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The Skull

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  1,346 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Travel backward and forward in time—literally—in this thought-provoking tale from science fiction master Philip K. Dick. A prisoner is given the opportunity to regain his freedom if he accepts a dangerous mission that could change the course of history. He accepts—but has no idea how profound the consequences of his decision will be.
ebook, 22 pages
Published 2012 by Duke Classics (first published September 1952)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,102)
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Andreea Daia
Review subtitle: There is so much more than meets the eye...

One reads this short-story and tells himself/herself: "I guessed the ending after reading only seven pages." And "The Skull has a blunt anti-war message, but so have a thousand other short-stories."

True and true, but that's not the (ultimate) point of the story. Yes, there is strong criticism of ignorance, intolerance, sadism, and even macabre curiosity, which all encourage violence and ultimately war. Yes, the ending is obvious, but
Sci-fy/time travel short story from the 1950's. A little on the creepy side also.
Risa Efp
E' un racconto di poche pagine che ho letto ieri e che non mi esce dalla testa.
Ancora mi chiedo come abbia potuto pensare Dick ad una cosa del genere, perchè è talmente geniale, ma al contempo chiara e semplice, che non si può non rimanere estasiati davanti ad un lavoro del genere.
Il lettore si ritrova a riflettere su di sè, su ciò in cui crede, sulle caratteristiche della religione e via dicendo. Il protagonista è profondamente umano e lo si intuisce soprattutto alla fine. Nel momento in cui st
There is some criticism amongst some reviews here that the plot is predictable. Sure enough it is. But buried in this short predicable story is some of the gold, that effortless simplicity that great writers possess, that we see in philip k dick. This is an exciting piece of science fiction that deserves a read if not at least for its short length (< 20 mins?)

For example, the following line which the context of the story helps elucidate, but is otherwise fine on its own;

"What if he could see
The authorities are offering Congers a deal. It seems someone with his… unique abilities is just what they need in their on-going tussle with the First Church. They want him to assassinate someone and the only means of identification they have are bones. In other words, he has to kill someone who’s been dead for 200 years.

The Founder of the First Church arose sometime in the mid-20th century from Middle Western United States. No one even knows his name. He taught (or at least his followers clai
Marts  (Thinker)
Way into the future the government wants to get rid of the First Church and the only way to accomplish that is by sending someone back in time to 1960 to assassinate its founder. Well, in steps this man called Conger, he does the time travel stuff, has a series of adventures, and stumbles upon a strange discovery...
Matt Seeker
I am a big fan of short Dick stories...wait...umm...I am a big fan of Dick...ughhh. Yeah, I'm too immature to write a good review on this stuff. In all seriousness, I have been a bigger fan of some of his other stuff. Perhaps this was fresher when it hit the street, but you saw this unfolding the way it did by page 3. The were no real surprises and nothing really all that neat to make up for its predictability. The scenes that were meant to be haunting had zero punch because you were just waitin ...more
Norm Davis
Feb 22, 2014 Norm Davis rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science Fiction & Fantasy Fans
The Skull, Philip K. Dick,

Four Stars. 4*
Sometimes I wonder about Philip Dick. Still, his stories always seem to have meanings at several levels. What fascinates me about that is I don't think he really does that on purpose.

I listened to the Librovox version.

If Worlds of Science Fiction, September 1952, 18 Pages, 50 minutes audio
Download e-book @
Librovox Audio @ #14 or direct link @
Great short story, though by now a pretty familiar time-travel paradox tale. It reminds me a lot of "All you Zombies" by Robert Heinlein, but easier to follow and with less intrigue. It also has a flavor of Canticle for Liebowitz in exploring the notion of a religion's founding by accident or by a founder who never set out to be such a thing. Jesus parallels are evident - a return to a different time and place in an attempt to save society through death, a post-death appearance, and the viral sp ...more
Raeden Zen
Entertaining, Thought-Provoking but the Finale Fell Short

“The Skull” is vintage PKD filled with creative concepts, thought-provoking ideas, dark images, and wonderful prose.

“Without military preparations—weapons—there could be no war. And without machinery and complex scientific technocracy there could be no weapons.”

Conger, the protagonist, must travel back in time to kill a man who will preach to the masses and create hardship for those in power. He is told that he has but one chance to stop
Sadly for its author, the late Philip K Dick, this story is a little too predictable, and much more mainstream than most of his work. I realize The Skull was written first, but I found it an almost laborious rehashing of a 2009 short story, First Flight. In short, Dick abandons his signature brand of weird dystopia and magic realism, to take up a well-worn trope of science fiction: the problem of time travel. More than this, he takes it up awkwardly and clumsily. The only thing I can say in his ...more
Viji Sarath (Bookish endeavors)
This is the expression I have on my face now. Too puzzled to utter a word. I saw the thing coming,the hunter and hunted being one. But what I can't understand is the paradox of holding the skull. Has a nice ring to it,right.? What if you happen to hold your own bones in your hands.? What philosophy would you follow then.? I haven't decided yet. If anyone can find a solution,please enlighten me.
Want a headache.? Here's your pill for it.
As much as I like this authour's works, this one written in 1952 has way to much transparency in the plot. I guessed the ending by the first four pages. Still, Dick was a remarkable writer that had many twist and turns in his stories that have been used ad nauseum by other writers, films and television. If you have seen more than five episodes of The Twilight Zone, you know how most of his early works end...
This is a very solid short story by PKD with his usual anti-war undertones. A convicted man is sent back in time to assassinate a "prophet" in order to eliminate the peace that sprang from the prophet's words. The only clue that the convict has to the prophet's true identity is a 200 year old skull. Is it possible to change the past, or are things destined to happen the way they already have?

