Science Fiction Studies

# 5 = Volume 2, Part 1 = March 1975

Philip K. Dick

(Unpublished) Foreword to The Preserving Machine

The difference between a short story and a novel comes to this: a short story may deal with a murder; a novel deals with the murderer, and his actions stem from a psyche which, if the writer knows his craft, he has previously presented. The difference, therefore, between a novel and a short story is not length; for example, William Styron's The Long March is now published as a "short novel" whereas originally in Discovery it was published as a "long story." This means that if you read it in Discovery you are reading a story, but if you pick up the paperback version you are reading a novel. So much for that.

There is one restriction in a novel not found in short stories: the requirement that the protagonist be liked enough or familiar enough to the reader so that, whatever the protagonist does, the readers would also do, under the same circumstances...or, in the case of escapist fiction, would like to do. In a story it is not necessary to create such a reader identification character because (one) there is not enough room for such background material in a short story and (two) since the emphasis is on the deed, not the doer, it really does not matter—within reasonable limits, of course—who in a story commits the murder. In a story, you learn about the characters from what they do; in a novel it is the other way around: you have your characters and then they do something idiosyncratic, emanation from their unique natures. So it can be said that events in a novel are unique—not found in other writings; but the same events occur over and over again in stories, until, at last, a sort of code language is built up between the reader and the author. I am not sure that this is bad by any means.

Further, a novel—in particular the SF novel—creates an entire world, with countless petty details—petty, perhaps, to the characters in the novel, but vital for the reader to know, since out of these manifold details his comprehension of the entire fictional world is obtained. In a story, on the other hand, you are in a future world when soap operas come at you from every wall in the Ray Bradbury once described. That one fact alone catapulted the story out of mainstream fiction and into SF.

What a SF story really requires is the initial premise which cuts it off entirely from our present world. This break must be made in the reading of, and the writing of, all good fiction...a made-up world must be presented. But there is much more pressure on an SF writer, for the break is far greater than in, say, "Paul's Case" or "Big Blonde"—two varieties of mainstream fiction which will always be with us.

It is in SF stories that SF action occurs; it is in SF novels that worlds occur. The stories in this collection are a series of events. Crisis is the key to story-writing, a sort of brinkmanship in which the author mires his characters in happenings so sticky as to seem impossible of solution. And then he gets them out...usually. He can get them out; that's what matters. But in a novel the actions are so deeply rooted in the personality of the main character that to extricate him the author would have to go back and rewrite his character. This need not happen in a story, especially a short one (such long, long stories as Thomas Mann's Death in Venice are, like the Styron piece, really short novels). The implication of all this makes clear why some SF writers can write stories but not novels, or novels but not stories. It is because anything can happen in a story; the author merely tailors his character to the event. So, in terms of actions and events, the story is far less restrictive to the author than is a novel. As a writer builds up a novel-length piece it slowly begins to imprison him, to take away his freedom; his own characters are taking over and doing what they want to do—not what he would like them to do. This is on one hand the strength of the novel and on the other, its weakness.

When I look over this collection of my stories I can see what has been lost to me in the several years of strictly novel writing. These stories range in time and space; situations bubble up to the surface; characters struggle, and then the struggle is resolved and a new story begins, Relationships are made, broken. Persons appear, speak their piece, and then go away. The momentum of writing fades out briefly and then a new cast of people, and a new crisis, materializes.

In choosing these particular stories, Terry Carr has done a superb job. To start with he read the stories which I supplied as my idea of what a collection of Philip K. Dick stories ought to be like. Terry, however, went to incalculable trouble in getting together all my published stories; it took four years of work for him to finalize on the stories here contained. It includes, for example, the first story I ever sold: "Roog," to Tony Boucher's F & SF. It contains my first published story, "Beyond Lies the Wub." Then there are middle period stories such as "Pay for the Printer," "War Veteran," "Upon the Dull Earth." And, at last, recent stories, such as "If There Were no Benny Cemoli," "What the Dead Men Say," or "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale."

It would not be politic for me to say that I think this is a "superb collection by a master craftsman of the field," as the blurbs say about one author after another. What I do think—and want to say—is this. No better collection of my stories could be made. Terry Carr missed nothing. I myself—I couldn't have done as well. It contains stories from every period of my writing, which covers a period of seventeen years. It is, to be blunt, definitive. (An English collection which appeared a number of years ago was decidedly not.) A brilliant editor can do so much to help an author, more than the reader realizes. "I must have read three hundred thousand words by you," Terry told me when the collection was half finished. I wonder how many it finally come to.

One more thing: I would like to list my favorite two or three stories in the book. To me, "Beyond Lies the Wub" is pleasing; then "If There Were no Benny Cemoli," and finally "The Preserving Machine," which, like "Roog," was a very early story (1952) that I sold to Tony Boucher.

Tony Boucher—what is the field going to do without him? It was his encouragement that got me to try submitting my stories; I had never imagined that they might sell. Consider this collection as dedicated to Tony and everything he represented. We shall never see another of his like. Te amo, Tony. Forever.

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