Phillip K Dick’s ‘The Pre-Persons’

Philip K Dick

Phillip K Dick has to have the distinction of being the science fiction writer with the most movies made from his works. Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall are probably the best known of the lot. The Pre-Persons, the short story you can read by clicking the link below, has never been adapted into a film and I can’t see that it likely ever will be. It really should though, today more than ever.

The Pre-Persons, a prescient pro-life tale, which first appeared in the October 1974 issue of the  Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. It was later reprinted in The Eye of Sybil and Other Classic Stories.

As of this posting, free versions of the tale can readily be found online.

The tale explores the immorality of a society obsessed with what we today would call Sustainability, a civilization’s preservation of resources at the expense of its humanity.

A morbid, Malthusian dread permeates the air of this dystopia. Abortion on demand is no longer an issue in this not-too-distant future. The issue at hand is how old the child must be before it is legally considered a person. The polluted atmosphere of this dark world has so poisoned the minds of its citizens that the practice of prenatal abortion has actually become a sort of fetish, an act to be celebrated and even commemorated by encasing the murdered fetus in lava lamp-like trophy.

The anti-human heart of this culture of death mentality is best summed up by the musings of Ferris, the character that drives the abortion truck:

‘People pollute the natural environment, he thought. What must this part of the country have been like before man? Well, he thought, with the postpartum abortions taking place in every county in the U.S. of A. we may see that day; we may stand and look once again upon a virgin land.

We, he thought. I guess there won’t be any we. I mean, he thought, giant sentient computers will sweep out the landscape with their slotted video receptors and find it pleasing.

The thought cheered him up.’

First published just a year after the Roe V. Wade decision, the story generated immediate hate mail for Dick and it only got worse when he chose to include it in his Eye of Sybil collection.

The author was unrepentant. This is a remarkable thing. Phillip K Dick was no Bible-thumping conservative. He would surely have considered himself a liberal, perhaps even embraced the label progressive. It says a great deal about how far we have fallen as a society that a writer from that wing of the political spectrum could have once not only written such a story, but defended it.

Thus he wrote after republishing the tale:

 “In this, the most recent of the stories in this collection, I incurred the absolute hate of Joanna Russ who wrote me the nastiest letter I’ve ever received; at one point she said she usually offered to beat up people (she didn’t use the word “people”) who expressed opinions such as this. I admit that this story amounts to special pleading, and I’m sorry to offend those who disagree with me about abortion on demand. I also got some unsigned hate mail, some of it not from individuals but from organizations promoting abortion on demand. Well, I have always managed to offend people by what I write. Drugs, communism, and now an anti-abortion stand; I really know how to get myself in hot water. Sorry, people. But for the pre-persons’ sake I am not sorry. I stand where I stand: “Hier steh’ Ich; Ich kann nicht anders,” as Martin Luther is supposed to have said.”

Phillip K Dick was naturally denounced as the worst kind of sexist for taking the stand  he did against abortion.  Passages like the one below, wherein a father tries to make sense of the world to his twelve year old son didn’t help the author’s cause any.

‘It’s a certain kind of women advocating this all. They used to call them ‘castrating females’. Maybe that was once the right term, except that these women, these hard cold women, didn’t just want to – well, they want to do in the whole boy or man, make all of them dead, not just the part that makes him a man.’

A surface reading of the passage in particular and the story in general might strike one as misogynistic, but that would only be a shallow interpretation. Yes, the one woman in the tale is something of an ice-queen, maybe even monstrous at heart, but she never really does anything more than suggest getting pregnant in order to have  her conversation-piece fetus-lamp. And while the protagonists are all either boys and men, they are all frightened little boys and pathetically emasculated fathers.

I don’t think those characterizations can be chalked off to Dick’s sexism. They should instead be credited to his fine-tuned, 20/20 prophetic vision. After all, has not the waning of manhood and the subsequent abandonment of fatherhood dogged every step of feminism’s advance? Has not the growth of the man-child population accompanied the ’empowerment’ of women? And the recently hard-peddled notion of ‘toxic masculinity,’ where, pray tell, does it hail from?

In short, can the tragic Roe V Wade decision be considered a failure of the patriarchy?

Phillip K Dick doesn’t say so explicitly. The haunting story sure does leave me with that impression however. The only question that remains is whether it will be remembered as the fatal failure?

2 thoughts on “Phillip K Dick’s ‘The Pre-Persons’

  1. Wow, I have never heard of this short story and I know little of Phillip K. Dicks (outside his movies, of course). I’ll have to read this short story. It sounds so important in a culture which uplifts death.

    Liked by 1 person

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