All notes in italics are by Philip K. Dick. The year when the note was written appears in parentheses following the note. Most of these notes were written as story notes for the collections THE BEST OF PHILIP K. DICK (published 1977) and THE GOLDEN MAN (published 1980). A few were written at the request of editors publishing or reprinting a PKD story in a book or magazine.
When there is a date following the name of a story, it is the date the manuscript of that story was first received by Dick’s agent, per the records of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. Absence of a date means no record is available. The name of a magazine followed by a month and year indicates the first published appearance of a story. An alternate name following a story indicates Dick’s original name for the story, as shown in the agency records.
These five volumes include all of Philip K. Dick’s short fiction, with the exception of short novels later published as or included in novels, childhood writings, and unpublished writings for which manuscripts have not been found. The stories are arranged as closely as possible in chronological order of composition; research for this chronology was done by Gregg Rickman and Paul Williams.
AUTOFAC 10/11/54. Galaxy, Nov 1955.
Tom Disch said of this story that it was one of the earliest ecology warnings in sf. What I had in mind in writing it, however, was the thought that if factories became fully automated, they might begin to show the instinct for survival which organic living entities have… and perhaps develop similar solutions. (1976)
SERVICE CALL 10/11/54. Science Fiction Stories, July 1955.
When this story appeared many fans objected to it because of the negative attitude I expressed in it. But I was already beginning to suppose in my head the growing domination of machines over man, especially the machines we voluntarily surround ourselves with, which should, by logic, be the most harmless. I never assumed that some huge clanking monster would stride down Fifth Avenue, devouring New York; I always feared that my own TV set or iron or toaster would, in the privacy of my apartment, when no one else was around to help me, announce to me that they had taken over, and here was a list of rules I was to obey. I never like the idea of doing what a machine says. I hate having to salute something built in a factory. (Do you suppose all those White House tapes came out of the back of the President’s head? And programmed him as to what he was to say and do?) (1976)
CAPTIVE MARKET 10/18/54. If, April 1955.
THE MOLD OF YANCY 10/18/54. If, Aug 1955.
Obviously, Yancy is based on President Eisenhower. During his reign we all were worrying about the man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit problem; we feared that the entire country was turning into one person and a whole lot of clones. (Although in those days the word “clone” was unknown to us.) I liked this story enough to use it as the basis for my novel THE PENULTIMATE TRUTH; in particular the part where everything the government tells you is a lie. I still like that part; I mean, I still believe it’s so. Watergate, of course, bore the basic idea of this story out. (1978)
THE MINORITY REPORT 12/22/54. Fantastic Universe, Jan 1956.
RECALL MECHANISM. If, July 1959.
THE UNRECONSTRUCTED M 6/2/55. Science Fiction Stories, Jan 1957.
If the main theme throughout my writing is, “Can we consider the universe real, and if so, in what way?” my secondary theme would be, “Are we all humans?”Here a machine does not imitate a human being, but instead fakes evidence of a human being, a given human being. Fakery is a topic which absolutely fascinates me; I am convinced that anything can be faked, or anyhow evidence pointing to any given thing. Spurious clues can lead us to believe anything they want us to believe. There is really no theoretical upper limit to this. Once you have mentally opened the door to the reception of the notion of fake, you are ready to think yourself into another kind of reality entirely. It’s a trip from which you never return. And, I think, a healthy trip… unless you take it too seriously. (1978)
EXPLORERS WE 5/6/58. Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan 1959.
WAR GAME (“Diversion”) 10/31/58. Galaxy, Dec 1959.
IF THERE WERE NO BENNY CEMOLI (“Had There Never Been A Benny Cemoli”) 2/27/63. Galaxy, Dec 1963.
I have always believed that at least half the famous people in history never existed. You invent what you need to invent. Perhaps even Karl Marx was invented, the product of some hack writer. In which case—(1976)
NOVELTY ACT (“At Second Jug”) 3/23/63. Fantastic, Feb 1964. [Included in PKD’s novel THE SIMULACRA.]
WATERSPIDER 4/10/63. If, Jan 1964.
WHAT THE DEAD MEN SAY (“Man With a Broken Match”) 4/15/63. Worlds of Tomorrow, June 1964.
ORPHEUS WITH CLAY FEET 4/16/63 [published in Escapade circa 1964 under the pseudonym Jack Dowland].
THE DAYS OF PERKY PAT (“In the Days of Perky Pat”) 4/18/63. Amazing, Dec 1963.
