I have an affection for even the goofiest of the old science fiction stories. That doesn’t mean they’re always good if I have an affection for them, and calling them goofy also doesn’t mean they’re bad.
In this first volume of the collected stories of Philip K Dick, we have a selection of many of his early stories, including a few that are often presented together as “Early Stories” like “The Gun”, “The Defenders”, and “The Skull”, the last of which is great. Other stories here include the title story, King of the Elves, which I think became the title of this collection once Disney became close to adapting it for a movie in the 2000s. That story is about a local gas station attendant who becomes embroiled in a war between elves and trolls, that just so happens to be taking place in the area around his normal old gas station.
Otherwise, the story collection would still be going by its previous title for its more well-known, much better, and previously adapted: “Paycheck”. Yes, the Ben Affleck movie. That story, it might shock you to realize, is much cooler than Ben Affleck’s movie, no offense. In that story, an engineer (and they’re always engineers in old scifi) comes from a long working assignment in which memory loss is used instead of an NDA. He’s told that he won’t be paid because while under, he selected a clause in his contract to be paid trade of equal value instead of money. When he looks at the items he’s taken under this memory loss state, it comes across as just a list of regular household items, but he soon discovers each has a clear purpose to him recovering his own memory.
Many of the stories involves intergalactic conflict being addressed through some sort of new invention, technology, or approach. It’s the Cold War after all. In one, “The Variable Man”, a 20th century man with a adeptness for machines is brought back from the past because his set of skills is no longer present in the future. In another, a ship is fitted with a disembodied human brain instead of a computer to counteract alien technology.
A lot of the remaining stories are basically Star Trek stories, meaning encounters with aliens or phenomenon that present an obstacle or set of obstacles for our brief protagonists to encounter. Like most early career Dick, these feel pulpy in the best and worst of ways. So take that as you will.