I don’t read a great deal of science fiction but after reading the collection of short stories that make up Electric Dreams I think I’ll make an exception in future for Philip K. Dick’s works.
Each story in this collection dropped straight into the action and had me feeling immediately interested to know what would happen. The human characters mostly lived in worlds that required space travel to planets that nobody has ever heard of for their work commutes, and had to deal with kindly futuristic beings as well as scary monsters from other places. Each story was short and wasted no time telling anything that wasn’t necessary for the reader to know.
The first story, Exhibit Piece, will appeal to anyone who has ever wanted to travel back in time to what they might think was a happier, more carefree and a better time. The main character in this story was a historian from the future who specialised in the 1950s, who stepped through a time warp to find himself living in the 1950s complete with a wife, two children and a job he liked.
The Commuter also featured travel, although in this story the main characters set out to find a place on a train line which existed in some realities but not in others. Finding the place changed reality for these characters.
Impossible Planet was the story of a 350-year old woman’s search for the planet Earth, which was supposed by everyone to be a mythical place. It turned out that there were (are?) unscrupulous characters in the future too, including those who were willing to take the woman’s money and take her for a ride to a planet which they said was Earth.
The Hanging Stranger was probably the most macabre story in the collection and it also wins my vote for the most depressing. It left the reader in no doubt that in this version of the future there will be no hope for people ‘like us.’
I don’t know how long ago Sales Pitch was written but unfortunately for our generation some of the speculative fantasies in it now exist for us. They included the relentless advertising we are exposed to, terrible traffic (although in this story the 50-vehicle smash-ups involved spaceships instead of cars) and Vidscreens which constantly deliver the news of the world.
Foster, You’re Dead was another story that predicted elements of our future haven’t turned out well for our generation. In this story advertising was at its most successful when manipulating characters to buy products by playing on their worst fears, in the case, of the world ending.
The Father-Thing was the scariest story in the collection. The main character was a young boy who recognised that his father’s body had been taken over by something that wasn’t his father. I was amused when the young boy went to the bully who regularly beat him up for assistance as this behaviour reminded me of siblings who are happy to fight amongst themselves but will stick together through thick and thin against anyone else, or in this case, monsters.
Human Is also featured a swap but in this story, instead of getting a monster, the wife managed to snag a much nicer husband than her old one in an unexpected exchange.
The last story, Autofac was also the longest. It had an interesting lesson, in that sometimes a kindly dictator is better than freedom.
I was amused by some of the things that dated the stories, including the male characters dominating positions of authority in the community, workplace and the home, to the amount of smoking that went on (smokers are becoming a rare breed these days in Australia). Other inventions were quite apt while there were others that thankfully haven’t yet made it into reality.
I enjoyed the short stories in Electric Dreams very much and look forward to reading more works by this author.