Philip K. Dick featured brilliantly realized futuristic settings, terrifying conflicts between man and the mysterious other, and alien life forms that ranged from beautiful to creepy to hilarious. Beyond being one of the finest sci-fi authors in the game, Dick was remarkably prolific. With forty-four published novels and over one-hundred short stories, many of which have been turned into films, Dick’s work still completely dominates the science fiction section at any bookstore worth its end caps. What’s most interesting about Dick’s work to me, beyond his extraordinary output and his thoughtful depictions of advanced societies, was his focus on humanity – its heroism, its flaws, and its complete absurdity. Dick used sci-fi elements as tools to put people to the test, challenging society and humanity as a whole with moral and ethical conundrums. This exploration of people through the guise of exploring space and the future is present in much of his work, but in this two-part feature, we’re going to examine two of his earlier sci-fi short stories… starting with his very first.
BEYOND LIES THE WUB
“You are quite afraid, aren’t you?” the wub said. “Have I done anything to you? I am against the idea of hurting. All I have done is try to protect myself. Can you expect me to rush eagerly to my death? I am a sensible being live yourselves…”
Beyond Lies the Wub follows a crew of Earthmen who, during an unspecified time in the future, have sent a ship to bring Martian goods back to Earth. While on Mars, one of the crew members buys a creature that looks much like a large pig for what he considers to be a ridiculously low price. The Martian natives call this creature a “wub.” When he brings the wub on board, the Captain of the ship decides that the best use they can get of the beast is to kill, cook, and eat it.
That is when the wub speaks up to voice its disagreement.
Shocked that the wub is communicating with them, the captain agrees to speak with it along in his office. What follows is… well, a philosophical debate between predator and prey. The wub explains its power to telepathically interpret the captain’s thoughts and speak back to these Earthmen using English. Subtly, but always unthreateningly, the wub proves quickly that it is more intelligent, and more civilized, than the captain – but instead of working in the wub’s favor, the captain feels threatened, says “Nuts to you,” and proceeds with his plan… only to once again be outsmarted by his prospective dinner.
Dick’s parallel between the Earthmen’s colonialism of Mars and humanity’s penchant for doing the same thing on Earth is at the forefront of this story. Dick alludes to the Earthmen having a strained relationship with the “natives” throughout the story, but even more scathing is the idea that much of these Earthmen decide to eat the wub because it looks like a pig – because it looks different than them. The narrative even suggests that the captain’s desire to eat the wub is borne not of hunger, but of the desire to conquer. In his conversation with the wub, the captain suggests that they have to eat the creature because they have a long journey back, and if they don’t, they’re screwed. The captain seems to be the only one to feel this way. The cook is very casual about their wub decision, and just wants them to let him know when they make a choice. Peterson, the guy who buys the wub to begin with, is perplexed that they’re deciding to eat it without its owners input. The urgent situation the captain describes seems to be a lie.
What’s great about the story is that, even with its satirical wit and subtle deconstruction of colonialism, Beyond Lies the Wub features a hell of a twist ending that wouldn’t feel out of place on The Twilight Zone. Dick’s writing is deceptively simple here, crafting a fun and even funny absurdist story that has a lot to say.
Beyond Lies the Wub, originally published in Planet Stories, can be found in these Philip K Dick’s short story collections: The Preserving Machine, The Best of Philip K. Dick, and Paycheck and Other Classic Stories (originally printed as Beyond Lies the Wub collection.)
NEXT: Examining Philip K. Dick continues, as we travel to Asteroid Y-3 to investigate a series of strange claims in the short story Piper in the Woods.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Hellchild, Grimm Fairy Tales), novels (Charmed for HarperCollins), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He lives in New York with his partner Amy and their four cats, all of whom he’s fairly sure are aliens.