AboutSF AUDIO podcast, episode 001: "The Gun" by Philip K. Dick

The first episode of the AboutSF podcast has been published and is now available for your listening pleasure.

I had a tough time choosing a story to read, but eventually decided on "The Gun" by Philip K. Dick. I also recorded myself reading "The Door in the Wall" by H.G. Wells, but maybe that will make it on a future episode.

I already have several folks lined up to read stories for future episodes, including Kristen Lillvis and Samantha Bishop Simmons, both former volunteer coordinators for AboutSF, so be on the lookout for their stories on the podcast soon. If you'd like to subscribe to the podcast through Itunes, please follow this link:


The "subscribe" button for Itunes is on the sidebar.

Most importantly, if YOU would like to record yourself reading a story for the AboutSF podcast, please read the note at the end of my story commentary for instructions. When people send me their commentaries on the stories I will use the format below, so that your name is listed, along with the title and author of the story.

Without further adieu, here is my commentary on "The Gun" by Philip K. Dick, originally published in 1952 in an issue of Planet Stories:

Story: "The Gun" by Philip K. Dick
Reader: Ben Cartwright

I think what made me choose this Philip K. Dick story to read for the podcast, aside from the novelty of discovering something I hadn't read before written by an author whose other works I enjoy, was the "Joseph Campbell" moment when one character refers to "the legend all cultures have of the dragon guarding the treasure" and then likens the gun they've discovered on the desolate planet in the story to that winged creature of myth, guarding something very valuable. In that instant we've got a character doing the thing that Dick himself is doing by writing the story--observing something in his surroundings and connecting it to something mythic in the past. I'm a sucker for Joseph Campbell moments. I'll admit it. I actually feel like I'm in good company, but maybe that's too much of an assumption.

Technology running away from us, or outlasting us, or destroying us; the manmade guardian gone wrong; none of these things are new ideas, nor were they in 1952 when the story was first published, but that doesn't necessarily keep us from enjoying myths that reiterate something familiar. What is it, precisely, that we do enjoy? What keeps a reiteration from becoming stale?

Certainly, some people may find Dick's story here stale, if for no other reason than the inexplicable way the one female character decides she needs to find a man to become captain of the ship, when the former captain dies, even though she's clearly next in the chain of command. This female characterization seems to be the most dated element in the story; not the gigantic gun, or the threat of nuclear war, or the idea that we're one moment away from everything going up in flames. Serendipitously, I finished watching a documentary produced last year outlining the ease with which someone can buy enriched uranium, just before reading this. I wish I could say mankind's violence was as stale as a female character being put on a lower rung in a gender hierarchy. Sadly, I cannot.

What is it then? What am I enjoying? There are other things I could read. Certainly, there are other things I probably should be reading, being a teacher with the beginning of the semester looming, uncomfortably, in the very near future. I didn't read something else, though; I read this. What compelled me? Honestly, I had a hard time narrowing down what story I did want to read.

Some people may argue with this (and I hope they do), but I feel like setting may be Philip K. Dick's superpower in this story--setting is what kept me reading. I can't get the concrete pylons on the surface of the planet out of my head--the way the creatures scuttle from subterranean lairs to repair the damaged gun--that vault, sealed up with the familiar, beautiful objects. That's the best answer I can come up with. I really enjoy reading stories that show me something new--that take me to an interesting place and that use interesting language to do so. I think I am often guilty of being easily drawn in by setting.

It was a lot of fun picking out a story and recording it for this project. What I hope most is that people might comment on this story, or (much more interestingly) volunteer to record themselves reading a story of their own. I will go ahead and post some instructions below, if you would like to volunteer to read a story for the AboutSF podcast.

--Ben Cartwright

If you'd like to contribute to the AboutSF podcast:

1. Choose an SF story that is in the public domain, or which you've received permission from the copyright holder to read.

2. Record yourself reading the story and submit an MP3 file of the recording to the AboutSF coordinator (aboutsf@gmail.com), along with a description of why you think the story may be of interest to current SF scholars and SF readers, and what made you choose it.

If you live in, or are visiting Lawrence, KS and would like help recording your story, contact the current AboutSF Volunteer Coordinator. Your description will be posted on the main page of the AboutSF website (www.aboutsf.com), along with your byline, and your recording will be added to the AboutSF podcast.

Length: 1,000 words

Online resources for stories in the public domain:

Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page