com-sys engineer
  • Herb Lackmore – a welfare worker
  • Earl Bohegian – Cravelli’s inside man at TD