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The Preserving Machine

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Robot psychiatrists activated by $20 coins
A war veteran who keeps changing into a blob of organic jelly
Business advice from the souls of the departed
A machine that turns musical scores into small, furry animals
A dog story that recalls Kafka's 'Investigations of a Dog'
These are some of the treasures of imagination in this collection of Philip K. Dick's short fiction. They display all the uncanny inventiveness & sad, quirky humanism of his wonderful novels as well as being a testing ground for many of their later themes.

The Preserving Machine (1953);
War Game (1959);
Upon the Dull Earth (1954);
Roog (1952);
War Veteran (1955);
Top Stand-By Job (1963);
Beyond Lies the Wub (1952);
We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1966);
Captive Market (1955);
If There Were No Benny Cemoli (1953);
Retreat Syndrome (1964);
The Crawlers (1954);
Oh, to Be a Blobel! (1964);
What the Dead Men Say (1964);
Pay for the Printer (1956).

413 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1969

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About the author

Philip K. Dick

1,546 books19.3k followers
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. Dick died on March 2, 1982, in Santa Ana, California, of heart failure following a stroke.

In addition to 44 published novels, Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although Dick spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten of his stories have been adapted into popular films since his death, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923. In 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 37 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
September 4, 2019

First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1953), this short tale is an early Dick masterpiece, and the simple—almost childlike—idea at its core is profoundly disturbing, unsettling in a way that looks forward to much of the writers even more disturbing works to come.

Doctor Labyrinth—also the hero of “The Short, Happy Life of the Brown Oxford”--loves music, but he fears its individual masterpieces may be too frail to survive in the changing world to come, and so he devises a “preserving machine” which will transform the scores of classical masterpieces into living creatures, thus giving the music a chance to preserve itself. But “Doc Maze” doesn’t take account of the nature of evolution: the law of the jungle, and the mutations that may come.

I love this story, the way it begins in boisterous creativity (it is charming to see the works of Bach, Mozart, Wagner and others and the different kinds of creatures the “preserving machine” turns them into) and ends with a subtle hint of the apocalypse. It as if one of the playful tales from Calvino’s “Cosmi-Comics” shifted tone (a shift carefully prepared for) and turned into something resembling McCarthy’s The Road.

Even more haunting, however, is the way this story has changed my way of looking at my favorite classics, musical and literary. Are they are Apollonian, as constant as a statue? Or are they Dionysian, as unpredictable as an orgy, with a hint of violence and madness lurking under the surface?
Profile Image for Toby.
832 reviews328 followers
September 16, 2014
It seems that this is my first experience of PKD outside of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which came as quite a surprise to me, having proclaimed the genius of the man to many of my customers over the past year.

I chose this one due to the inclusion of the short story that the Arnie movie Total Recall was based on as opposed to The Variable Man and Other Stories which included Minority Report.

It didn't start too well, the title story just didn't appeal to me in any way. I've read reviews that talk about how typically strange and wonderful it is and perhaps as an example of the drug fuelled science fiction of the period it might be great. For me not so much.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale was quite the departure from the movie, which was no real surprise and the direction Dick took it in was massively entertaining. No guns, no explosions, no political espionage, just a really great idea.

There were a few real stand out stories from the remaining 12, War Game and War Veteran both use war in the title but are different types of story looking at different aspects of human weakness. Captive Market and Benny Cemoli were both enjoyable from a writing perspective, Captive Market an interesting time travel story whilst Benny Cemoli plays with readers expectations and has a real kick in it's tail. These two stories would've made for great novels too I think.

They weren't all great though, a few left me feeling a bit meh about them but on average this thoroughly deserves it's 4 star rating.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
December 24, 2015
-Un buen vistazo panorámico y general de lo que puede ofrecer el autor.-

Género. Relatos.

Lo que nos cuenta. Recopilación de algunos trabajos cortos del autor escritos entre 1953 y 1966, que en la edición española se dividió en dos volúmenes de forma que, este que nos ocupa, contiene ocho de los quince que contenía la edición original, y que nos muestran la actitud de un perro ante seres sospechosos, el intento de Ganímedes para influir en la Tierra y ganar ventaja en su enfrentamiento, una máquina que convierte la música en insectos y el descubrimiento de un veterano de guerra de un conflicto que todavía no ha tenido lugar.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Tristram Shandy.
699 reviews200 followers
July 6, 2017
Life in the Woods

