Electric Dreams is a new anthology show based on the science fiction of Philip K. Dick, whose work has also inspired such films as Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. Writer Anthony Ha is a huge PKD fan, but admits that Dick’s characterization is often a weak point.
“I think in general he has a few stock types,” Ha says in Episode 292 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “They can be deployed effectively—there’s the sort of ‘tired, aggrieved everyman’ who he trots out in every book and every short story, and I think it works pretty well. Some of the female stereotypes that he relies on, not so great.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley agrees that female characters are not Dick’s strong suit. “I’ve always kind of said that Philip K. Dick’s female characters are either ‘the hot secretary’ or ‘the nagging wife,’ with very few exceptions,” he says.
Electric Dreams makes a valiant effort to update its source material—10 short stories published in the 1950s—by adding more women and people of color. Writer Sara Lynn Michener says the show’s strong female characters come as a welcome relief for female science fiction fans.
“Being able to finally fully enjoy PKD and not have to worry about that, and not have to turn that part of me off before reading it, is really a pleasure,” she says.
Science fiction editor John Joseph Adams has mixed feelings about Electric Dreams, but encourages everyone to spread the word about it, in hopes that it will lead to more science fiction anthology shows.
“Go rate it on Amazon, give it five stars,” he says. “I don’t care if you don’t like it. I didn’t like it that much, and I’m going to give it five stars, goddammit.”
Listen to the complete interview with Anthony Ha, Sara Lynn Michener, and John Joseph Adams in Episode 292 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Anthony Ha on Electric Dreams:
“I don’t know a lot about what happened behind the scenes, but this feels a lot like the Philip K. Dick estate—and I know that his daughter is one of the executive producers—I get the sense they probably said, ‘OK, we still want to sell the novels for a lot of money. Here are maybe the top-tier short stories’—which I would say are like ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ and ‘The Electric Ant,’ maybe a few others—’and then here are a bunch of others that we’re probably not going to be able to sell, why don’t we make a TV show?’ … I think if you read these stories you’d be like, ‘Why is this the science fiction writer who so many people hold dear above all others? That seems crazy.’”
John Joseph Adams on pulp magazines:
“None of these stories are his most notable stories. Even if you look at where they were published, there was one from F&SF and one from Galaxy, and then one from Amazing and one from If, and then the other ones, they’re all from magazines where I don’t even know if I’ve heard those names before, so those are hardcore pulp magazines that never made much of an impact. … He was trying to live off his stories, so he just had to churn them out and send them out, because he can’t wait for the good ones to come back—if the publisher doesn’t buy it—and send it somewhere else, he’s got to fire it off to every publication in existence so he can hope to get a few paychecks coming in. So that’s not really the best environment to produce top-tier work.”
David Barr Kirtley on the episode “Kill All Others”:
“It actually uses sort of the premise of the [short] story, which is basically that there’s a dead body hanging in public, and you ask people, ‘Um, what’s with that dead body?’ And everyone’s just like, ‘Oh, I’m sure it’s there for a reason. I’m sure the authorities are on top of it.’ And capturing really well, I think, the sense that we all have in the modern age right now. I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed a crime or something like that, but it takes people a long time to realize that something is wrong—even if someone gets shot or something, because you’re just so in your routine. It’s really hard for a human being to say, ‘Oh wait, this is an emergency situation. I need to act differently than I’ve ever acted before.’ And we’re experiencing that sort of phenomenon as an entire society right now, and this story captures that.”
Sara Lynn Michener on female characters:
“That’s another reason why it’s so disappointing as a female science fiction fan—I do not understand why PKD had such a wonderful imagination, and whether that imagination was fueled by paranoia or not—regardless, he had a really cool grasp of being able to look at the world and ask, ‘Is any of this real?’ And the fact that he couldn’t apply that to gender—because it really is just a failure of imagination—to be able to look around at the world and say, ‘All of this could be completely different, except women will still be women.’ And he had a really troubled—I mean, he was married five times, so you’d think he’d be able to use those skills and delve into the question of, ‘Wait, why do I suck at this? Why do these things keep happening?’ the way that he’s questioning everything else. It’s just a disappointment.”