Review: Minority Report by Philip K. Dick

Tom Cruise book cover of Minority Report by Philip K. Dick

This book is completely not what I thought it was. That’s what you get when you buy a book without actually opening it, I guess. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. See, I just kind of expected Minority Report to be a novel due to the huge blockbuster movie and, you know, Tom Cruise. Except it’s not. It’s actually a short story in a collection just entitled Minority Report, along with Total Recall and a good few others. I’m not normally the biggest fan of short stories… except I may have just been converted.

Plot summary: The Department of Precrime has cut major crime by almost 100%. How? Simple: it is possible to look into the future and then arrest potential criminals, sentence them and punish them, before they actually commit the crime. Nobody doubts the efficiency and fairness of the system, until Precrime Commissioner John Anderton finds himself accused. According to the department, at some point in the next seven days he will commit murder.

In most cases, the precrime verdict is unanimous. This time there was a difference of opinion. If Anderton is to save himself, he must find the minority report. And if he is to remain free, he must go on the run, as a convicted murderer.

Please note I am not responsible for the horrific grammar of the above. Or the fact that it doesn’t make sense unless you’ve already read the book… or the fact that it kinds of tells you the entire plot right there. God. That’s the entire blurb of my copy though. Do you see ‘short story’ there? You don’t? Funny that. Considering it has a huge image of Tom Cruise’s face on the front, I can only assume that this edition was released with the film and they decided fewer people would buy it if they knew Minority Report was actually only a really short story.  

Anyway, I’m done bitching about the cover and the blurb now. Probably. I can’t really complain though – I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I had known and then I’d have lost out… because this is really, really good.

Obviously, like most short story collections, it’s a mixed bag. There some truly amazing stories in here; others bored me senseless. What I did find though, having never read any of Philip K. Dick’s work before, is that his skills lie in creating truly original stories. It’s a little dated, in that you can tell these were written in the 50s and 60s, but considering he writes about technology that is still generations away from now, it’s not too bad.

As I was saying though, some of the concepts he has thought up are astounding. They all revolve around a similar theme – technology, robots, the future, etc – but they’re so different from each other that it never feels repetitive. There’s actually quite a variety – some, like War Games, or Oh, to Be a Blobel, are quite domestic. They’re set in the home, with relationships and… stuff. It clearly doesn’t cross over into girliness, but still. Others are set on other planets, with weapons and death and general horrificness. Philip K. Dick’s imagination is unparalleled.

Mind, the actual prose and dialogue leave a fair bit to be desired. It’s quite clunky at times, which is a particular problem in a short story when you can’t get so engrossed in the plot that you don’t notice anymore (*cough* Blue Bloods *cough*). His talent is clearly with the thoughts, not the words.

I’m not going to go through every single story as there are too many, of varying lengths and quality. Let’s start with Minority Report though, being the title of the book and all. Firstly, it’s only 43 pages. A story this complex really needed to be a full-length novel. It’s an absolutely fantastic idea (even if I did get carried away running through the Human Rights implications in my head), but it tries to cram so much information into such a small space that it seems really rushed and you’re left not really knowing what’s going on. In all honesty, the film is better. Speaking of, any idea why I pictured Bruce Willis as Anderton all the way through? :s

Total Recall is actually only 22 pages long; I kid you not. However, it is definitely more suited to the short story format than Minority Report. It has a much simpler concept and therefore there’s no need to bombard you with technological explanations. It’s actually quite amusing – more domestic than the above, but it’s interesting. The ending is different to in both films, but it works really well and I enjoyed it. Two films out of 22 pages though… even Peter Jackson couldn’t pull that off.

I only mention those because they’re the stories everybody has heard of. My favourite was Second Variety because It. Fucked. Me. Up. Philip K. Dick isn’t a horror writer; we know that. And yet this story is so…. terrifying that it genuinely kept me awake that night. This should have been the film. I can’t even explain what it’s about without giving it away, but it’s amazing.  

To conclude, because I am aware how long this review is getting, this isn’t perfect. There are some incredibly boring stories and the prose isn’t anything to write home about. However, there are some good stories in here and a few truly amazing ones to boot. The worlds that the author creates are so… real, somehow, that he has completely changed my view of short stories forever.

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  1. Damn. I had a copy of this and then got rid of it in the big spring clean of a few weeks ago! I must have had it on my shelves for a good four/five years and I had no clue whatsoever that it was a collection of short stories! They really should write that on their somewhere! To be fair, though, if they HAD written it on there, I probably wouldn't have ever bought it in the first place because I would have been blinded by my short story prejudices.

    Maybe I'll borrow it from the library if I see it to read the good ones 🙂

    1. admin says:

      I don't like them much either, that's why I was so up and down over this:

      "Yay, Minority Report!"
      "NO, it's short stories!"
      "Yay, it's short stories!"

      I don't think it's altered my thoughts on short story collections in general, but I can say that THIS collection is worth reading 🙂 It pops up in charity shops all the time though, so I wouldn't worry.

  2. Ellie Warren says:

    It used to be called Minority Report and other stories…but i guess when the film came out they ditched the fact it had other stories. He is all about The Concept. I have his books all over the place waiting to be read but I loved Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    I used to be a bit meh about short stories but I have read some amazing collections since I started blogging. I would definitely recommend Diving Belles (beautiful) and Dot, Dash (weird).

    1. admin says:

      Oh, that's next on my list to review – I picked it up RIGHT after finishing this one, because I was desperate for more… Dick. *cringes*

      I think I've heard of Diving Belles before. Thinking about it, it MAY have been on your blog. It was on my wishlist for a while, but then I think I lost interest.

  3. Minority Report isn't a novel?? :O

    I always find short story collections a bit of a mixed bag too. I have the Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick, I'm looking forward to trying that one.

    1. admin says:

      Nope 🙂 I know, right!? 43 pages.

      I've been keeping an eye out for that one in charity shops. His books pop up fairly often – it's where I got Minority Report and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  4. Sarah says:

    I just randomly picked this up at the library recently! I saw it and figured "What the hell, I've never tried Philip K Dick before." And now I'm definitely looking forward to reading it! Short stories aren't usually my jam, but it sounds like there are some good ones mixed in.

  5. Hannah says:

    I'm so fussy with short stories.. going to read some for the steampunk feature to mix it up a bit but it just doesn't leave you long enough to get into it. Still, I try to think otherwise.

    But I think I'll still avoid this one.. Sounds a bit dry, mostly. I do however have Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which I WILL read some time.

    1. admin says:

      Haha, I read Androids right after this one and it was actually MORE dry. But you'll see from my review shortly 🙂

      I never read short stories ON PURPOSE, but sometimes they do a sneak attack 😀

  6. I had a really similar experience to you with this book. A self-confessed short story hater, I picked it up thinking it was a full-length novel, felt completely cheated…and then really enjoyed it. Minority Report wasn't even one of my favourite stories of the bunch. It hasn't converted me to reading short stories though. I still shy away from them.

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