The Preserving Machine, which was published in 1953 in the “Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”, is a very quirky little tale indeed. It deals with Doctor Labyrinth, who ”like most people who read a great deal and who have too much time on their hands” is worried about the future of European civilization, foreseeing that there will be some sort of Armageddon at the end of its path. That is why he wants to preserve its cultural treasures, above all classical music, which he loves the most. In order to do so, he commissions the construction of a machine with the help of which musical scores can be turned into – a rather unusual method of archiving – animals that would have it in them to fend for themselves, and he soon turns out various animals: the Mozart bird (of course), a very dignified Beethoven beetle, a playful Schubert lamb and an ugly Wagner animal, to name but a few. Doctor Labyrinth lets these animals run free in a nearby forest, but to his dismay he finds them to undergo certain changes when they adapt to life in the wild. For instance, they start growing claws, stings and other weapons, and they start preying on each other. When the Doctor re-introduces one of the Bach beetles into the machine and plays the score it turns out, the previously harmonious music ”was distorted, diabolical, without any sense or meaning, except, perhaps, an alien, disconcerting meaning that should never have been there.”

The Doctor and his friend have learned a very painful and unsettling lesson:

”As we made our way down the path to my car I said, ‘I guess the struggle for survival is a force bigger than any human ethos. It makes our precious morals and manners look a little thin.’

Labyrinth agreed. ‘Perhaps nothing can be done, then, to save those manners and morals.’”

May it be true that not only high culture but also what we consider the basic rules of civilization rest on a minimum of prosperity and public peace and that where this minimum is endangered or lost, also the human achievements that show the best in us will deform and disappear? If so, our society would be well-advised not to endanger the roots of its civilization.
Profile Image for Tony Gleeson.
Author 19 books7 followers
December 5, 2008
The eponymous story that begins this collection is an absolute gem: a totally whack concept worthy of PKD. Music is turned into animals-- pretty appropriate kinds of animals derived from, e.g., Bach and Wagner-- who then evolve in a garden and get turned back into very different music. I love this weird and touching tale. Dick was a purveyor of classical recordings for some years and when he utilizes his thorough knowledge of the subject in his writing, it's usually to good and unusual effect. Oh yeah... the rest of the stories are pretty derned good too.
Profile Image for Scott Holstad.
Author 22 books61 followers
November 4, 2014
The Preserving Machine is a pretty good collection of short stories by Philip K Dick from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s. Some of his best work is here. I had already read several of these in other collections, but there were many new ones and I definitely enjoyed this book. Among the stories that stood out for me were "War Veteran," about an old man who is a war veteran from a future war yet to be fought by Earth -- and lost. The authorities move quickly to try and change the future and it's really interesting to see how things work out. Another is the famous "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which of course was the basis for the movie Total Recall. For the life of me, I don't see where they got that movie from this story, but it's a good story about a man who yearns to go to Mars and his only way is through a VR-type experience where he goes as a secret agent. However, while the men performing this service for him are engaged, they discovered he actually has done this and just doesn't remember. It turns into a real mind f*ck. Great story. Yet another story I enjoyed was "Oh To Be a Blobel!". A war has been fought between humans and blobels, great amoeba-like beings, and on both sides, spies were used who had to undergo changing into the form of the other. When we read this story, our hero changes from being human to being a blobel throughout the day and is miserable. A coin operated psychiatrist introduces him to a female blobel who changes to human at certain times of day, thinking they would have something in common. And they get married and have kids. Hybrids. Then divorced. Then the unthinkable. At the end of the story, Vivian resorts to blobelian world class science to be converted into a 100% human so she can get back together with George -- who has converted into a blobel, so he can start a business on their planet. Wacky and sad. I do have a complaint, however. PKD wasn't always kind to his female characters, probably cause he had constant problems with his five wives and women in general. In "Retreat Syndrome," John states, "So you doomed our cause, out of petty, domestic spite. Out of mere female bitterness, because you were angry at your husband; you doomed an entire moon to three years of losing, hateful war." Later, in "What the Dead Men Say," Johnny thinks "He did not like the idea of working for a woman...." So, PKD misogyny is present in full force. Take it or leave it -- it's up to you. Even with the flaws, this is still a good book with some really good stories, so I definitely recommend it, not only to Dick fans, but to anyone who wants to become acquainted with his writing.
Profile Image for David Anderson.
230 reviews42 followers
January 3, 2021
Often I approach story collections differently. Sometimes I'll read them straight through; others I'll read a few stories here, a few there, in between reading other things. That's what I did here and that's why it sat on my currently reading list so long, reading it between novel of the Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy (Three-Body Problem, etc.). Like most story collections, it's a bit uneven. I should really give it 3 & 1/2 stars out of 5. But there are some great Dick chestnuts in here. In addition to the famous "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which was the basis for the movie Total Recall (which is nothing like the story except for the basic concept), other stories I enjoyed a lot include "War Veteran," about an old man who is a war veteran from a future war yet to be fought by Earth, and the very funny "Roog" and "Beyond Lies the Wub." One sour note, if you don't know this already, Dick was rather misogynistic and it shows in a couple of these stories. If you can bring yourself to look past that, there is much to enjoy here.
Profile Image for Austin Wright.
1,187 reviews21 followers
April 8, 2018
Again....PKD takes a million dollar idea and shoots it out in 20 pages. An entire TV series could be based of a scientist preserving musical art through biological animals. Genius-level story.
175 reviews10 followers
July 11, 2010
I didn't realize this was yet another collection of PDK's short stories when I checked it out, and I think I'd previously read every story here except for "Retreat Syndrome". On a positive note, they're all pretty good stories, and this collection features some of PDK's most humorous and whimsical work. On a negative note, the author's misogyny is in full swing during "Retreat Syndrome", which features lines like, "She did it for petty, spiteful motives, for hated of me; nothing to do with the actual issues involved. Like all women she was motivated by personal vanity and wounded pride". When the main character confronts his ex-wife and she offers him coffee, she serves it with the narrative, "Cream for me, cream and sugar for you. You're more infantile". At another point in the story, the man's ex-wife's "breasts pulsed with resentment". Is that even possible, for breasts to exhibit emotions? I guess it might be when that's the only body part you ever look at. I have to quote one last bit from "Retreat Syndrome', where a woman is held responsible for causing a war because she can't control her female emotions: "Carol, so you doomed our cause, out of petty, domestic spite. Out of mere female bitterness, because you were angry at your husband; you doomed an entire moon to three years of losing, hateful war". Yes, one single female on an entire planet causes a war because she can't control her inate "female bitterness". That's believable, PDK. I sure wish you were still alive for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I'm sure you still had great stories in your, but I also sure wish you'd lived in time when someone had finally called you on your hateful attitudes towards women. Perhaps if you'd figured out a way to change them, you wouldn't have needed be be married 5 times.
Profile Image for Richard Clay.
Author 6 books8 followers
April 30, 2022
A stunning collection that could serve as a fine introduction for anyone new to PKD. True, much of the stuff is pretty bleak but the sheer logic and coherence of the ideas puts him up there with Borghes and with the Kafka of 'Metamorphosis'. Absolutely essential.
Profile Image for Ginny.
359 reviews
February 1, 2019
This book was my first experience reading PKD, and overall I found his stories delightfully odd and even goofy at times. Definitely some mild mysogyny--he describes many of the female characters in terms of their breasts, and they tend to be more one-dimensional (either vapid or vindictive) when compared to the male characters. But, as a white male writer of the 50s/60s, I suppose that's to be expected.

