The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan 1954

Doc Labyrinth decides he has figured out the origin of all life: at some point in the distant past an inanimate object was annoyed enough by some irritant that it sprang to life to escape it. The Doc dubs this the Principle of Sufficient Irritation. 

In order to demonstrate this theory he builds the Animator (described as a Dutch oven but more accurately is probably a crock pot since it has a heating mechanism). When his invention doesn’t sufficiently irritate a brass button enough to provoke sentience he sells the device to his friend for five dollars. His friend puts his wet oxfords in the Animator to dry overnight and one oxford is sufficiently irritated enough to come to life. Everyone is sufficiently amazed especially when the oxford finds a woman’s slipper to animate for a companion. 

Cast of characters

  • the unnamed narrator – the same unnamed narrator from “The Preserving Machine”
  • Joan – the narrator’s wife
  • Doc Labyrinth – inventor of the Animator. Also inventor of the preserving machine in “The Preserving Machine”