Minority Report: A Review
Although this book is technically called Minority Report, it should really be called Minority Report (and other Cyberpunk short stories) by Philip K. Dick. Indeed, nowhere on the back of the book nor on the cover does the book reveal that Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is in fact only a short story of 45 pages. The contents of this book are actually as follows:
- Minority Report
- Second Variety
- War Game
- What the Dead Men Say
- Oh, to Be a Blobel!
- The Electric Ant
- Faith of Our Fathers
- We Can Remember it for You Wholesale
This book has no less than nine short stories! And of particular note is the last short story, We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, is none other than the short story that inspired the famous Cyberpunk 1990 flick Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger (and its subsequent 2012 reboot).
Reviewing each Cyberpunk / Alternate Reality Story
So how good are these short stories? Are they worth your time? Absolutely. But, like anything else, some are much better than others, both in excitement level and in mind-bending ideas. So without further ado, here’s my review for Minority Report (and other short stories by Philip K Dick).
Minority Report: 8/10
John Anderton is the commissioner of Precrime, a futuristic division of the police that prevents crimes before they happen with the help of three precogs. Unlike the film with Tom Cruise, the source material is a lot more tame–the short story reads more like a detective mystery novel, as Anderton must race against time to solve the mystery of how he is supposed to kill a man he has never heard of before in the next 48 hours. As the story develops and Anderton goes to different places to piece together the clues, the story’s message is a lot more about political power than it is about broken families or Anderton surviving. Indeed, Anderton’s survival almost seems to take a back seat to his ascertaining if the system itself suddenly has a flaw or not, which would put into question everything he had done before that moment. Still, with a short but exciting moment when Anderton is on the run, this story was one of my favorites of the nine, as it is different enough from the film that it kept me guessing until the very end.
Imposter apparently got the movie treatment as well, but the film is obscure enough that I’m fairly sure no one has heard of it. This story is about Spence Olham, a man who is suddenly arrested and taken in because the police claim that he is an unwitting spy of the enemy, an android who replaced the real Spence Olham without knowing it, for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist attack. As he is taken back to HQ Olham must try to escape and solve the mystery of who, or what, he is before it is too late. This felt like a real sci-fi thriller as Olham questions whether he is human or not, and how he would even know. It was exciting and fast-paced from beginning to end, and is another one of my favorite stories of the nine.
Second Variety: 9/10
Second Variety is about a group of American soldiers sitting in the trenches on Earch fighting a long, drawn-out war against the Russians in a dystopian future. In this story, the Americans were able to develop a technologically advanced set of robots called Claws that burrow into the ground and attack any living flesh they can. The Americans, who apparently developed the line of robots, are protected from the claws by radioactive “tabs” signalling that they aren’t the enemy.
As one Russian soldier tries to cross no-man’s land and inevitably dies to the Claws, the Americans recover a message from the soldier asking for a chance for negotiating a cease-fire. This leads to the American leader deciding to cross no-man’s land to the Russian trenches in order to negotiate a cease-fire, when he discovers that the robots the Americans had developed have learned to self-develop, resulting in a Second Variety of robots that take on a human appearance in order to kills their prey. What happens next is an incredibly exciting tale of a dystopian future as the humans fight against the robots, and themselves, as they try to determine who the threats really are.
Second Variety was my personal favorite of the nine stories, because of its dystopian setting and truly anxiety and fear-inducing story. It was perhaps the most dystopian and thrilling story of the nine.
War Game: 6/10
War Game is basically a story about quality assurance testers, who are testing kits of technologically-advanced toys for children. It was perhaps my least favorite story, and is very curious. The toy they are testing in question is a castle that is defending itself from toy soldiers who are trying to get into the castle to conquer it. As the toy soldiers slowly get in one by one as the game resets, the testers ponder what will happen when they eventually all get in. It’s a loose reflection on the values that we teach our children, done in a dystopian sci-fi form.
What the Dead Men Say: 6.5/10
What the Dead Men Say is basically the short story that led to Ubik, so if you’ve read Ubik, then this story will look very familiar. It actually has a couple pages that were copied directly into the book. This story is about a world where people can go into cryo-sleep called half-life when they die. When they do, they can have their consciousness connected to a telephone to the outside world, so that the dead may communicate their wishes to the living. Things go awry, however, when the famous head of enterprise Louis Sarapis dies and can’t be reached in his cryo-sleep to determine what his wishes are. Instead, his consciousness starts invading all media sources–newspapers, TV, telephone lines, etc. This complicates things as a major election is about to occur. I personally much preferred Ubik to this short story, as Ubik relates more to the nature of reality, whereas What the Dead Men Say is more of a mystery of what is happening.
Oh, to Be a Blobel!: 6.5/10
This story is about George Munster and his struggle with Blobels, who are an alien blob-like race that humanity fought decades ago. Munster fought in the war against the Blobels, and was genetically altered to spend half a day each day in the form of a Blobel in order to infiltrate their ranks as a spy. Nowadays, however, he is simply a war veteran, and Humans and Blobels live in relative peace with each other (although both humans and Blobels still live on their respective planets, for the most part). Munster must learn how to live a normal, happy life, despite the fact that he keeps on turning into a Blobel every day. The message here seems to be pretty clear that Blobel is just another word for Communist or Soviet, as PKD lived in the time of McCarthyism and spies hiding their true nature was a serious concern of the times.
The Electric Ant: 7.5/10
The Electric Ant is a fun little story about a man that learns that he is in fact an android, and decides to tinker with the mechanical systems within himself that process reality. This story felt like what would happen if a robot tried mind-altering drugs and it actually worked. Very interesting thought experiment once again about the nature of reality.
Faith of Our Fathers: 6/10
This is perhaps one of the oddest of all the stories, and that’s saying a lot for PKD novels. Set in Hanoi, Vietnam, Comrade Chien lives in a 1984-style society where the TV must be on at all times and citizens’ viewing times are recorded, to ensure they watch and listen to enough of the party propaganda. Chien is looking to rise up the ranks in the government when he is given a test of two papers, one a fake and one real, and the party values. This leads to him meeting a member of the resistance and then a later invitation to meet the party leader, but in the process he starts to question reality once again when he is told to take a drug to counteract drugs that are supposed in the water supply, keeping all citizens doped to a certain party level. The meeting of the party leader felt very surreal in this story and its ending felt very open and unfinished, which is why I gave it a lower score compared to other stories on this list.
We Can Remember it for You Wholesale: 7/10
If you’ve seen the beginning of either Total Recalls, then you know the gist of this story. We Can Remember it for You Wholesale is about a man called Douglas Quail who wants to pay for a memory to be implanted in his brain of him having been a spy on Mars, in order to escape his boring life and because he can’t afford an actual trip to Mars. Except things start to go wrong when the implanting process is halted due to previous subconscious memories that indicate that he already went to Mars as a spy. This results in him trying to figure out what he is, as his previous employers race to find him and contain the threat of him learning too much about who he is and what the did. Unlike the movies, however, PKD takes this a couple more levels and then leaves it at that, which was a fun way to once again question reality as the reader is left trying to figure out what truly was real and what wasn’t in
So to review, here’s my aggregate rating of each short story:
- Minority Report: 8/10
- Imposter: 8.5/10
- Second Variety: 9/10
- War Game: 6/10
- What the Dead Men Say: 6.5/10
- Oh, to Be a Blobel!: 6.5/10
- The Electric Ant: 7.5/10
- Faith of Our Fathers: 6/10
- We Can Remember it For you Wholesale: 7.5/10
So that’s my list! Have you read any of the stories on this list? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below 🙂