My favorite stories were:

The other stories were all interesting/disturbing to various degrees.

I plan to try one of his novels in the future to get a fuller taste of his work and ability to weave strange narratives.
Profile Image for John.
146 reviews4 followers
June 13, 2021
This was my introduction to PKD's work. A few years ago, when I first got back into reading, I checked out a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep from the library but I never finished it. I found this collection of short stories at a used bookstore for $1. In continuing with my trend of reading short story collections this year I thought I'd add this one to the list.

The Preserving Machine is a collection of short stories, published in 1969, focusing on PKD's earlier work from the 50's and 60's. Most of these stories were published in Sci Fi magazines back in the day, which was an interesting context to keep in mind while reading.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed these stories, I'm much more a fan of 70's Sci Fi but it really goes to show how great a writer and futurist PKD was. Many of these stories still hold up in a modern context and I can only imagine how mind blowing it would have been to read them in the 50's/60's. It's amazing just how much PKD has influenced our modern outlook on Sci Fi film and storytelling.

While I enjoyed this collection a lot I think it suffers from the same issue that most short story collections suffer from. While there are a lot of great stories, not all of them bring that same mind blowing energy. There were definitely a few stories that were lacking but overall I really enjoyed them.

I also think it is hard to write Sci Fi short stories. So much of Sci Fi is world building and with a limited word count this doesn't always happen to the greatest extent. Many stories share similar elements, even though they clearly don't take place in the same universe. It gets a bit repetitive and can make the stories blur together.

