Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick (book review).

October 23, 2017 | By | Reply More

‘Electric Dreams’ is a timely reissue of ten short stories of Philip K. Dick’s that have kickstarted new scripts for a TV series inspired by his incredible imagination. These are available in other collections but this is hoped to be volume one of several series, so if you don’t already have them, this is a neat book. First off, though, there is a glaring typo on the contents page, ‘The Hanging Sranger’ instead of ‘The Hanging Stranger’. This is not a review copy so I assume this first run has the same mistake. Just goes to show no one proofreads anymore, especially when they are mostly cut and pasting from the original. Just needed to get that off my chest.

Each story has an introduction from the scriptwriters who have used one of the stories as a jumping off point for a new drama. At the beginning of each story introduction it also gives the title and the screenplay title if different. ‘The Father Thing’ is such a creepy story. This is thought-provoking because we are getting to a point of view and a response to certain idea in the story. We all have our own ideas and we all read the stories at a different point in our lives. Some will be re-reading them as the TV series progresses. It makes for a dynamic discussion. A lot of the names if not all are familiar to genre fans. Ronald D Moore of the re-imagined ‘Battlestar: Galactica’ who shares the obsession with Phil Dick of what makes us human and takes ‘Exhibit Piece’.

Jack Thorne has form as the creator of the brilliant ‘The Fades’ and currently enjoying success with the play of ‘Harry Potter And The Cursed Child’ takes ‘The Commuter’. Matthew Graham is the co-creator of ‘Life On Mars’ which itself touched on the nature of reality another Phil Dick obsession and takes on ‘The Hood Maker’. He’s also the creator of the much-missed ‘Bonekickers’ but enough has been said about that.

David Farr is the screenwriter of ‘The Night Manager’ and tackles ‘The Impossible Planet’ Other names are less familiar but all have many screen credits so the series is an entertaining one to follow. What of these original stories? Many of Phil’s books have been used to inspire but not fill out a screenplay. His ideas possess an allure, a feeling that make people dive into his world. Not all translations work but some, like ‘Blade Runner’, have not only become cult films but the murky post-industrial world with its constant surveillance and consumerism have inspired other worlds in turn.

Let’s look at the ten stories. Some of them are familiar to me and some not so. They all resonate with not only the era they were written in but with the concerns of Philip K. Dick wrapped up in the SF package. He must have been frustrated not to build a wider audience than the genre he was largely confined to. He had a lot to say and each story has its own often dark agenda. With only ten stories, how do I pick a favourite?

Out of the ten stories there are four that I’ve always remembered at the back of my mind perhaps because they are so shocking. ‘The Father-Thing’ is very much in the mould, literally in this case of Jack Finney’s ‘The Body Snatchers’ and pre-dates it. In this story, a young boy is aware that is father has been replaced by an alien. He is afraid but seeks out his friends and we have a ready-made boy’s own adventure. It is fabulous and frightening at the same time drawing on our own fears about humanity.

‘The Hanging Stranger’ deals in conformity and humanity again. A man on his way to work is concerned that there is a hanging man in the town square. His other concern is that no one seems to notice or care. The image is burned into our brain even without a visual. Truly the power of storytelling.

‘The Commuter’ is the story of an impossible village that is making-over reality. One man discovers this on the railway line where he works and tried to establish what its significance is while noticing that the world around him is starting to change.

‘Human Is’ is another story about what it means to be human. It might be repetitious but there is always another angle, another vision in the Philip K. Dick stories. When a man returns from a mission on another planet, he has changed for the better but what if he really has been changed?

Other people will no doubt find their own truth in these stories and others and it is an opportunity to sample the original vision of Phil Dick before the filmmakers got their mitts on them. If you also manage to take in the new series, it is an opportunity to decide if you think the same as others or if you have your own vision of where the stories should go.

Sue Davies

October 2017

(pub: Gollancz. 213 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-228-8)

check out websites: www.golancz.co.uk and www.orionbooks.co.uk

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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