Jack Stovold's Reviews > Second Variety and Other Classic Stories

Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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's review
May 30, 2012

it was amazing
Read from May 24 to 29, 2012

My Philip K. Dick Project #5

Something is happening here. Dick is evolving. This collection contains plenty of the fun little trifles of the kind I’ve come to love reading volumes 1 and 2, but a number of these are much meatier and more substantial. Dick is dealing with bigger ideas here and his stories have more emotional resonance than they’ve had. These are the kind of stories where you put the book down, and just have to think about them when you’ve finished. They stay with you.
Dick is painting with a larger brush here, and some of the themes with which he has become associated begin to emerge with greater clarity and frequency. The nature of reality, which Dick became more and more suspicious of as he aged, is dealt with a number of times in this collection, notably in “Exhibit Piece” (fascinating, although the ending is a little too unambiguous and unsatisfying) and “Misadjustment” (which is excellent). A major theme to emerge in this volume is the questionable future of the human race in the face of mutation. Dick takes a cynical view of mutations (psionic or otherwise) that is in direct contrast to the mainstream of science fiction in this era. Rather than seeing mutants and telepaths as the vanguard that will benevolently lead humanity to a new golden age, Dick takes in my opinion the more realistic view that such people will have little need or interest in what to them would be more primitive peoples. What purpose could normal men serve in a world with telepaths and psycho-kinetics? And what will the next evolution of man be? “The Golden Man” is a fantastic exploration of natural selection that proposes that man’s successor need not necessarily be intelligent, only better equipped to survive and procreate. “The Golden Man” is fascinating. A man who can see into the future the same way we recall the past, and yet cannot conceive of the past would be almost completely intellectually stunted and at the same time nearly unstoppable.
And yet Dick’s love of the common man is more pronounced here than ever. I was moved when the last survivors of humanity, a motley collection of average professionals ruins the plans of the Null-Os, brutally logical scientists of extreme logic beyond morality (“Null-O”). Or when the protagonist of “The Chromium Fence” decides to finally take a stand and sacrifice his life on principle in the face of political partisanship run amok. Dick also deals with freedom in this volume a lot, particularly in the excellent “The Last of the Masters”, a rumination on stagnant yet free anarchy vs. a warlike yet productive government that does not deliver any easy answers.
This volume contains more of Dick’s withering satires of consumerism and advertising run amok (“Foster, You’re Dead” and “Sales Pitch”). Dick also dips into the theme of what it means to be human (the question that haunted him most) most notably in “Second Variety” (which will instantly bring to mind “The Terminator” and even more so the new Battlestar Galactica, which I think Dick would have enjoyed).
This book really has every kind of Dick story you could want. It has the quirky little tales with twists familiar from Volume 1 and 2 (“Fair Game”, “The Hanging Stranger”, “Tony and the Beetles”, “Null-O”, “To Serve The Master” “The Father-Thing”, “Strange Eden”, etc), the thrillers (“War Veteran”, “Second Variety”, “The Last of the Masters”), the satires and comedies (“Foster, You’re Dead”, “Sales Pitch”, “The Chromium Fence”) “The Eyes Have It” is a unique and surprising little comedy curve-ball from Dick, and “The Turning Wheel” even gets in a fairly obvious jab at L. Ron Hubbard. You have the mindbenders (“Exhibit Piece”, “The Golden Man”, “Misadjustment”). And “A World of Talent” was very memorable. The ending left me both in awe and strangely touched. I mentioned in my review of the Volume 2 that Dick’s endings had gotten a bit predictable, but he has gotten over that problem here. These stories are satisfying and give you plenty of food for thought. However the highlight of this book for me was probably “Upon the Dull Earth”. This is probably the closest Dick has come to horror. It is genuinely disturbing and not a day has gone by that I did not replay the story and see the imagery in my mind since I’ve read it. It gets you in the gut.
However, if you thought that Dick had given up on his favorite setting, the post nuclear wasteland, think again. Offhand I’d say nearly half of these stories take place in or mention an Earth devastated by nuclear war. At this point it’s just kind of amusing. A few of these stories are fairly unmemorable and don’t really go anywhere (“Tony and the Beetles”, “Psi-Man, Heal My Child!”)
On another note, this volume is afflicted with the same problem of Volume 2, that of shuffling stories around to capitalize on “Total Recall”. That means “Second Variety” should have been in Volume 2. This especially annoys me, because “Jon’s World” in Volume 2 is actually a sort of sequel to “Second Variety”, and it spoils the surprise.
On the whole though, this is really an excellent collection that I could not recommend more.

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