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An essay by Lord RC

Philip K. Dick's first published short story, "Beyond Lies The Wub" (PLANET STORIES, July 1952), is typical in one regard at least to most of his work: it lends itself to various interpretations and much analysis.

Yet you wouldn't think at first that WUB would be worthy of much interpretation. It seems a straight-forward enough item in the alien encounter mode. Captain Franco and his crew land on Mars and while taking on provisions luck into the 400 lb, pig-like wub. Something good to eat for the long voyage back to Earth -- or so the oafish Captain Franco thinks. Nor is he persuaded otherwise when the wub speaks to him in cultured tones of Philosophy and The Arts -- while slobbering all over the floor of the spaceship. And indeed the wub is fine eating for the Captain at the end of the tale. Even though he's the only one chowing down as he speaks airily between waves of his cutlery of the myth of Odysseus...

A fine tale. An amusing tale. But one which is easily passed over in the wealth of Dick stories that we have to look back upon today. But thanks to the editors of the 1981 Avon book FIRST VOYAGES, and to the homeopape Radio Free PKD for reprinting it, we have Philip K. Dick's own interpretation of this short story.

In his brief introduction to the FIRST VOYAGES anthology, "The Wub Lives!" (1981) Dick sees the wub as exhibiting "the deeper traits that I associate with humanity: not a biped with an enlarged cortex -- a forked raddish that thinks, to paraphrase the old saying -- but an organism that is human in terms of its soul.... It has to do with empathy, or as it was called in earlier times, caritas or agape." For PKD the wub was his idea of a higher life-form.

Then Frank C. Bertrand in his essay {included in this FDO} "Something Rich and Strange: PKD's BEYOND LIES THE WUB," (1993) sees in WUB an "intricately woven fabric of philosophical ideas depicting issues from the meaning of human-ness to free will vs. determinism." The result of Bertrand's subsequent digression is that you cannot solely judge a human by its form. Essentially this is in agreement with PKD's view of the story.

However, I saw this story differently. I had written a very short essay on WUB which briefly set out my view for the program of the 'Philip K. Dick Convention' in Boston last year. I had written this before I read PKD's interpretation in RFPKD#3. Then when I did read that piece in RFPKD, I shocked myself at how my view was so different. For I saw BEYOND LIES THE WUB, in complete disagreement with PKD, as the ultimate horror story!

Let me explain. What struck me with the wub was how possibly devious this alien creature was. For starters it doesn't seem to belong there on Mars... and that ability to inhabit other creatures: surely it wouldn't live in some slovenly, pig-like body, rolling around in the dirt and eating all the time so that it suffers from perpetual indigestion, unless it had to; it had no choice! Perhaps nothing else on Mars was worth taking over. The wub was the most advanced lifeform... until, that is, Captain Franco and his boys showed up. Then, of course, its only a matter of time before the wub has taken over Capt. Franco, the leader of the expedition, and he's on a goddamn rocket ship heading for Earth! Now doesn't that make your hair stand on end? It does mine. Makes me want to cower down in my bed, huddled away from everything out there. I mean, good God, to me PKD's first published short story is the ultimate cautionary science fiction tale. It evokes in those given to what the trick-cyclists call a paranoid bent an awful realization that we don't know what is out there in outer space. It might be something we cannot deal with. Something so smooth, so fucking clever as the wub who not only reads minds but has assimilated every nuance of human psychology in an instant's attention. Didn't take that wub long to take over everything, did it?

It reminds me of Clifford D. Simak's novel TIME IS THE SIMPLEST THING (1971) in which Simak deals with this same question of 'alienness' but in another way. In Simak's story the Governent organization 'Fishook' uses humans with telepathic abilities to comb the stars for intelligence and alien knowledge; this being humanity's response to being unable to design a light-speed drive and thus to be closed off physically from the stars. The hero of the story, Shepherd Blaine, has happen to him exactly what the Fishook authorities fear: he is invaded by an alien mind and brings it back to Earth when his fishing expedition is done. The danger, for Fishook, is the danger to humanity: perhaps the mind-invading alien -- the 'Pinkness' in Blaine's case -- does have a space drive and lots of relatives just waiting to move in on poor unsuspecting Earth. Fortunately, in Simak's tale, as in most of his stories, the Pinkness is more of a pussy cat than a predator red in telepathic tooth and claw and no harm is done.

But the similarities between Dick's and Simak's approach are notable: Simak also deals in empathy. But in the case of these two stories at least, Simak seems more aware of the double-edged nature of the space alien. As he builds the tension of his story we are never sure until well into the story that the Pinkness is indeed benign. But on the other pseudopodium, Dick's wub is sympathetically portrayed, mainly by contrast with Capt. Franco, from the very first. But... one is a novel the other a short story. We do know that Dick was no slouch when it came to paranoia.

So my response to BEYOND LIES THE WUB, I decided, needed some investigation. Why did I see things so differently? Am I merely 'paranoid?'

Well, not inordinately so! But... PKD says he wished to portray empathy with the wub. Whereas I came up with fear. PKD empathised with what was internal in the wub. its soul, while I put myself in the place of Capt. Franco -- the human, the man being taken over, all unsuspecting, simply by eating what was to him a "dirty razorback hog." I was fooled by Dick into accepting what is 'human' at face value (I was young). But the dilemma is acute! The wub is sympathetic but alien, while Franco is repugnant but human. Naturally, I feel, one would side with the putative human and thus experience fear in response to this tale, as I did. If, as Dick and Bertrand point out, you can't judge a human by its form then -- turn it into a question -- what is Capt. Franco? If he's not human? Somehow it never occured to me to think of him as anything else, hence my response to what I percieved as the slyness of the wub.

What is human? Dick is saying that it has nothing to do with appearances. It has to do with something inside a lifeform: an absence of brutality, or cruelty,or ruthlessness; a presence of humility, of civility, of gentleness. The wub and Capt. Franco. Dick presents us with a nasty switch: empathise with the wub and... what is human? Empathise with Franco and... live in fear.

Now surely there must be some fine line here somewhere between empathy/fear? Perhaps a razor's edge seperates the two? I'd guess so. And from the evidence of Philip K. Dick's life and work I'd say he walked that razor's edge bleeding all the way -- as do all humans.

{Thanks to: David Keller, Bernie Kling, F.C.Bertrand and Greg Lee}

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