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The Minority Report    by Philip K. Dick order for
Minority Report
by Philip K. Dick
Order:  USA  Can
Pantheon, 2002 (1956)
Hardcover, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

So they went and made a movie, finally, out of The Minority Report, the clever story by Philip K. Dick (originally published in the January, 1956, issue of Fantastic Universe, and now reprinted as a hardback). Well, it's about time. This is a very nifty little tale. John Anderton is commissioner of Precrime, a police division that prevents crimes from happening by using precognitive individuals to forecast criminal activity; the police then nail the would-be villains before they've had a chance to commit their villainous deeds.

One day, while giving his new assistant a tour of the facilities, our hero chances upon a particularly chilling forecast: within a week he, John Anderton, is going to commit murder. So he does pretty much the only thing that makes sense: he runs. Goes into hiding, tries to figure out a way of getting himself out of this mess. Because, and this is the tricky part, he can't just go to the authorities and say, Hey, I don't even know this guy I' m supposed to kill, or I promise I won't kill this person. That ain't good enough. We know you're gonna do it, buster, because our precogs have already seen you do it.

The Minority Report is one of the great paradox stories. Can you stop something from happening if someone has already looked into the future and seen it happen? Is the future inevitable, or mutable? Are we slaves to our own destinies, just going through the motions until we reach the end that has already been decided for us, or do we have the free will to choose how our lives will turn out? Dick plays around with these big ideas, has a lot of fun with them, staging this deeply philosophical yarn as an action-adventure story. Anderton's on the run from Precrime, on the run from his own crime-solving system, but he's also on the run from his own destiny. Talk about a story that works on a variety of levels.. Oh, and let's not forget the other important question: can we arrest someone as a criminal, even though he hasn't committed his crime yet?

It's a variation of the old would-you-go-back-in-time-and-kill-Hitler-as-a-baby question: would we be killing an innocent child, or a monster who simply hasn't discovered his evil yet? Dick asks: is it right to punish someone for something he hasn't done yet, for something that hasn't even occurred to him? There aren't any easy answers to all these questions, which is what makes The Minority Report such a splendid story. Science fiction, if you don't mind the opinion of a guy you barely know, should ask questions, not answer them. Science fiction should help us open our minds, send our thoughts off in new directions. This story does that. So does most of Dick's fiction, like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made into the film Blade Runner) or We Can Remember it For You Wholesale (which became Total Recall) - existential ruminations posing as action thrillers.

I want to take another moment, if you don't mind, to talk about the book itself - not the words inside it, but the paper-and-covers setup. The package was designed by Chip Kidd, the graphic designer who set a weird and exciting new standard for book design. The Minority Report looks like a traditional police notebook: jacket-pocket sized, with its spine at the top, so you flip it open and hold it vertical to read. The copyright and author-bio information is set in a futuristic typeface that looks like it was handwritten. It's a perfect example of the way unique book design can add to the enjoyment of reading: the very act of flipping the pages, of opening a book top to bottom instead of side to side, puts us just a little bit off-kilter, takes us out of the ordinary and prepares us for something extraordinary. Which Dick delivers.

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