Mix-It-Up Day: Short Story Review and Analysis

The site schedule remains in a slight state of flux.  I inadvertently posted Sunday’s post last night, most likely to satisfy that voice in my head chastising me for not posting the newest scene of OVCC#9 on time.

On a positive note, the gaffe has enlightened me to a better time allocation method.  New short story posts on Wednesday and Saturday allow me a three-day span to generate a scene, while leaving Sunday to be the mind-cleansing Mix-It-Up day.

To mix it up this Sunday, I dug into my humble little bookshelf to dig out a short story to review and analyse.  My eye was drawn to my science fiction shelf, currently filled by the five volumes of ‘The Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick’.  As the March Hare told Alice in the Disney adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, “Start at the beginning!”

As you wish, Mister Hare.

– Su –

Story: Stability

Source: Beyond Lies The Wub (Volume 1, ‘The Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick’)

Pages: 1 to 11

Written: 1947

First Published: Beyond Lies The Wub (Volume 1, ‘The Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick’)

The story begins with an awesome scene.  Our main character (MC) is one of many people flying above the ‘City of Lightness’, using a detachable pair of wings.  A scene involving humans flying is somewhat common; the most memorable one from my previous readings was in ‘Green Mars’, with characters diving off the high cliffs of Mars to fly around.  PKD’s scene is memorable because it is in a cityscape.  Would it not be awesome to being able to fly through your city with angel-esque wings?

MC arrives at the ‘Control Office’, to meet with the surprisingly-named ‘Controller’.  He is advised that the device he submitted to the office has been rejected.  This confuses MC, since he never submitted anything to the office.  This foreshadows that some time-bending is involved.

The Controller then mentions the concept that the short story is named after.  Humanity is now meticulously controlled by a central authority, enforcing ‘Stability’ upon the populace.  It is exactly as authoritarian as it sounds, with forceful repression of dissidents and radicals, coupled with regular examination of the population to ensure they were not ‘backsliding’.

The scenario above arose from both intellectual and environmental factors.  The causes of the latter are only briefly mentioned, with the former getting more of the spotlight.  This is the antithesis of the more well-known PKD worlds seen in ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Minority Report’, where both are varying degrees of dystopian, and the intellectual effects are replaced by how the world affects the character’s state of mind.

Collecting the mysterious item, MC heads home to ponder it.  Making use of it, he finds himself in a much different world, sometime in the past due to the description of the item as a time machine.  He comes across another item of note, and is then sent back to his own time.  The time loop is completed as he arrives at the Control Office prior to the initial meeting, and submits the time machine to the Controller.

With MC now having visited the Control Office twice, the Controller is suspicious of him.  Reporting his concerns to the Control Council, the Controller and two councillors follow MC to his home.  After advising him that the Council does not wish to unduly punish people, they advise MC of his options: suicide, or to wait for ‘the Cart’.  It is alluded to earlier that ‘the Cart’ may as well be death.

The attention of all the characters is drawn to the second item in MC’s possession; the item he collected during his time travel.  It is thought to have some historical link to an ‘accursed city’, and proves sentient in its desire to be broken.  It manages to be broken, and a literal version of ‘all hell’ breaks loose.

What is the hell we see?  A world where humans are subservient to machines.  Considering the story was written over three decades prior to my own birth, the concept of machines ruling the world was unique.  From what I could research, earlier stories and movies had the machines being controlled by a human elite class.

Such a scenario is now well-represented in movies and stories, the most prominent pop culture example being the 1999 movie ‘The Matrix’.  In a sense, we are slaves to machines in the modern day and age.  Coffee machines, cars, trains, buses, computers… they are all everyday things we take for granted.  We sit closer to the ‘being controlled by a human elite class’.  We could survive without them, but many tasks that are now automated would be a struggle.

Being the first known short story of Philip K Dick, it is quite insightful into the future of the world.  The experimental seeds of narrative that later became unmistakably Dickian are there.  The only real thing missing is the story-telling flair that earned him such a cult following in his day.

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