The Eyes Have It by Philip K Dick (3 stars)
This is, so I’ve read, the shortest story in Philip K. Dick’s bibliography. And the copyright doesn’t appear to have ever been renewed, so it can easily be found online. Here it is at Project Guttenberg.
It tells the story of a man reading a book and, with increasing fervor and anxiety, realizes that it tells the story of an alien invasion of earth by beings that can split their body into living fragments. The evidence for this is the literal reading of such idioms as “…his eyes slowly moved around the room.”
It’s a humorous story, but there isn’t much to it.
The Hanging Stranger by Philip K Dick (4 stars)
Ed Loyce, a shop owner, sees a man hanging from a lamp post. What disturbs him more, however, is how people walk past the body without reaction – as if they don’t even see him. He soon realizes that aliens have invaded his town, and taken over the population, so he flees in terror. Arriving at a nearby town, he goes to the police and tells the commissioner everything. Remarkably, the commissioner believes him, and listen to the entire story. He then tells Ed that the body was hung from the lamp post to reveal any persons not controlled by the aliens. Ed is then taken outside and hung from a lamp post.
To put it simply: I really liked the story. And it’s also available on Project Guttenberg.
Human Is? by Philip K Dick (4 stars)
Jill Herrick’s abusive husband, Lester, is a famous astronaut, and he returns from Rexor IV a very different man. The difference is so stark that people begin to wonder if it’s really Lester that’s returned from the alien world.
This story was published in 1955, so it was in the middle of McCarthyism. The question over whether or not Lester has been compromised in some way is unmistakably a witch hunt. This story is, inherently, about what it means to be human. Can a warm and kind facsimile of a human serve as a preferred alternative to the cold and distant “real” version?
While I didn’t necessarily enjoy this more than The Hanging Stranger, this one feels the most like a a PKD story to me.
A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone (5 stars)
Vlad is a vampire, but he’s settled down to raise a family. A normal family. His wife, who isn’t a vampire and was originally hunting him, has convinced Vlad to set his nature aside. And this has worked for some years. It works until their son begins to have problems in school. Vlad, seeking to prove that he can do normal parenting things, attends a parent-teacher conference over their son’s behavior, and becomes tempted by the teacher.
There’s a poignant exchange towards the end of the story between Vlad and his wife, Sarah, where he talks about how he misses when they could be “dangerous” with one another. Her response is that she does to. That she doesn’t know how her life became one of PTA meetings and “ask your mothers”, either. It’s the great moment of realization for the characters. It feels real.
This was a beautiful story. And it’s available on the Tor website.
Let Those Who Would by Genevieve Valentine
So….I’ve forgotten what this story is about. Like, almost completely. And I can’t find a summary anywhere. The reviews on Goodreads don’t really help, and when I Google the story, I’m sent to websites linking to the LeVar Burton podcast (which is all kinds of awesome, if you aren’t listening to it already) in which he reads it.
I think it tells the story of a girl being used to act out fake news stories for the public. She is being tutored by a girl older than her by a couple years, who was a former news actor. She was retired after doing a story big enough for her to be recognizable to the public. This is considered an honor. Though she is a tutor to the protagonist, they don’t have a good relationship at all. She seems to always be hinting that the protagonist isn’t good enough for the job, and she can’t pull it off.
By the end, we realize she isn’t a villain. The protagonist is supposed to die, and her tutor is trying to save her.
I definitely remember this story – but I don’t remember if it’s this story.
It was pretty good, if that helps. I’d give it a solid 4 star review, assuming I’m recalling the correct story.
Mirror by Haruki Murakami (5 stars)
I’ve never read a Murakami story like this. It’s got the normal Murakami protagonist (early 20s, kind of drifting through life), but it’s a horror story.
He’s taken a job as a night watchman at a high school. While making his rounds through the school, he comes across a mirror in the boiler room. In this mirror, he sees his reflection, but the face staring back at him isn’t one he recognizes. It’s malevolent, and intimidating. And it scares the hell out of him. He breaks the mirror and runs away. When he comes back later, there’s no evidence of a mirror.
He later mentions that he no longer has mirrors in his house, and that he doesn’t even shave with one.
As with many works by Murakami, I’m not really sure what it means – but I don’t care. I loved it. The feelings described here are strong, and impactful.
I love Haruki Murakami.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson (5 stars)
Wilson is on an airplane, and he’s not having the best of times. He happens to look out the window and sees a monster on the wing. The stewardess doesn’t believe him, and the monster is aware of Wilson’s attention. It starts playing a kind of game with him, where he jumps away as soon as Wilson tries to draw someone else’s eyes outside. Eventually, the monster starts destroying the engine, and Wilson is forced to take drastic steps to save everyone’s life.
But we’re all left wondering whether or not the monster is real, or a figment of Wilson’s imagination.
This is a seminal work of horror fiction, spawning numerous TV and movie adaptations. It’s easily one of the Matheson’s more famous works – which is not small feat, considering Matheson also wrote I Am Legend, Hell House, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and numerous other books adapted to the screen. I remember watching the William Shatner episode of The Twilight Zone adapted from this story and having no idea that it was based off a Richard Matheson story (or, in fact, even knowing who Richard Matheson was). It wasn’t until a few years ago, I think, that I made the connection. Incidentally, it was also directed by Richard Donner, the director of Superman and the Lethal Weapon franchise.
I would say both the original Twilight Zone episode and the segment from the Twilight Zone movie (starring John Lithgow) were good adaptations.
Blood Son by Richard Matheson (4 stars)
Jules was born deformed. His head was so big, the doctors declared he would either be a genius or an idiot. He ended up being both. He didn’t start speaking until he was 5, but once he started learning words, he became obsessed. Though he showed no aptitude for math or science, he devoured books and remembered everything he read. Eventually, he discovers Bram Stokers’ Dracula and becomes absolutely obsessed. He steals the book from a library, and proceeds to read it over and over…and over, until he has it memorized. He then throws the book away, and just thinks about it.
One day, in class, he writes a composition on his ambition to be a vampire. He re-names himself Jules Dracula, and declares to the class that he wants to drink the blood of girls.
He eventually discovers that the local zoo has a vampire bat, which then becomes the target of his obsessiveness.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that (especially for something written in 1951), this is a fairly dark story.
And pretty good.