Overall, I'm excited to read more PKD; especially his 70's work. I already have copies of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and Radio Free Albemuth and I will be getting to the other big ones soon.
Profile Image for Dominick.
Author 15 books27 followers
August 13, 2018
Philip K. Dick was a fascinating and creative writer, but let's face it, stylistically he is mediocre at best. This story collection is not his most shining moment. It includes a few well-known stories (e.g. the well-known but actually rather absurd "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"), along with several others I don't recall encountering before. Dick's characteristic concerns, notably a deep suspicion of the existence of objective reality, are consistently in evidence here, but not generally in the most compelling of his explorations of them. The stories range from the early 1950s to the mid 1960s, and the older ones, especially, suffer from various degrees of datedness. Probably essential only for Dick enthusiasts; most of the good stories here are available in other collections, as well.
Profile Image for Carlos Sogorb.
35 reviews
December 31, 2017
Como la mayoría de los cuentos de Dick, carece de presentación y desenlace. El planteamiento filosófico resulta interesante: como evolucionarían las obras artísticas a través del tiempo si fueran seres vivos. Por desgracia como en la mayoría de los casos, Dick plantea conceptos interesantes para luego desarrollarlos de forma demasiado limitada y juvenil.
Profile Image for David Smith.
119 reviews3 followers
April 30, 2019
Consistent quality. I was fascinated by him mentioning Nixon's miracle comeback of 1968 in a story written in 1964, and also by his use of 3D printers in another story. Granted they were aliens, but still.
Profile Image for Xabi1990.
1,971 reviews850 followers
February 7, 2019
2/10. Media de los 14 libros que he leído de este autor : 3/10 (Y mira que me gustan las pelis que han hecho basadas en libros de este tío, conste)
Profile Image for Esteban Martínez.
82 reviews1 follower
August 11, 2019
Relatos cortos de ciencia ficción. Imaginativos. Está el que luego se convertiría en la clásica película de Schwarzenegger: "El vengador del futuro."
Profile Image for Joseba Bonaut.
142 reviews
June 5, 2021
La idea es genial. Luego se queda en algo anecdótico. Hago referencia sólo al cuento, no la colección
Profile Image for Adriana Greco.
52 reviews4 followers
January 20, 2020

El universo textual de Dick nos ofrece un contacto persistente con la irrealidad pura que desenmascara las tramas íntimas de la vida en sociedad, llevándonos una y otra vez al cuestionamiento de sus reglas. Conceptos como el tiempo, la locura o la muerte pueden distorsionarse desde su mirada particular para avanzar hacia un espacio único donde se reconoce la cotidianidad más descarnada. En efecto, cuando nos instalamos en la maravilla de sus mundos percibimos la riqueza de sus símbolos, la construcción filosófica de las identidades y la certeza de que quisiéramos estar también allí.
En La máquina preservadora nos vamos a encontrar con muchos de estos postulados y con una de sus grandes pasiones, la música, pero más allá de cualquier intento de análisis la supremacía de su imaginación golpeará nuestra racionalidad con armas magistrales.

Mi reseña completa en: https://lasnuevemusas.com/philip-dick...
Profile Image for Ryan Sean O'Reilly.
Author 5 books35 followers
March 7, 2018
An early collection of short stories touching on cold-war era fears, and other weird pseudo-realities.

Philip K. Dick is known fairly well for toying with reality in his fiction and meta-fictional stories. His ideas negotiate the fuzzy edges of existential questions. He pushes boundaries in his writing and yet his straight-ahead prose (sometimes criticized) makes his more “out-there” concepts easier to digest.

This book is a collection of early stories by the writer with a few from the middle of his career. The quality of the stories varies a bit from one to the other, however, even those that felt less satisfying to me may have deeper questions embedded behind their veneer that I haven’t quite appreciated during my first reading. Perhaps a later revisit will stir up more of the murky depths that I associate with PKD.

That’s how this author is. Sometimes you read his stuff and the whacky scenarios he sets up, and feel that it’s all a bit silly. The inner thoughts of a dog… a machine turning music into animals…an alien species that is basically just a giant amorphous blob…a multiplicity of alien grubs… and then there’s the “Wub” character which felt like something that came out of the mind of Dr. Seuss in a Simpsons parody.

Yet, throughout most of the words there is usually something more sinister going on. Some kind of undercurrent of malevolence that calls into question the human condition and what it means to be alive. The characters might fall victim to their own selfishness until they become a parody of themselves, or they may find themselves in some kind of odd alternate perception of reality or time and space that makes you reflect about the very concept of perception.

Despite PKD’s real-life personal issues, I found these stories easy to follow no matter how far-out they got. They are all intriguing in many ways and the author manages to hit enough deep notes to make this collection worthy of a reading. Especially so for fans.

My main issue would be that some of the stories ended in ways that seemed a little too contrived. They felt like “short stories” and while reading them I could almost sense the author circling back to tie up loose ends and bring closure. Not that the endings were bad or inappropriate. I just felt that some of the finales fell a bit short of what they could have been.

