Monday, May 22, 2006


Philip K. Dick that is. I've just finished reading a collection of Dick's short stories brought together (rather misleadingly) under the title 'Minority Report'. Despite being only one of several stories, the cover ties the book into the Spielberg / Cruise film and gives the impression that the whole book is Minority Report.

The late P.K. Dick, as you probably know, was a sci-fi writer whose works were highly acclaimed but who only became a popular figure after his death, largely thanks to Ridley Scott's brilliant Blade Runner, an adaptation of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Much of Dick's work centred around paranoia, subjective reality, and simulacra - themes that are all touched upon in this collection of short stories.

I'm not certain if this exact collection of short stories is common or only specific to this particular release (probably the latter), so I'll briefly mention the ones I found memorable.

The titular "Minority Report" is very good, and thematically the film is similar to the source material. The future can be seen and criminals arrested before they commit their crimes - but are they really guilty of anything, and would they have committed their crime if they had been told what they were about to do? The hero is John Anderton, who is a pudgy, balding man approaching retirement (played by Tom Cruise in the movie, naturally) that unwittingly is named as a future killer and must run from the 'pre-crime' department he created whilst figuring out why he was fingered and who he can trust.

In "Imposter", the protagonist is informed that he is not who he thinks he is, but in fact a robotic replacement with artificial memories carrying around a bomb in his body that's set to go off when triggerred by a combination of specific words. He doesn't believe it of course, and sets out to prove that he's human. "War Games" is one in which an imports safety department are holding a group of toys coming in from one of Earth's outer colonies in quarantine and studying them for hidden threats. They worry that the strange new 'War Games' toy may have some secret, insidious purpose.

"The Second Variety" takes place in a post apocalyptic Earth. A war is being waged, and the side that's winning gained the upper hand by creating a bunch of tiny robots that decimated the enemy. Now it seems that the robots have evolved (as they were designed to do) and have begun taking on human form in order to infiltrate enemy positions. Some of the humanoid units have been identified, but the protagonists still haven't seen the 'second variety' - and it could be any one of them.

The final story I recommend from this set is "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", which was filmed as Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Again, thematically the film was fairly accurate, but the stories play out quite differently. They start off the same way though - a menial worker dreams of going to Mars but can't afford it, so he gets artificial memories implanted in his mind in which he was a secret agent who went to Mars. However, the procedure unlocks hidden memories within him which suggest that he WAS, in fact, a secret agent who was once sent to Mars.

Of the remainder, "Faith of our Fathers" (about life being continued after death via a sort of 'half life') and "The Electric Ant" (about a man who learns he's a robot, and attempts to manipulate his subjective reality by altering his 'perception tape') are interesting, while "Oh to be a Blobel!", and "What the Dead Men Say" are the weak links in the bunch (but by no means bad, mind you).

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