Review: The Pre-Persons

A short story by Philip K Dick

This stunning new edition of Philip K Dick’s work includes the influential ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Sales Pitch’, as well as a litany of mind-expanding other works.
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PKD lived from 1928 to 1982, dying aged 53 of a stroke.  He wrote Science Fiction – over 40 novels and 120 short stories.  His were the stories behind many famous films such as: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (filmed as Blade Runner); We can remember it for you wholesale (Total Recall); Second Variety (Screamers); and The Minority Report (guess!).

In 1973, the US Supreme Court issued its judgement in the case of Roe V Wade.  No, that’s not options for crossing a river, it was a landmark case that opened the way to abortion on demand throughout the United States.  PKD’s response was to write ‘The Pre-Persons’ which was published in 1974.

The Pre-Persons is set in a dystopian future where abortion is legal up to the age of twelve.  It begins with Walter, out playing when he hears the distinctive sound of the abortion truck.  He knows it is out to take some kid in for a post-partum down at the abortion place and he’s scared the truck is coming for him, so he hides.

In this future, Congress has inaugurated a simple test to determine the approximate age at which the soul entered the body: the ability to formulate higher math like algebra.  Up to then, it was only animal instincts and body, animal reflexes and responses to stimuli.  A pre-person.

It was an extension of the old abortion law that let them kill an unwanted child before it came out: because it had no ‘soul’ or ‘identity,’ it could be sucked out by a vacuum system in less than two minutes. A doctor could do a hundred a day, and it was legal because the unborn child wasn’t ‘human.’

Walter goes outside again to play and hears who has been carried off by the abortion truck.  The boy’s parents called the truck then went out so as not to be there when it arrived.

The story then moves to the truck driver.  On the way back to the abortion facility he sees a stray boy and demands to see his Desirability card.  Ed, the boy’s father, shows up and says that they couldn’t afford the $90 for a D-card, to be told that the boy will be taken to the abortion centre and it will now cost him $500 to get the boy back.  Ed demands to be taken to the centre as, although he is 30 and has a mathematics degree, he claims to have forgotten how to do algebra.

They get to the centre and Ed’s arrival causes a stir.  They phone Walter’s Dad to take them home and he phones the media, resulting in a deluge of reporters arriving at the centre.

“The Pre-Persons” was originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction in October 1974. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick.

Is the premise, of post-birth abortions, far-fetched?  Not today.  Read this: After-Birth Abortion and After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?

Yes, there are people today arguing for infanticide, horrible as it is.

And here in the UK, there are moves to ‘decriminalise’ abortion right up to birth.  The law today sets a limit of 24 weeks after conception, but there is a Criminal Justice Bill wending its way through Parliament, and Diana Johnson MP has put in an amendment, New Clause 1, which will ‘disapply existing criminal law related to the accessing or procurement of abortion care from women acting in relation to their own pregnancy at any gestation’.

At any gestation.  Think about that.

Back to 1974 and Philip K Dick.  He got a lot of correspondence after his story was published, including a letter from Joanna Russ.  She seems nice…

PKD wrote:

“In this, the most recent of the stories in this collection, I incurred the absolute hate of Joanna Russ who wrote me the nastiest letter I’ve ever received; at one point she said she usually offered to beat up people (she didn’t use the word “people”) who expressed opinions such as this. I admit that this story amounts to special pleading, and I’m sorry to offend those who disagree with me about abortion on demand. I also got some unsigned hate mail, some of it not from individuals but from organizations promoting abortion on demand. Well, I have always managed to offend people by what I write. Drugs, communism, and now an anti-abortion stand; I really know how to get myself in hot water. Sorry, people. But for the pre-persons’ sake I am not sorry. I stand where I stand: “Hier steh’ Ich; Ich kann nicht anders,” as Martin Luther is supposed to have said.”

Here I stand, I can do no other.

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 3

© Jim Walshe 2024