The story is very well written, and it does an excellent job or portraying the issues that are normally a
I never know whether or not I like Philip K. Dick's writing. His stories are often filled with good ideas that are sparsely/poorly explained. The Skull is no exception at 24 pages, but I found it interesting. If you like stories about time traveling Assassins, Cold War Macarthyism, and religious prophets/martyrs, this one is worth a look.
Nik Kane
Of course the twist is completely predictable, but I wonder if that would have been the case in 1952, or if it's predictable to modern readers because Dick was so successful that we now expect the Dickian twist and take pains to discover its foreshadowing?

Also, I wonder if Moorcock had read this when he wrote Behold The Man.
I have to say, while this short book is totally predictable, one still gets the sense they're reading the words of a very likable, uniquely wise & expressive individual, & you read on, knowing the ending, but glad for the journey. Easy quick read, but a nice swift dose of one of my favorite authors.
Robert Fechete
"What if he could see this, his own skull, yellow and eroded? Two centuries old. Would he still speak? [...] What would there be for him to say, to tell the people? What message could he bring? What action would not be futile, when a man could look upon his own aged, yellowed skull?"
Denise Johnson
Not too sure about this book

Not too sure about this book

Maybe it was too deep for me but I didn't really understand it. Maybe if it was a little longer. Perhaps I needed to be in a quiet room with no distractions. Read at your own discretion.
For enthusiasts of time-travel paradoxes and unabashedly morbid plot devices. At is core, a well-paced, highly enjoyable short story that reveals, piece by piece, fold by fold of the curtain, a wonderfully twisted sci-fi story. I'm a sucker for these mind-bending quick fixes.
I might be harsh with this rating but I am not convinced this work was a 4-star. Mr. Dick's work was a good story that I enjoyed; it is reminiscent of a "Twilight Zone" episode. It is entirely predictable, however. Despite this obvious weakness which merited my weak rating, this story still managed to throw a curve ball at me. For it is in lulling the reader into complacency about the protagonist's character that Mr. Dick is able to condition the reader... then spring his trap. The trap is a sur ...more
"Conger is my name," he murmured.

"Conger? Is that your last or first name?"

"Last or first?" He hesitated. "Last. Omar Conger."

"Omar?" She laughed. "That's like the poet, Omar Khayyam."

"I don't know of him. I know very little of poets."

Dick amcadan yine bir "Lan yoksa?!" öyküsü.
Diamond Stacey
Loved this short story! If you enjoyed the movie Looper, you ought to read this book. This has a religious angle to it, but that is very common in PKD books and stories.
I downloaded it to my Fire Tablet for free from Amazon, I believe it's free as part of the Amazon Prime program.
Predictable? Yes, but mostly because we've all seen dozens of films that have stolen (sometimes eloquently, sometimes very ungracefully) this short story's structure and premise. To read the original remains a pleasure.
A Man On A Job

A killer let out of jail to murder a man. Thing was his job had been dead two centuries. How do you kill someone like that?

Why you use a time machine!
Thibaldo Manrique
Good short story

Very enjoyable short story, predictable for modern readers, but a fun time all the same. A fine example of the early time travel / time paradox stories.
Andrew Burden
I listened to a podcast version of this short story on "The Classic Tales Podcast" with narrator B.J. Harrison. The brevity matches the predictability, but it does raise some interesting issues. The basic setup: a time-traveling assassin intends to stop the rise of an anti-war religion, only to make a startling realization about he identity of the founder's identity. That doesn't count as a spoiler, because you already know where it's going.
David Vandeveer
Good SF Story

Classic PKD writing. Suspenseful, surprising, and meaningful. Only because Amazon asked for 20 words will I add it was free.

Carol Waters
The foundations of sci-fi. Simple story, and you hadda see it coming. But the hallmark of a good story to me is whether it made me think. This one did.
You know, it wasn't a bad story. But the ending was fairly obvious by about the halfway mark. A decent enough read, but not worth going out of your way for.
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Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928 and lived most of his life in California. In 1952, he began writing professionally and proceeded to write numerous novels and short-story collections. He won the Hugo Award for the best novel in 1962 for The Man in the High Castle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year in 1974 for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. Philip K. Di ...more
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A Scanner Darkly The Man in the High Castle Ubik Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

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“You're an unusual person," she said.

"Bill didn't like you, but he never likes anything different. He's so—so prosaic. Don't you think that when a person gets older he should become—broadened in his outlook?”
“What if he could see this, his own skull, yellow and eroded? Two centuries old. Would he still speak? Would he speak, if he could see it, the grinning, aged skull? What would there be for him to say, to tell the people? What message could he bring?

What action would not be futile, when a man could look upon his own aged, yellowed skull?”
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