Study Questions for Philip K. Dick's "Second Variety"(May 1953)

"Second Variety" is perhaps the first Philip K. Dick story to develop the concept of androids that are indistinguishable from humans and used as "freedom fighters" who would replace humans in the field of battle. As a result, we can make connections between this story and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? while examining how Dick's treatment of androids evolves over time. The story was made into Screamers (1995), which starred Peter Weller. "Second Variety" and Dick's work in general are also seen as influences on theTerminator films, Battlestar Gallactica, the Matrix films and virtually any work of science fiction presenting androids indistinguishable from humans or questioning the nature of reality, especially when that questioning opposes private visions to consensually conceived realities. As you read the short story, consider some of the following issues in preparation for our reading of Do Androids Dream?

  1. What details establish this as a cold war story? That is, how can you see this story growing out of freely circulating anxieties and concerns in America in 1953? When you later read Do Androids Dream?, consider how Dick's novel might in similar ways be generated by parallel concerns in 1968 America.
  2. Consider the origins and evolution of the claws? How exactly would you characterize these living machines? Do they somehow relate to concerns about technology in the 1950s? Are they in a sense prototypes for the androids in Do Androids Dream?.
  3. What descriptive details provide clues as to which characters might be androids? Do some of the distinguishing traits also surface in Do Androids Dream?
  4. What traits are assigned to Tasso? Can we see her as, to some extent, a prototype for Rachael Rosen?