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Philip K. Dick – The Minority Report and Other Stories

September 17, 2009

107. The Minority Report and Other Stories by Philip K. Dick (audio version 2002; original stories 1953-1966)

Read By: Keir Dullea
Length: 5h 33min (~122 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction; Short Stories

Started: 01 September 2009
Finished: 03 September 2009

What would you do if
you knew the future? Plus there’s
other stories too.

Stories: The title story, “Minority Report”, was probably the one I was most familiar with going in, thanks to the movie. The basic premise – that there exists a police bureau of “pre-crime” where mutants who are able to see the future report on what crimes are going to take place, thus allowing the police to arrest the would-be criminals before the crime is actually reported – and the basic plot – a report comes through that the chief of police (who is also the founder of the pre-crime unit) is going to murder somebody – are the same as in the movie, but a variety of other elements are different. While it’s in some ways simpler than the movie, the story’s still very layered, and certainly very thought-provoking.

“We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” is the short story on which the movie Total Recall was based. (While I’ve seen the movie – it was my first R-rated movie, in fact – it was half a lifetime ago, so I can’t do much by way of comparison). In the story, a guy who works a boring, dead-end job wants a little more excitement in his life, so he goes to a company that’s essentially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in reverse, to have false memories of a trip to Mars as a secret agent implanted. Once there, however, neither he nor the company get quite what they bargained for. This one wasn’t quite as thought-provoking as the first story, but it was still interesting and fun to listen to.

“Paycheck” is the story of a young man who has just had his memory wiped as the fulfilling clause of his two-year contract with a construction company. In lieu of the huge sum of money he was expecting, though, he is handed a bag of seemingly worthless trinkets. However, when the trinkets start proving useful in seemingly unforseeable ways, he starts to question what he had actually being doing during the past two years.

This story is an interesting counterpoint to “Minority Report” on the theme of “what would you do if you could see into the future?” It’s good and suspenseful, with enough mystery and intrigue to keep things ticking along nicely. However, the whole thing was a little bit soured by a discordantly sexist tone to the ending one of the story threads.

In“Second Variety”, the Cold War has escalated into widespread, world-shattering, and interminable war. In order to gain an edge over the Russians, UN troops have developed mechanized heat-seeking killing machines, or “claws”. However, the claws are just as dangerous as the enemy soldiers ever were… and now they’re evolving.

While this might have been scary and suspenseful and fascinating when it was originally published in the early 1950s, in a post-Battlestar Galactica world, the revelation that “The Cylons look like us now” was not particularly novel, or even particularly suspenseful. The fact that the protagonist took so very long to twig to the truth of the situation long after I was going “Ye gods, you moron, that’s a machine!” made him seem intensely dumb.

….but still not so dumb as the protagonist of the last story. In “The Eyes Have It”, the protagonist becomes convinced that certain phrases in a novel (i.e. “His eyes followed her around the room.”) are indicators of invasion by a race of alien beings who can disassociate their body parts at will. While this was obviously written with tongue very firmly in cheek, to me it didn’t read as”funny” so much as “irretrievably dumb.” The protagonist is obviously literate, if he’s reading a novel… but apparently he’s never seen figurative language before? Even satire needs a plausible premise.

Overall Review and Recommendation: Every time I read more sci-fi, I’m better able to define what kinds of sci-fi I like and dislike. Dislikes: a lot of tech talk or space-ship battles. Likes: any sci-fi that is driven by the story, the characters, or the premise. (Also: long walks on the beach.) I’m not anti-technology per se, but the technology needs to be in service of something else in the story (i.e. answering “does being able to see the future change it?”), and not a point in and of itself. The stories here were almost all premise-driven, and as such, were very enjoyable. Their trappings haven’t aged particularly well, but if you can mentally edit out the “data tapes” and replace them with “futuristic data storage technology of the Future!”, the stories themselves work pretty much as well as they ever did. Which, I guess, is why they’re considered classics of the genre. 4 out of 5 stars.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Lair of the Undead Rat, Sophisticated Dorkiness
Have you reviewed this book (or any of the stories therein)? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The first thought Anderton had when he saw the young man was: I’m getting bald.

Cover Thoughts: At least it’s not the one with Tom Cruise on the cover. I also feel like Douglas Adams would be rather amused by this cover, with its “digital watches are *cool*, man”-based font.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2009 8:44 am

    I keep meaning to start reading some classics of science fiction – this looks like a good place to start! (I don’t like lots of technology either, which is probably part of the reason I loved A Canticle for Leibowitz so much.)

    • September 17, 2009 9:08 am

      Jenny – My knowledge of classic sci-fi is pretty limited as well… I loved Bradbury as a kid, and I remember my dad making me read Stranger in a Strange Land as a teenager, but as an adult, I’ve read one Asimov novel… and that’s about it.

  2. September 17, 2009 11:49 am

    I tried to read something else by Philip K. Dick and couldn’t get into it – this sounds like it might be a better start. I’m going to give it a shot.

    • September 17, 2009 12:38 pm

      Elizabeth – I hope it works out for you… Let me know how it goes!

  3. September 17, 2009 3:21 pm

    I think this one would be worth reading just for The Minority Report – I didn’t love the movie but I found it fascinating, if that makes sense.

    • September 18, 2009 9:07 am

      bermudaonion – I really liked the movie, although I haven’t re-watched it in several years. The story’s more streamlined, although it’s still good and layered.

  4. September 20, 2009 11:27 pm

    I read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and I loved it. I agree with you, I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but if the premise behind of the book is to make a larger statement or to make us think about “societal rules” or “mankind” then I like it. Too much talk about gadgets just annoys me.

    • September 28, 2009 1:13 pm

      Tracie – Me too! I think what it means is not that I’m not a sci-fi fan, just that I have to be more selective about what sci-fi I read.

  5. September 26, 2009 11:36 pm

    *sigh* I absolutely love Philip K. Dick. Many years back I taught a group of kids who HATED to read. We read Minority Report together as a class and then watched the movie. They were hooked. And I got to feel pretty cool introducing them to such a prolific and historical science fiction writer!

    • September 28, 2009 1:13 pm

      christina – Oh, that had to have been a great feeling… and hopefully a good class discussion, too!


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