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Electric Dreams by Philip K Dick

The Inspiration for the Upcoming TV Show

Though perhaps most famous as a novelist, over the course of his career Philip K. Dick wrote more than one hundred short stories, each as mind-bending and genre-defining as his longer works. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams collects ten of the best from across his career. In “Autofac,” Dick shows us one of the earliest examples (and warnings) in science fiction of self-replicating machines. “Exhibit Piece” and “The Commuter” feature Dick exploring one of his favorite themes: the shifting nature of reality, and whether it is even possible to really perceive the world as it is. And “The Hanging Stranger” provides a thrilling, dark political allegory as relevant today as it was when it was written at the height of the Cold War.

Strange, funny, and powerful, the stories in this collection highlight a master at work, drawing on his boundless imagination and deep understanding of the human condition.

When it comes to short story collection reviews, I normally cobble together a bit of a preamble. Gather together some thoughts about each of the entries. Discuss my favourites and then come to some sort of conclusion. Not so in this case. The anthology television series of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams starts this Sunday in the UK on Channel Four and I’ve decided the best way to enjoy each episode is to read the short story that inspired it before the episode airs. With that in mind I’ve only read one tale so far, the series opener, The Hood Maker.

After a short introduction by Matthew Graham, the writer of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, we’re straight into the action. Imagine a society where lying was all but impossible. People can be scanned by a group of mutants known as ‘teeps’. They can reveal everything that is going on in your head. Would you embrace the chance to unburden yourself or would you seek any means necessary to retain the truth known only to you?

In many respects, I think humanity is defined by the secrets we all keep. Some are big (allowing foreign powers to rig elections, embracing fascism because you like to win whatever the cost, that sort of thing) while some are small (the cookie you had after lunch that no one must ever know about). In a handful of pages, the author manages to pick apart lofty topics like the nature of secrets, genetics and evolution in a genuinely thoughtful manner.

If each story in this collection is as good as The Hood Maker, and there is no reason to suspect they won’t be, then I’d image Channel Four are going to have a hit on their hands. From what I can gather Philip K Dick has long been considered a bit of a master storyteller. I’ll admit I’ve never read any of his work before, I sometimes get a little intimidated by science fiction, but there were no such issues here. The Hood Maker short story is captivating enough to ensure I’ll be tuned in on Sunday night to see how Dick’s vision transfers to the small screen. I’m curious to see what Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger make of it. The best part? I get another nine stories and another nine weeks to enjoy actors like Bryan Cranston, Benedict Wong, Julia Davis, Geraldine Chaplin and Liam Cunningham interpreting other tales from Philip K Dick’s back catalogue. How very splendid.

This collection is published by Gollancz and is available now. My only world of warning. Don’t stare at the hypnotic cover for too long, it may bend your mind beyond repair.

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