Embrace Philip K. Dick's Family Values

Illustration for article titled Embrace Philip K. Dick's Family Values

I've always loved Philip K. Dick's short fiction for the jolt of concentrated weirdness it provides. One of his best stories is online for free, plus there are three Kelley Eskridge tales for your perusal.

At first glance, Dick's 1954 story "The Father Thing" is a standard riff on the Invasion Of The Body Snatchers theme of alien bug creatures replacing humans. (Another, earlier classic along similar lines, Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, is also available as a free online read.)

What sets "The Father Thing" apart is its more intimate, Twilight Zone-esque quality. The alien doppelgangers are a home invasion, not a planetary invasion. They only want to replace one single family — starting with the father, then moving on to the mother and finally the son. The son, Charles, is the only one who realizes that anything is wrong, and he quickly realizes that he won't be able to convince any adults to believe him. Instead, he goes to the neighborhood kids, who believe him instantly without even questioning. That's my favorite part of the story — the way in which the neighbor kids are just like, "Sure, your dad's been replaced with an alien. It sucks when that happens."


Of course, it's all a metaphor for coming-of-age crap and feeling alienated from your parents and realizing that you and your peers belong to a different world than the older generation. But it's also a nice dose of Dickian paranoia, especially as the story gets creepier and creepier.

Meanwhile, I praised Kelley Eskridge's story collection Dangerous Space a while back, and three stories from it are online. All three stories clearly deal with the theme of art and artificiality. And the dangers and challenges involved in trying to reach an authentic artistic voice in a world of shapeshifters, emotional broadcast technology and dystopian art lords. And two of the stories, "And Salome Danced" and "Dangerous Space (PDF)," feature the same protagonist, the genderless producer/director named Mars. The third, "Strings," features a violnist who dares to improvise in a world that's rejected spontenaeity in music.

All these stories are well worth spending a Sunday afternoon reading, with a mug of tea. And there's plenty more at the link. [via Free Speculative Fiction Online]

"The Father Thing"-inspired photo by Demcanulty.


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Is it too pedantic for me to point out that Finney's book, The Body Snatchers, doesn't feature "alien bug creatures" but rather alien plants? I have to point that out because of the difference it makes between the passive pods and the more active (or at least independently mobile) insect-aliens of Heinlein and Dick.

Besides the more intimate, lighter tone of Dick's piece, what strikes me most is how liberal it is—two white kids (one Italian-American) and a black kid team up against aliens. The Dickian paranoia about one's parents is nicely countered by the children's trust in each other, despite their differences: your parents might be aliens, but the kid down the street—the black kid, the Italian kid, the white kid—they're just like you.