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[Longhorn Review] Second Variety

Material Type: All, Books — Posted on May 2, 2011, 2:33 pm

By: Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick, considered a huge influence on modern-day science fiction, has
struck literary gold with his work, “Second Variety.” Short and sweet, “Second
Variety” has just enough fat and gristle to make clear the author’s point, and no
more. Some of the audience of “Second Variety” will inevitably claim the trivial
idea that Dick was making a comment on the current society he saw, and the possible
future it led to. After all, “Second Variety” was published in 1953, as the Cold
War’s pace began to pick up. Dick even uses the very entities of the reality of the
Cold War as the two sides of the war that his apocalyptic story occurs in. However,
in my opinion, this kind of thought undermines the real theme of “Second Variety.”

Dick’s work drives home his overarching theme : “who is human and who only appears
(masquerading) as human?.” He carefully weaves this theme into his short story with
the precision of a skilled craftsman. It becomes apparent that this theme is vastly
important to Dick, as he devotes an entire novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric
Sheep? to it. Similarly set in a post nuclear war society, this novel parallels the
themes of “Second Variety” as Dick explores heavily the idea of what it means to be

To go into further detail, as we explore the world of “Second Variety”, 3 of
our 4 main characters - Tasso, Klaus, and Rudi each claim to be a Russian soldier.
When our 4th main character, Hendricks (the American) meets up with them, he
discovers just how grave the situation with the Claws, the killer robots, has
become. To make matters worse, there are types of Claws yet unknown. Each of these
types is called a Variety, and hence the name of the story. Each soldier begins to
suspect the other, and this mistrust leads to the inevitable betrayal that can only
follow when one fears for his or her life. As Dick assigns very human actions to
each of them (for example, they each long for a cigarette, of which Hendricks is
hesitant to share), it becomes increasingly difficult to tell which of the Russians
the author will lead us to believe is the sought after Second Variety.

Reading this story is an experience that any science fiction fan would not soon forget. This
story has a huge amount of positives. It is engaging, easy to read, fast-paced and
exciting. It has mystery and suspense that will have you sitting on the edge of your
chair. However, in my opinion, it is also intellectual. Many have seen it as an
indictment of the Cold War, but it is also so much more. It asks the big questions,
probing human nature and what it means to be a human.

Reviewer: Matt

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