A collection of short stories originally published between 1947 and 1954
- Publisher: Citadel Press
- Genre: Science Fiction
- ISBN: 0-8065-2630-0
- Copyright: 1987
Paycheck and Other Classic Stories is a collection of short stories by Philip K. Dick, considered by many to be among the best and most influential science fiction writers. This same collection was also released under the titles Beyond Lies the Wub and The Short and Happy Life of the Brown Oxford, all three being stories which appear in this collection. The short story "Paycheck" was adapted in 2003 as a major motion picture, directed by John Woo and staring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. If you ask me, and nobody did, "The Variable Man" is the one that needs to be turned into a movie.
These stories are noteworthy for their twist endings, excellent use of time travel as a plot device, and occasional high-concept plots. Doc Labyrinth is a likeable if eccentric character who appears in two of these stories, creating impossible and ultimately rather useless machines with amusing results. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to appear in any of Philip K. Dick's other work.
The collection involves some stories set in the future, some in the present, some on Earth, some in space, some obviously in a world parallel to ours, and some that could very well be in the world we live in. All of them take some concept, however, and see it through to its logical conclusion, exploring both the good and the bad that could come of it.
This is science fiction as I like it best. No space operas here, no magical technology, no technobabble saving the day. The characters are realistic, with flaws and foibles of their own. The situations explore the consequences of space exploration and time travel on an individual, human level so they are very effective at bringing out the intended emotions in the reader. You will laugh at "The Short and Happy Life of the Brown Oxford", you will be frightened by "Colony", you will cheer for the innocent time traveler caught in a world he doesn't understand in "The Variable Man", and "Paycheck" will bring a smile to your face as you slowly come to realize what is going on.
If you're wondering whether you'll like Philip K. Dick's longer works like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this would be a great place to start without investing too much time. The ones marked with a * are my favorites.
Table of Contents:
When the patent office tells Robert Benton that they cannot allow his invention to be developed, he has no idea what they are talking about. He never invented anything.
Told from the point of view of a dog, I have no idea what's going on here.
- The Little Movement
A young boy's toys have a secret plan, and they need his help.
- Beyond Lies the Wub
A spaceship's crew is about to settle down to a meal when the discover the main course is sentient.
- The Gun
A spaceship is shot down by a fully automated weapon left behind by a dead civilization.
- *The Skull
A time traveling man winds up fulfilling the past he was sent back to correct.
- The Defenders
A continuing atomic war has forced civilization to move underground while robots tend to things on the surface.
- Mr. Spaceship
The problem with using a human brain to control a spaceship is that it might start making its own decisions.
- Piper in the Woods
Workers colonizing an alien planet succumb to a bizarre mental illness that prevents them from working.
- *The Infinites
A strange radiation causes a ship's crew to begin evolving into a more advanced form of life, one member slightly faster than the other two.
- *The Preserving Machine
Doc Labyrinth, afraid that the world's greatest musical compositions may someday be lost, builds a machine that transforms sheet music into living creatures.
A man can hear bugs talking, and gets caught up in something much larger than he expected.
- *The Variable Man
A man brought into the future from the 1920's disrupts a carefully programmed computer simulation designed to estimate Earth's chances of winning a war against an alien empire.
- *The Indefatigable Frog
A philosopher and a scientist, obsessed with Zeno's Paradoxes, design a shrinking machine to test the concept of infinity.
- The Crystal Crypt
Lie detectors fail to weed out anyone who might know something about the destruction of a Martian city.
- *The Short and Happy Life of the Brown Oxford
Doc Labyrinth is back, this time with a machine that utilizes "the Principle of Sufficient Irritation" to animate non-living objects.
- The Builder
A modern-day Noah feels compelled to build a massive ark in his yard.
Experiments in time travel could lead to the extinction of the human race, and all attempts to fix them just keep making it worse.
An engineer has his memories of working for a large company erased at the end of his contract. Instead of being paid in money, he receives a handful of worthless trinkets such as bits of wire and bus tokens, which turn out to be impossibly useful over the next few days as he tries to piece together clues as to what he was working on.
- The Great C
In a barbaric future, every year a youth is sent to ask a computer three questions, trying to find one it cannot answer. Those who fail are never seen again.
- Out in the Garden
When a duck comes between a man and a woman, somebody's going to get hurt.
- The King of the Elves
An old man working at a gas station discovers his true destiny in a world hidden from most men.
An advance scouting team researching a planet for possible colonization is attacked by a shape-shifting creature that can disguise itself as anything.
- Prize Ship
Earth captures a highly advanced vehicle of some sort from Ganymede, with only one control lever and no instructions. Does it travel across space? Or between dimensions? Or through something else?
Planned obsolescence tugs at the heartstrings when children love their robotic nannies. Well you have to replace it with next year's model of course, or your children will simply never forgive you.
Some comments from Philip K. Dick on his stories, they provide some insight into the mind of one of science fiction's greatest authors.
* = my favorites