On the distant planet Symbion, a genetic experiment fails. Frightening changes take place that cannot be stopped. The result? A world where insects grow to frightening proportions. A world where the inhabitants have taken on the awesome characteristics of insects. Where the good of the Shining Realm is locked in mortal combat with the evil of the Dark Domain. Telepathically bonded in combat, Sectaur Warriors join with their insect companions in the ultimate battle for survival. A battle that is now in your hands.
It is an alien in the true sense. As Wallace Stevens says in “The Man with the Blue Guitar,” it is “a tune beyond us, yet ourselves.” It is a projection of ourselves that is, strangely enough, not ourselves, a fun-house mirror image that reflects us, not more accurately, but more tellingly, than an undistorted image.
I am not, mind you, interested in or convinced by the arguments of child psychologists about the “educative value” of toys, that is, make it out of wood and don’t paint it because it stimulates the kid’s imagination. Only in Departments of Education and in remote reaches of Marin County can people believe that, in our culture, wood is a more “natural” substance than plastic. I am with Chesterton, who observed that there is more natural spontaneity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats grape nuts on principle. I am interested in toys, in other words, not as relics of the childhood world, but as building blocks of the grown-up world.
How easy it is to attack Barbie as a fallacious role model for women or as a celebration of capitalism at its most poisonous. Both positions are simple-minded enough to have been held by people whose political sophistication is bounded by Rolling Stone on the right and Marx for Beginners on the left. How easy, and how very tedious.
Nevertheless, remember that one of Philip K. Dick’s stories, “The Days of Perky Pat,” imagines a postnuclear, impoverished Earth, where the survivors gamble their meager provisions on fantasy games played with Barbie-style dolls, reenacting the comfortable, middle-class existence detonated irrevocably beyond their reach. It would be fine to read this story simply as a satire on the foolishness of the bourgeoisie, obsessed with the trivialities of middle-class life even on the brink of the abyss.
Stanislaw Lem writes that “the peculiarities of Dick’s world arise especially from the fact that in them it is waking reality that undergoes profound dissociation and duplication.” Or, elsewhere: “The end effect is always the same: distinguishing between waking reality and visions proves to be impossible.” Readers of Lem’s stunning novel Solaris or of his collection The Cyberiad will of course recognize that in discussing Dick’s purposeful confusion of reality with imitation, Lem is also discussing his own work. Lem reads Dick with his own interpretive swerve, as of course we all do. But I interpret Lem’s interpretation of Dick to mean this: from his earliest stories to the genius of The Man in the High Castle, to the mad sublimity of Ubik and Valis and The Divine Invasion, Dick has been concerned with the relationship between simulacrum and reality, which is to say that a perfect imitation of a thing is that thing, be it an 1844 Colt revolver, a 1910 American advertising poster, or a human being. Who writes The Man in the High Castle. At one level, the I Ching, the most rigorous and most random, most tychistic of oracles. Causality is what we impose upon, or flatter into, our lives. And to say that is to say that Dick, more than Nabokov and maybe even more than Joyce, is brooded over, intimately and terribly, by the core shadow of Story itself. He is, in short, our indispensable theorist of dolls.
Eons ago, alien robots from the planet Cybertron crash-landed on Earth. Awakened from suspended animation after thousands of years of sleep, they are now engaged in a battle that will determine the fate of our planet. The evil Decepticons, led by the powerful Megatron—whose slogan is “Peace through Tyranny”—seek to return to Cybertron after draining all of the Earth’s energy. They are resisted, thwarted in their dark quest by the Heroic Autobots, led by the wise Optimus Prime, whose somewhat question-begging motto (he is, after all, a robot) is “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”