Philip K. Dick wrote 121 short stories over his career, mostly for science fiction magazines. Subterranean Press has been collecting them in chronological order over several volumes. The first volume, The King of the Elves, contained 22 stories spanning the years 1947-1952. This second volume, Adjustment Team, covers the years 1952-1953 and includes 27 stories with notes that make up approximately 488 pages.
Many of these stories use themes that were common in 1950s SF shorts — space exploration, the cold war, racism, xenophobia, and the fear of atomic war and radiation. Like the stories of Ray Bradbury and other popular writers of the time, Dick’s stories are full of spaceships, aliens, Soviets, cigarettes, bad marriages, a disdain for 1950s psychology, and high-heeled housewives in aprons. You’ll also notice other favorite themes of Philip K. Dick: what’s behind reality, playing God through world-building, a vision of a post-robopocalyptic ash-covered Earth, and what it means to be human.
Most of the stories in this volume were new to me and I enjoyed all but one or two of them. My favorites were:
- Second Variety — A frighteningly realistic-feeling robopocalypse. This haunting story was the basis for the movie Screamers (1995) and one of the best in the collection.
- Jon’s World — A fascinating idea about parallel universes and a criticism of the practice of lobotomy.
- Some Kinds of Life — One of several anti-war stories in this collection. This one asks what we’re really fighting for.
- The Commuter — Two different realities seem to be colliding. This is a common theme for PKD, and one he does really well.
- A Surface Raid — One of several stories which imagine a post-war Earth covered in ash with a few remaining humans living underground. All of these ash-Earth stories are terrific. And scary.
- Project: Earth — Another common theme for PKD: Who is God?
- The Trouble with Bubbles — “World-building is the ultimate art form.” Another story about gods.
- Human Is — A wonderful look at what it means to be human. I saw the ending twist coming, but this was still one of my favorite stories.
- Adjustment Team — The basis for the movie The Adjustment Bureau (2010), this is one of several entertaining looks at a possible “back-end” of reality.
- The Impossible Planet — Another post-apocalyptic cautionary tale which starts with a chuckle and ends with a chill. A beautiful story — one of the best in the collection.
- Impostor — Another robot story, and the basis of the film Impostor (2002).
- Survey Team — This tale about the destruction of Earth has an interesting suggestion about where we came from.
- Prominent Author — This is another story with a common PKD theme, but I won’t mention which one, so as not to spoil the surprise ending. This is one of the few whose ending I didn’t see coming and which I would actually consider “mind-bending.”
Well, that’s a lot of favorites, I guess, but I had a hard time narrowing them down because this collection has so many great stories. Many felt dated and I could anticipate the ending of most of them, but that’s because I have, in 2011, the benefit of 60 more years of science fiction literature at my back than Dick’s first readers did. Even so, I loved this collection.
The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume Two: Adjustment Team (1952-1953) is an absolute must-have volume for any serious PKD fan, but it’s also a great place to start for anyone who wants to become better acquainted with the work of this prolific and highly esteemed science fiction writer.