The Days of Perky Pat came to me in one lightning-swift flash when I saw my children playing with Barbie dolls. Obviously these anatomically super-developed dolls were not intended for the use of children, or, more accurately, should not have been. Barbie and Ken consisted of two adults in miniature. The idea was that the purchase of countless new clothes for these dolls was necessary if Barbie and Ken were to live in the style to which they were accustomed. I had visions of Barbie coming into my bedroom at night and saying, “I need a mink coat.” Or, even worse, “Hey, big fellow… want to take a drive to Vegas in my Jaguar XKE?” I was afraid my wife would find me and Barbie together and my wife would shoot me.
The sale of The Days of Perky Pat to Amazing was a good one because in those days Cele Goldsmith edited Amazing and she was one of the best editors in the field. Avram Davidson at Fantasy & Science Fiction had turned it down, but later he told me that had he known about Barbie dolls he probably would have bought it. I could not imagine anyone not knowing about Barbie. I had to deal with her and her expensive purchases constantly. It was as bad as keeping my TV set working; the TV set always needed something and so did Barbie. I always felt that Ken should buy his own clothes.
In those days—the early Sixties—I wrote a great deal, and some of my best stories and novels emanated from that period. My wife wouldn’t let me work in the house, so I rented a little shack for $25 a month and walked over to it each morning. This was out in the country. All I saw on my walk to my shack were a few cows in their pastures and my own flock of sheep who never did anything but trudge along after the bell-sheep. I was terribly lonely, shut up by myself in my shack all day. Maybe I missed Barbie, who was back at the big house with the children. So perhaps The Days of Perky Pat is a wishful fantasy on my part; I would have loved to see Barbie—or Perky Pat or Connie Companion—show up at the door of my shack.
What did show up was something awful: my vision of the face of Palmer Eldritch which became the basis of the novel THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH which the Perky Pat story generated.
There I went, one day, walking down the country road to my shack, looking forward to eight hours of writing, in total isolation from all other humans, and I looked up at the sky and saw a face. I didn’t really see it, but the face was there, and it was not a human face; it was a vast visage of perfect evil. I realize now (and I think I dimly realized at the time) what caused me to see it: the months of isolation, of deprivation of human contact, in fact sensory deprivation as such… anyhow the visage could not be denied. It was immense; it filled a quarter of the sky. It had empty slots for eyes—it was metal and cruel and, worst of all, it was God.
I drove over to my church, Saint Columbia’s Episcopal Church, and talked to my priest. He came to the conclusion that I had had a glimpse of Satan and gave me unction—not supreme unction; just healing unction. It didn’t do any good; the metal face in the sky remained. I had to walk along every day as it gazed down at me.
Years later—after I had long since written THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH and sold it to Doubleday, my first sale to Doubleday—I came across a picture of the face in an issue of Life magazine. It was, very simply, a World War One observation cupola on the Marne, built by the French. My father had fought in the Second Battle of the Marne; he had been with the Fifth Marines, about the first group of American soldiers to go over to Europe and fight in that ghastly war. When I was a very small child he had showed me his uniform and gasmask, the entire gas-filtration equipment, and told me how the soldiers became panic-stricken during gas attacks as the charcoal in their filtration systems became saturated, and how sometimes a soldier would freak and tear off his mask and run. As a child I felt a lot of anxiety listening to my father’s war stories and looking at and playing with the gasmask and helmet; but what scared me the most was when my father would put on the gasmask. His face would disappear. This was not my father any longer. This was not a human being at all. I was only four years old. After that my mother and father got divorced and I did not see my father for years. But the sight of him wearing his gasmask, blending as it did with his accounts of men with their guts hanging from them, men destroyed by shrapnel—decades later, in 1963, as I walked alone day after day along that country road with no one to talk to, no one to be with, that metal, blind, inhuman visage appeared to me again, but now transcendent and vast, and absolutely evil.
I decided to exorcise it by writing about it, and I did write about it, and it did go away. But I had seen the evil one himself, and I said then and say now, “The evil one wears a metal face.” If you want to see this yourself, look at a picture of the war masks of the Attic Greeks. When men wish to inspire terror and kill they put on such metal faces. The invading Christian knights that Alexander Nevsky fought wore such masks; if you saw Eisenstein’s film you know what I am talking about. They all looked alike. I had not seen Nevsky when I wrote THE THREE STIGMATA, but I saw it later and saw again the thing that had hung in the sky back in 1963, the thing into which my own father had been transformed when I was a child.
So THE THREE STIGMATA is a novel that came out of powerful atavistic fears in me, fears dating back to my early childhood and no doubt connected with my grief and loneliness when my father left my mother and me. In the novel my father appears as both Palmer Eldritch (the evil father, the diabolic mask-father) and as Leo Bulero, the tender, gruff, warm, human, loving man. The novel which emerged came out of the most intense anguish possible; in 1963 I was reliving the original isolation I had experienced upon the loss of my father, and the horror and fear expressed in the novel are not fictional sentiments ground out to interest the reader; they come from the deepest part of me: yearning for the good father and fear of the evil father, the father who left me.
