Friday, May 29, 2015

Audiobook Review: Minority Report and Other Stories by Philip K. Dick

I am rerunning this previous Audiobook review in preparation for my upcoming review of The Man in the High Castle.

Book Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

The Minority Report and Other StoriesPhilip K. Dick is both a well known and well respected science fiction author that has really become somewhat of a legend since his death in a large part because of the many movies his works have inspired. However, I have to confess that I previously was not too enamored with his work and felt he had an over-hyped reputation. But then I have not read a ton of his stories and I based my opinion primarily on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which I did not think measured up to its film adaptation Blade Runner (though in all fairness, I saw the movie before reading the book and Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite films). But seeing how Dick still continues to carry much credibility in the science fiction community nearly thirty years after his death, I decided to give him another pass and purchased the audiobook Minority Report and Other Stories. This contains five of his short stories/novelettes, four of which have had film adaptations:

"Minority Report" – In this story which Steven Spielberg adapted into a Hollywood Blockbuster, crime has nearly been eliminated by the use of precogs who can predict future events. Three of these people are pooled together and if two of their predictions match then it is assumed to forecast a future event. However, the third prediction, “the minority report” which is usually thrown out, becomes an important element in one man’s attempt to escape arrest for a future crime.

"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" – This story was adapted into the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Total Recall and it tells of a future where the Rekal corporation can plant virtual memories in people’s minds as a substitute for experiences they would likely never encounter in their real lives. However, one particular client, Douglas Quail, has an unexpected reaction when implanted with these constructed memories.

"Paycheck" – John Woo adapted this piece into a film of the same name and it tells the story of a man who takes a contract with a company but has his mind wiped (voluntarily) at the end of his employment. And oddly enough, he accepts a bag of trinkets, like a ticket stub and a half poker chip, in lieu of pay. He quickly finds, though, that these are crucial to his survival.

"Second Variety" – A nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United Nations has wiped out most of the planet and sent the functioning government of the United States in hiding on the Moon. Back on Earth, the United Nations forces have built attack robots to fend off the Russian troops. These devices have been so successful that the Russians are ready to concede, but the machines may have just evolved beyond their original programming. This story was adapted into the movie Screamers.

"The Eyes Have It" – A man believes that we are being invaded by aliens in this fun little short that plays off the idiosyncrasies of metaphor and our use of language.

I have to say that each of these five stories were quite excellent and made me realize that Philip K. Dick just may deserve the reputation that I would have previously bemoaned for him. At least three of these stories far exceed their movie adaptations (I have not seen Screamers which adapted "Second Variety"), and all of them reveal the true genius (and wit) of this author. Whereas films like Minority Report and Total Recall turned their stories into action-packed blockbusters, the original tales reveal a much better understanding of science fiction concepts on the part of Dick and should be placed in the upper echelon of genre literary output. "Paycheck" and "Second Variety" are not far behind either.

Some have complained about Dick’s writing that his characters often lack development and the stories don’t go far enough into exploring the concepts they present. And there’s some truth to that, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. I did feel like both "Minority Report" and "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" could have potentially been extended to novel length. But Dick is first and foremost an idea person and that’s what he focuses on getting across in his stories. He presents some sort of speculative concept like future crime or implanted memories and builds a story around that, but he only takes it so far. But then I think that is because he is less interested in sifting through all the possibilities and instead wants to present the general idea to get the readers to think about the implications. What he leaves out he expects the readers to fill in as they ponder on the concepts he has presented. And all of these stories definitely had the gears in my mind cranking for some time after finishing them (I can still hear them buzzing up there now). And isn’t that the sign of a truly accomplished writer?

The audio book version is narrated by another name that many science fiction fans should find familiar. Keir Dullea, who starred in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the TV series Starlost, and several other genre productions, provides the vocals for the audio adaptation and does quite a good job for the most part. The only complaint is that the Russian accent he gives to several characters in "Second Variety" is less than convincing. That’s just a quibble, though, and does not detract from the story or the overall production that much. This audiobook is available from and is definitely worth checking out for those who would like to sample Philip K. Dick’s mastery of the genre.

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