The Folio Society has released a limited-edition, four-volume set of Philip K. Dick’s collected short stories and I am seriously considering selling my plasma to buy a copy.
Each volume is bound in fluorescent colors, with 2,560 pages of text containing some 118 stories. There are 24 illustrations by 24 different artists, and the set itself has a theme inspired by the symbols found on Zener cards — famously used throughout the 20th century to test for telepaths (mind-reading being a recurrent theme in Dick’s fiction).
The collection is absolutely stunning, like so many special editions by The Folio Society, but has a hefty price-tag of £495 ($679). There are also only 750 copies available to buy and it looks like they’re selling out quick.
Philip K. Dick is an undisputed titan of science fiction, and I’ve long been a particular fan of his short stories. Not just because they contain some of the genre’s most iconic tales but because they also offer a capsule history of Dick himself.
He was famously prolific as a writer, and lived at a time when it was possible to earn a decent living pumping out quick fiction hits. He published four stories in 1952 and then accelerated to publish 30 in 1953. (His love of amphetamines also contributed to this prolific output.) A sense of writing as drudgery bleeds into Dick’s stories, which often feature resentful toilers, like the tire regroover in Our Friends from Frolix 8 who takes bald, worn-out tires and carves fresh grooves into them with a red hot iron.
Despite the grinding nature of the work, Dick’s fiction is endlessly imaginative. His short stories are still being retold today, and are particularly beloved by Hollywood. “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” became 1990’s Total Recall; the 1956 short “The Minority Report” was turned into the 2002 Tom Cruise blockbuster of the same name; while the “Adjustment Team” became 2011’s The Adjustment Bureau, and so on.
As we progress through Dick’s career into the ‘70s, and ‘80s his output slows. In 1974, Dick famously experienced a series of visions in which an entity that was perhaps God, but which he dubbed the Vast Active Living Intelligence System or VALIS, “fired a beam of pink light directly at him, at his head, his eyes.” His stories from this era, particularly his novels, consequently move away from standard sci-fi tropes into post-modern themes, delving into slipstreams of consciousness, alternate realities, and hidden, unbelievable truths.
Reading through Dick’s short fiction chronologically offers its own narrative: the story of this magnificent writer and thinker. The Folio Society’s new set looks like a fabulous accompaniment to this intellectual history. Now excuse me, I have some Googling to do about “infallible get rich quick schemes.”