Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Review of Minority Report by Philip K. Dick

There may be no more divisive writer in my library than Philip K. Dick. Such engaging, engaging ideas that truly get the ol' gray matter churning, his “style” (aka dump words on a page and never look back) prevents them from achieving something grander to my mind. And I think it's here that Hollywood has in fact done Dick a favor: iron out the wrinkles of writing. Collecting the short stories which have been made into movie (as of 2002) is the collection: Minority Report.

This collection published on the heels of the Spielberg/Cruise production, “Minority Report” tells of Anderton, a man working in crime precognition, who one day has his name identified as a future murderer. The movie unveiling the concept much better, softening Dick's jagged edges, the story, however, captures PKD's paranoia better. The short story a mess, it does a fair amount of handwaving to get the reader to buy into the concept, waving more furiously to get them through the climax. Cheap but entertaining, “Impostor” is a fast—oh so fast—slice of wacko existentialism. About a researcher who is planning a peaceful weekend with his wife, he is suddenly snatched up by secret agents and identified as an alien impostor. PKD antics ensue. (“Electric Ant”, a story later in this colelction, does this story type better.)

In a post-apocalyptic future, what’s left of American and Soviet hate plays itself out over a wasteland becoming ever more populated by smarter and smarter robots in “Second Variety”. Evolving themselves to look like humans, one soldier’s peace mission becomes the stuff of nightmares. But who is the enemy? One of the neater, cleaner stories in the collection, it nevertheless feels a little dated. Talk about shaking two coins together to see if they make a sound, “What the Dead Men Say” is the bizarro tale of life after death that brings together bits and pieces of the writer's more famous novels in a fashion that cannot be mistaken for anyone other than PKD. About the corpse of a leader due for revivification, and the mysterious voice from outer space that soon thereafter begins hitting the airwaves, existential gymnastics ensue.

Certainly one of the most bizarre metaphors for a broken family I’ve ever read, “Oh to be a Blobel!” (complete with exclamation point) tells of a war veteran who has been biologically altered to look al
ien. His return to earth meets with therapy (natch), but also a little robot matchmaking. In many ways a predecessor to Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation”, “The Electric Ant” by Philip K. Dick is a more paranoid rendering of a man discovering he’s a robot, and then researching and testing himself to discover the limits of his existence.  Remarkably humanist despite the seemingly cheesy premise (and title), the twenty pages capture much of what made Dick such an intriguing and influential writer. 

Closing the collection is “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”. While Arnie and
Totall Recall are more famous, this is the original idea, and opposite to “Minority Report”, I daresay the short story is better. Dick being Dick, the mind fuck of the story is scattered throughout, rather than concentrated on the last moment, making the subjectivity of memory all the more relevant for it. Proust just never had topless secretaries or memory implants...

In the end, Minority Report only strengthens the divisiveness of Dick's writing. Truly thought-provoking ideas captured with some of the poorest writing, the reader has to choose a side and run with it, either abandoning the stories as undigestable over expanding forgiveness and diving in. For those able to ignore Dick's faults as a writer, there is plenty hear to dig the mind into. And for those looking for the progenitors of so many Hollywood films, there may be no better place than this.

The following are the nine stories collected in Minority Report:

Minority Report


Second Variety

War Game

What the Dead Men Say

Oh, to Be a Blobel!

The Electric Ant

Faith of Our Fathers

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

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