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Solar generator, Andalucia - © Robert Sommers 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019

Paycheck

My two favorite science or speculative fiction writers are the late Philip Dick and Roger Zelazny. While I tend to favor the latter in my recreational reading, with his beautiful floral prose and the incredible power of his myth mining, Dick had a cold prescience of the future that was startling in both its accuracy and dark foreboding.

Philip Dick
Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was the real father of cyberpunk, Gibson, Stevenson and the dystopian like that followed owe much to him. Bester may have had a glimpse beforehand but Dick fleshed out the coming darkness thoroughly.

I was thumbing through the Philip Dick Reader the other day and I reread the story Paycheck. It was written in 1952, published in Imagine in June of 1953 and is remarkable in its predictive vision. I understand a crappy movie was once made of it that had little resemblance to the short story, I never saw it.

Dick visualized a future world where the rights of the citizen were largely extinguished but the powers of the corporation were basically unfettered. A man wakes up after being used for a two year job with his brain scrubbed and finds that he has kept the random keys to his awakening and memory close at hand.
...But the real problem right now was not a problem of speculation. It was very concrete. The Security Police were looking for him. They had his name and description. There was no use thinking of going to his apartment -- if he even still had an apartment. But where, then? Hotels? The SP combed them daily. Friends? That would mean putting them in jeopardy, along with him. It was only a question of time before the SP found him, walking along the street, eating in a restaurant, in a show, sleeping in some rooming house. The SP were everywhere.
Everywhere? Not quite. When an individual person was defenseless, a business was not. The big economic forces had managed to remain free, although virtually everything else had been absorbed by the Government. Laws that had been eased away from the private person still protected property and industry. The SP could pick up any given person, but they could not enter and seize a company, a business. That had been clearly established in the middle of the twentieth century.
Business, industry, corporations, were safe from the Security Police. Due process was required. Rethrick Construction was a target of SP interest, but they could do nothing until some statute was violated. If he could get back to the Company, get inside its doors, he would be safe. Jennings smiled grimly. The modern church, sanctuary. It was the Government against the corporation, rather than the State against the Church.
It is hard for me to read this short story now and not think of the Citizens United SCOTUS case, where Corporations were granted the free speech privileges of human beings in order to deliver unlimited donations and shield their donors from public eye. The rights of corporations have been greatly extended while the rights of regular citizens have tended to suffer.

Philip Dick saw it, or something very much like it, coming way back in 1952. Like he saw so many other things. He had one thing wrong, he didn't get that the government and the corporations would, rather than fight with each other, tend to consolidate their power and work together against the individual citizen but Ike wasn't there yet to tell him to beware the military industrial complex. That wouldn't happen until 1961.

1 comment:

Jeff Nichols said...

You're absolutely right about Phillip K. Dick. His stories (a) make great movies (e.g. Blade Runner) and (b) inspired tons of other stories/authors. So far none of his stuff has become 100% real, but you're right, they're trending that direction. He seemed to be able to see through to the heart of how new technology would affect people and society, wayyyy before others.