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Explorers We

War Game Recall Mechanism The Unreconstructed M

A Question of Chronology: 1955 – 1958

By Lord RC, Dec 2003

     In a letter to Anthony Boucher, editor at F&SF, in June 1957 Philip K. Dick states that he has "stopped writing short stuff for magazine publication back in May of '55..." The reception at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency of his short story "The Unreconstructed M" on June 2, 1955 seems to confirm this.

    But in 1958 we note the reception of three more short stories by the SMLA. These were: "Recall Mechanism", "Explorers We" and "War Game." On the face of it there is nothing wrong with this accepted chronology but when we look more closely at what is known about the publishing history of these three stories we note a couple of anomalies that cast doubt on the origin of two of them and by inference doubt on the third.

    To me it is necessary to sort out the chronology of four stories: "The Unreconstructed M", "Recall Mechanism", "Explorers We" and "War Game." I see this as important because there is a gap of some five years uncertainty involved in the dating of these stories. These stories could have been written as early as 1953 or as late as 1958.

    To figure out the likely actual composition dates we must take the evidence of these stories singly and then all together and put them in the context of what PKD was writing in this period.

    We start with "The Unreconstructed M" and note that the manuscript for this story arrived at the SMLA on June 2, 1955. To support this date we have the above-mentioned letter he sent to Tony Boucher on June 3, 1957 in which he states "I have ceased to write either s.f. or fantasy, Tony; I stopped writing short stuff for magazine publication back in May of '55."  This then would solidify the composition date for "The Unreconstructed M" as no later than May 1955.

    The next story, "Recall Mechanism" reached the SMLA on May 2, 1958. But was it actually written shortly before that date as one might assume? Or was it written much earlier in 1955?

    We have two reasons for saying that the story was probably written in the earlier time frame. First is a letter from PKD to Bill Hamlin, editor at Imagination, dated Sep 2, 1955 in which PKD refuses to do a rewrite of  "Recall Mechanism". The second reason is more subjective and relies on another of our stories assigned to 1958 -- "Explorers We" -- and the uncertainty around its dating.

    "Explorers We" reached the SMLA on May 6, 1958. However, there is evidence that it was written much earlier. In a letter to Tony Boucher, editor at F&SF dated April 8, 1954 PKD explicitly refers to this story "late in September of last year..." {1953}.

    Taking these two cases together: "Recall Mechanism" and "Explorers We" and the doubt thrown on their 1958 ascription by these letters, then we find that if we assign their composition back to 1955 or earlier we have a stark anomaly in the chronology.

    The short story "War Game" now stands out singly and sharply as the only remaining short story assigned to 1958. It nestles in its singularity amidst manuscripts of several novels including NICHOLAS AND THE HIGS, TIME OUT OF JOINT and IN MILT LUMKY TERRITORY. Now although the SMLA records delivery of "War Game' on Oct 31, 1958 would PKD drop his straight novel aspirations to suddenly revert to an earlier time and crank out a short science fiction story?

    I think not. And when "War Game" is shorn of its 1958 bolster of "Recall Mechanism" and "Explorers We" and we take in PKD's statement that he stopped writing short fiction in May 1955 we can reasonably assign "War Game" to 1955 or earlier.

    But, why then, if these three stories were written earlier, is their reception dates at the SMLA recorded in 1958?

    The answer to this perhaps lies in the two letters mentioned above: "Recall Mechanism" due to Bill Hamlin wanting a rewrite and PKD not wanting to do it probably laid around the Agency or Dick's abode and just sort of got forgotten. And "Explorers We", also needing a rewrite, seems to have got lost in the shuffle between the Agency, Dick and F&SF.

    With no earlier reference to "War Game" than 1958 we assume that sometime in early 1958 PKD went through his files or instructed the Agency to go through theirs to search for any unsold short stories. The four that showed up were "The Unreconstructed M", "Recall Mechanism", "Explorers We" and "War Game."

    So, then, in light of this analysis we'll put these stories into our composition chronology at different dates than the accepted ones. Thus:

65.    "Null-O", received at the SMLA on Aug 31, 1953

66.    "Explorers We", referred in letter to Sep 1953

67.    "To Serve The Master", received at the SMLA on Oct 21, 1953

...        Five novels, many short stories

84.    "The Minority Report", received at SMLA on Dec 22, 1954

85.    "War Game", indeterminate, received at SMLA Oct 31, 1958

86.    "Recall Mechanism", before Sep 1955 {before May 1955?}

87.    "The Unreconstructed M", received at the SMLA on June 2, 1955

       This ordering leaves the year 1958 with no short stories written and PKD  working on his straight novels with a sporadic effort to get his old short stories published. It is then not until 1963 that PKD returned to writing short stories. "If There Were No Benny Cemoli" was the first of this series.


SL 38 35

    Tiresome as all this is, there's worse to come. I have ceased to write either s.f. or fantasy, Tony; I stopped writing short stuff for magazine publication back in May of '55; since then I've done only novels, both s.f. and what I call straight contemporary serious quality fiction about non-myth type people, and in the last year its been just the latter, the non-s.f. I have five of these novels in circulation (...) We damn near sold one of them (called MARY AND THE GIANT). In fact we had an oral okay over the phone from the editor-in-chief of a reputable hardcover house. They held the MS for six months and then -- as I stood waiting for the contracts, still keeping faith at my end -- they returned the MS with a short note. Personally, I believe they couldn't get a pre-publication softcover house to go along with the book to underwrite their costs. {... ...} -- {PKD>A. Boucher, June 3, 1957}

SL:38 34

Dear Bill:

    My agent Scott Meredith has relayed to me your request for a rewrite on my story RECALL MECHANISM.
    The story is a good one, and I am proud of it. When a rewrite improves the story I'm glad to perform it. I welcome suggestions that help a story. In this case, however, the rewrite would turn a good yarn into a cornball nothing.
    With great pride, and a sense of my responsibility to writers in general, to my own ethics, and to science-fiction readers, I refuse.
    I have informed Scott, and I assume he'll be looking for the MS back.


Philip K. Dick

{PKD> Bill Hamling, Editor Imagination, Sep 2, 1955}

SL:38 ?

Dear Mr. Boucher,

    I'm sorry to keep bothering you with phone call and letter, but I understand that Scott Meredith is going to write to you about "Explorers We" and I wanted to get hold of you first.
    As you recall, late in September of last year you wrote to me, expressing an interest in that story, and suggesting changes. I made changes and mailed them back within the week; during the first part of October. Since then I haven't heard hide nor hair from you, but I understand that you are officially away, these days, so I have been happy to wait. However, now I'm getting worried. Maybe there was a slip-up and you didn't receive my rewrite. Or something.
    In any case, if you want another rewrite, etc, etc. let me know and I will produce. It may be that the time travel angle didn't convince you, in which case I'm sure another resolution can be found. Okay?     Thanks a lot ... and maybe we could get together one of these days, as both of us repeatedly suggest.

Very truly yours, Phil Dick {PKD>Tony Boucher, Apr 8, 1954}

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