I found in the story The Days of Perky Pat a vehicle that I could translate into a thematic basis for the novel I wanted to write. Now, you see, Perky Pat is the eternally beckoning fair one, das ewige Weiblichkeit—“the eternally feminine,” as Goethe put it. Isolation generated the novel and yearning generated the story; so the novel is a mixture of the fear of being abandoned and the fantasy of the beautiful woman who waits for you—somewhere, but God only knows where; I have still to figure it out. But if you are sitting alone day after day at your typewriter, turning out one story after another and having no one to talk to, no one to be with, and yet pro forma having a wife and four daughters from whose house you have been expelled, banished to a little single-walled shack that is so cold in winter that, literally, the ink would freeze in my typewriter ribbon, well, you are going to write about iron slot-eyed faces and warm young women. And thus I did. And thus I still do.
Reaction to THE THREE STIGMATA was mixed. In England some reviewers described it as blasphemy. Terry Carr, who was my agent at Scott Meredith at the time, told me later, “That novel is crazy,” although subsequent to that he reversed his opinion. Some reviewers found it a profound novel. I only find it frightening. I was unable to proofread the galleys because the novel frightened me so. It is a dark journey into the mystical and the supernatural and the absolutely evil as I understood it at the time. Let us say, I would like Perky Pat to show up at my door, but I dread the possibility that, when I hear the knock, it will be Palmer Eldritch waiting outside and not Perky Pat. Actually, to be honest, neither has shown up in the seventeen or so years since I wrote the novel. I guess that is the story of life: what you most fear never happens, but what you most yearn for never happens either. This is the difference between life and fiction. I suppose it’s a good trade-off. But I’m not sure. (1979)
STAND-BY (“Top Stand-By Job”) 4/18/63. Amazing, Oct 1963.
WHAT’LL WE DO WITH RAGLAND PARK? (“No Ordinary Guy”) 4/29/63. Amazing, Nov 1963.
OH, TO BE A BLOBEL! (“Well, See, There Were These Blobels…”) 5/6/63. Galaxy, Feb 1964.
At the beginning of my writing career in the early Fifties, Galaxy was my economic mainstay. Horace Gold at Galaxy liked my writing whereas John W Campbell, Jr. at Astounding considered my writing not only worthless but as he put it, “Nuts.” By and large I liked reading Galaxy because it had the broadest range of ideas, venturing into the soft sciences such as sociology and psychology, at a time when Campbell (as he once wrote me!) considered psionics a necessary premise for science fiction. Also, Campbell said, the psionic character in the story had to be in charge of what was going on. So Galaxy provided a latitude which Astounding did not. However, I was to get into an awful quarrel with Horace Gold; he had the habit of changing your stories without telling you: adding scenes, adding characters, removing downbeat endings in favor of upbeat endings. Many writers resented this. I did more than resent this; despite the fact that Galaxy was my main source of income I told Gold that I would not sell to him unless he stopped altering my stories—after which he bought nothing from me at all.
It was not, then, until Fred Pohl became editor of Galaxy that I began to appear there again. Oh, To Be A Blobel! is a story which Fred Pohl bought. In this story my enormous anti-war bias is evident, a bias which had, ironically, pleased Gold. I wasn’t thinking of the Viet Nam War but war in general; in particular, how a war forces you to become like your enemy. Hitler had once said that the true victory of the Nazis would be to force its enemies, the United States in particular, to become like the Third Reich—i.e. a totalitarian society—in order to win. Hitler, then, expected to win even in losing. As I watched the American military-industrial complex grow after World War Two I kept remembering Hitler’s analysis, and I kept thinking how right the son of a bitch was. We had beaten Germany, but both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were getting more and more like the Nazis with their huge police systems every day. Well, it seemed to me there was a little wry humor in this (but not much). Maybe I could write about it without getting too deep into polemics. But the issue presented in this story is real. Look what we had to become in Viet Nam just to lose, let alone to win; can you imagine what we’d have had to become to win? Hitler would have gotten a lot of laughs out of it, and the laughs would have been on us… and to a very great extent in fact were. And they were hollow and grim laughs, without humor of any kind. (1979)
Here I nailed down the ultimate meaningless irony of war; the human turns into a Blobel, and the Blobel, his enemy, turns into a human, and there it all is, the futility, the black humor, the stupidity. And in the story they all wind up happy. (1976)