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is among the tales in this collection. This story was made famous by the “Total Recall” movies. The author’s version differs from the movies—which is no surprise. Yet, all the pseudo-reality, questioning motives are present and offer a good insight into why Hollywood has continually mined the PKD library for movie fodder. The ending for this story is also wrapped up fairly neatly—but upon later reflection it does pose some lingering questions in the way a good short story should.

All in all, a solid read!
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: "No Deodorant In Outer Space". The podcast is available on iTunes, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).
Profile Image for Chris.
382 reviews26 followers
December 31, 2008
This is a collection of early to mid period Philip K Dick, and it really is from one of the golden ages of Science-Fiction, from the kitsch fifties until the late sixties - when sci-fi writers like Dick were doing drugs and really taking SF to weird and unsettling places. Dick progresses from straight 'what if' of 50s pulp into really odd and paranoid SF. In that sense, it's akin to the Beatles 'Revolver', where the conventional and routine begins to be stretched into new and more psychological areas. In the stories in this volume from the 60s, he's really thinking about how futuristic technology like clones and reading people's thoughts and listening to brainwaves of dead people might affect people - it's not just straight science fiction, but SF with a psychological component, which makes it that much better. This is an overlooked volume and would be a good introduction to the author for new folks, and would also be good for everyone who's perhaps a bit eager for some extra Dick in their lives.
Profile Image for Raj.
1,388 reviews29 followers
July 1, 2010
I've got to admit that PKD is a large gap in my science fictional life. I've read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but before this collection of short stories, that was it, and I've got to say that I didn't hugely enjoy that. However, I've been very impressed with this collection and will probably look out for more Dick short stories.

As the state of reality and mental illness were recurring aspects of Dick's own life, it's natural that they would occur in his fiction as well, and those themes do crop up in this collection but it's also got a lot of other acute observations on life and nature. Highlights probably include We can remember it for you wholesale, War Game and Pay for the Printer.

There's also a mischievous sense of humour, albeit quite a dark one at times, running through these stories which made them fun to read. Certainly a collection that has made me look again at Philip K. Dick again.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,006 reviews1,116 followers
May 22, 2014
I like Philip K. Dick for his ideas, not for his writing. His work reflects the fact that he wrote quickly, often for the pennies a word the pulps paid in the fifties and sixties. But he didn't write cynically; he wrote, like David Lindsay and Colin Wilson, with a purpose. The primary issue he dealt with was a questioning of our unthinking conceits about the nature of reality, particularly about our own identities--questions which, for him and fans like myself, had both philosophical and religious components.

Note that the short story upon which the two movie versions of Total Recall are based is contained in this collection, viz. "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale".
Profile Image for Owen.
24 reviews
November 22, 2009
I found that Dick is not a great writer, but rather an observant visionary, with a flair for metaphor and an infatuation with man's ignorance and self-destruction. Most of the stories in this book are predictable, though there are a handful of stand outs. The story which shares the same name as the book is absolutely amazing. "The Preserving Machine" (story) is a remarkable reference to politics and the creative process told with Dick's standard dystopian references. I also enjoyed "Pay for the Printer," "What Dead Men Say," and "War Veteran."
Profile Image for Bill.
299 reviews
February 11, 2017
I first read this collection while living in Berkeley, in the early 1970's. This is the first collection of PKD's short stories and had 14 years of published stories to draw from, resulting in a very good set of fifteen, including 1966's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", source of the movies "Total Recall" (1990 & 2012), and a very funny "Roog".
Where PDK can expand a novel's plot widely, these are very concise and pointed, and somewhat twisted. Way to go Philip, this is a great collection.
Profile Image for Dmitry Verkhoturov.
144 reviews16 followers
September 4, 2014
Безумно крутые рассказы. Полный список:
"The Preserving Machine"
"War Game"
"Upon the Dull Earth"
"War Veteran"
"Top Stand-By Job"
"Beyond Lies the Wub"
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
"Captive Market"
"If There Were No Benny Cemoli"
"Retreat Syndrome"
"The Crawlers"
"Oh, to be a Blobel!"
"What the Dead Men Say"
"Pay for the Printer"
Profile Image for Ian St. Germain.
4 reviews7 followers
January 30, 2011
The Preserving Machine - bizarre, wonderful. Vintage PK, forces you to fill in a lot of the story with your own ideas and imagination. Fascinating.
The War Game - amazing. truth is in the details, in the obvious. paranoia at its best.
Profile Image for Abel Caine fiji.
70 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2013
I accidentally found this book way back in the 80s. Every movie that's been made from these stories was instantly recognizable and painful for how they ruined it. This is 1 of my precious for the kids.
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