Review: The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick *light spoilers*

August 22, 2014 2014 Read & Review, 2014 Reading Challenge - Review, 3.0 Stars, Anthology, Book Review, classic sci-fi, Flights of Fantasy, paperback, Science Fiction, short story/Vignette 0

The Minority Report

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In the world of “The Minority Report,” Commissioner John Anderton is the one to thank for the lack of crime. He is the originator of the Precrime System, which uses “precogs”–people with the power to see into the future–to identify criminals before they can do any harm. Unfortunately for Anderton, his precogs perceive him as the next criminal. But Anderton knows he has never contemplated such a thing, and this knowledge proves the precogs are fallible. Now, whichever way he turns, Anderton is doomed–unless he can find the precogs’s “minority report”–the dissenting voice that represents his one hope of getting at the truth in time to save himself from his own system.

 

 

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this read. On one hand…the story has a pretty fast pace that makes it easy to read. On the other hand…the ending is rather abrupt and did not feel satisfying. I have to wonder if the fact that I saw the Tom Cruise Minority Report flick made the story “less-than” for me. The differences in the story vs the movie are pretty vast – you can see the framework of PKD’s “The Minority Report” in the movie but Minority Report has a drastically different storyline while still maintaining the same basic plot: Anderton being accused of murdering someone he doesn’t know.

Philip K. Dick has written a lot of stories and books – most notably the twelve (12) stories that have been adapted to film. These films include major hits such as Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall (“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”) and A Scanner Darkly (A Scanner Darkly). While Philip K. Dick’s work is renowned – this is the first time I’ve read any of his work. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – though I greatly enjoyed the work of his contemporary: Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

I really can’t say that I did not enjoy the read but I can say that I didn’t feel very engaged either. There was a distinct…separation between me and the text that never went away.

There are several things that bothered me about the story: the actions and characterization of Anderton’s wife, Lisa; most of the details of the plot against Anderton; and the ending. Lisa, Anderton’s younger wife, was originally his secretary but currently has risen in the ranks of the Precrime division. When the story starts Anderton thinks that his wife has conspired with his new second in command, Witwer, to frame him for murder. Why? So the younger Witwer can take Anderton’s job and his young wife. As the story progresses Lisa goes from betrayer to loyal wife back to betrayer and finally ending as a loyal wife. Lisa’s swiftly changing characterizations almost gave me whiplash, lol.

The details of the plot against Anderton don’t really match up for me. I know how the majority report got into the hands of the conspirators but the timeline doesn’t quite mesh. Maybe I’m being a little nitpicky (it happens) but it’s something that bothered me. Especially when you combine that with the ending. The ending really bothered me in its abruptness and lack of detail. I’m sorry if a lot of this sound vague – I’m trying my best not to spoil the story.

I also felt that the world-building did not contain enough detail for me to understand the devastating wars that were mentioned briefly nor the current governmental and military situation(s). What did the war have to do with the existence of the Precrime Division? What made the government create (or allow the creation of) the Precrime Division? Were there any moral issues during the creation of and the running of the Precrime Division?

The moral aspects of the Precrime Division really bothered me as well. The majority of the story gives the impression that there were no issues or uprisings against Precrime BUT people were being arrested based on the “future” and had technically never committed the crimes they were imprisoned for. In addition to the would-be murderers and traitors who were imprisoned…what about the remaining would-be criminals that were arrested and/or fined based on information provided by the precogs?

“Much of their [the precogs] data is worthless to us – simply not relevant to our line. We pass it on to the appropriate agencies. And they in turn trade data with us. Every important bureau has its cellar of treasured monkeys.
-Philip K. Dick, “The Minority Report,” page 73

Another moral issue are the “monkeys” themselves. The procogs in “The Minority Report” aren’t the healthy and hale humans suspended in a dreamlike state as in the movie Minority Report. In the story the precogs are called “idiots.” They are humans who are strapped down into metal chairs and attached to computers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no mention of them having a break/rest, etc. In fact, the text gives the impression that they are “awake” and using their precog abilities at all times. This constant use of the precog ability resulted in increased deformity to the precogs. The precogs are somewhat reviled as well – they are given the term “monkey” in the book and the place where they are kept is called “the monkey cage.” The story doesn’t have any musings on the implication of using humans as sacrificial computers or the mistreatment of the procogs – instead the story focuses on the uses of the precogs. The only person in the story who seems to have even minor moral issues about the treatment of the procogs was Witwer. In this aspect [the treatment of the pregocs] I greatly prefer the movie to this story.

There they are,” Anderton said dryly. “What do you think of them?”

In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable, was analyzed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands, and bundles of wiring, clamps. Their physical needs were taken care of automatically. They had no spiritual needs. Vegetable-like, they muttered and dozed and existed. Their minds were dull, confused, lost in shadows.

But not the shadows of today. The three gibbering, fumbling creatures, with their enlarged heads and wasted bodies, were contemplating the future. The analytical machinery was recording prophecies, and as the three precog idiots talked, the machinery carefully listened.

For the first time Witwer’s face lost its breezy confidence. A sick, dismayed expression crept into his eyes, a mixture of shame and moral shock. “It’s not – pleasant,” he murmured. “I didn’t realize they were so–” He groped in his mind for the right word, gesticulating. “So – deformed.”

“Deformed and retarded,” Anderton instantly agreed. “Especially the girl, there. Donna is forty-five years old. But she looks about ten. The talent absorbs everything; the esp-lobe shrivels the balance of the frontal lobe area. But what do we care? We get their prophecies. They pass on what we need. They don’t understand any of it, but we do.”
-Philip K. Dick, “The Minority Report,” page 73

All in all, I can see the brilliance of the idea and I enjoyed reading the original story that inspired the movie…but I can’t say that “The Minority Report” makes me want to read additional work by Philip K. Dick.

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