Beyond Lies the Wub

Story Background
“Roog” was the first story Philip K. Dick sold, but “Beyond Lies the Wub” was the first he saw in print. It was published in the summer of 1952 in Planet Stories. Pages numbers come from Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick (New York: Citadel Press), pp. 27–33.

wub2

Plot Summary
Captain Franco, commander of an interplanetary hunting expedition, is overseeing the loading of a ship. After seeing the local contact off, he sees first mate Peterson leading the wub to the ship. The wub appeared to be a large four-hundred pound pig. Peterson purchased it for fifty cents with plans to eat it on the return trip.

After take-off, the crew attempts to understand the wub and how to keep it alive. Peterson explains that it eats most things and they do get it to drink water. Captain Franco is eager to taste the wub, commenting that it is fate enough already. Interrupting the conversation about its fate, the wub beings talking telepathically to the crew. The wub pleads for a change of subject and demands a right to have a say in its fate. The cook awaits the outcome as the wub follows the captain into his office.

In the captain’s office, the wub has a discussion with his captor. He explains how he is able to communicate with the crew in English. The wub suggests that he would be more valuable to the crew and to the captain as a residency philosopher. As for the need for food, the wub suggests that the far thing would be draw straws and eat the loser. The wub leaves the office “deep in meditation.” (31)

Sometime late the wub and the crew are discussing Odysseus as a Jungian archetypal figure. Captain Franco interrupt the discussion returning to the subject of eating the wub. The crew resists this having become friendly with the wub. Meanwhile the wub points out that eating meat suggest that human moral progress has not kept up with its technical development. To resolve the standoff, the captain shoots the wub between its eyes.

The crew barely partakes in the feast of the wub, however the captain enjoys the “excellent” taste. The captain, suddenly philosophical, asks the crew to enjoy the meat because it “is only organic matter, now.” The captain, now clearly under the mental control of the wub, continues the aborted discussion about Odysseus.

wub

Analysis
“Beyond Lies the Wub” is a more conventional science-fiction story about an alien encounter, telepathic communication, and the use of psychic powers to survive death. The use of the tale of Odysseus, who travelled from island to island during his decade-long voyage, parallels the life of the wub whose soul can apparently travel with ease from one body to another. The wub, therefore, is an apparently immortal being thanks to its psychic powers. Another literal reading of the story is that consumption literally changes our nature and our being, something that feeds Dick’s overall critique of consumer society.

Dick uses the story to reflect momentarily on the ethics of consuming sentient animals, especially those who may look like human food animals but are actually capable of intelligence. Dick is showing that there is no reason why intelligence need look like us, although this is a common assumption in science fiction writing and film. The wub’s criticism of human ethical development summarizes much of what Dick would say during his career about technology and the measure of progress. “Atomic power. You have done many wonderful things with it—technically. Apparently your scientific hierarchy is not equipped to solve moral, ethical—“ (32) However, there is evidence in the story that Dick felt that the farther you get from the hierarchy the more likely one could identify moral progress. The captain is the only crew member who insists on eating the wub, despite learning of its intelligence and ability.

The setting for the story is also relevant to the reading. The ship and its crew are engaged in an interplanetary poaching mission, suggesting that necessity to leave Earth to find natural resources. It is not clearly stated that the Earth’s resources are depleted, but it is not unlikely that the same ethos that leads the captain to kill the wub lead to the destruction of Earth’s resources.

Resources
Possibilities of what alien intelligence may look like.

Wikipedia entry for the story.

What we eat actually does change our brains.

Audio book of the story.

 

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About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
This entry was posted in Afterlife, Alien Life, Consumerism, Environment, Philip K. Dick, Philosophy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Beyond Lies the Wub

  1. terenceblake says:

    I think the Odysseus reference could be filled out in several ways. Odysseus does not rely on brute force like Achilles, but on intelligence, cunning, ruse. This is another case where we can identify the Wub with Odysseus, as against the Achilles-like Captain. Futher, Odysseus had the idea of the Trojan Horse, and now the Captain’s body is a Trojan Horse concealing the Wub and carrying it back to Earth.
    The eating of the Wub feels like a Eucharist scene, given that he talked about the parable of your Saviour, so “this is my body”; especially as it was accompanied by wine.
    Also the little introduction:
    ” The slovenly wub might well have said: Many men talk like philosophers and live like fools.”
    seems to be a reference to the Epicurean philosophers, who held pleasure as the highest good. They were compared to swine by their critiques, mere gluttons. According to John Stuart Mill:
    “When thus attacked, the Epicureans have always answered, that it is not they, but their accusers, who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable.”
    This seems to be the case in the story, where Captain Franco is the true swine (all he can think of is eating the wub, he has no care for its intelligence and culture, and so lives like a fool), despite his human body. The Wub is the philosopher despite his swine body (although he does take pleasure in eating too).
    As for the name “wub”, I think it may be a “nonce word”, coined to be used for the occasion, for the nonce. It resembles Lewis Carroll’s “wabe” in Jabberwocky, which Humpty Dumpty glosses as the grass around a sundial because it “goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it”. As there is “beyond” in the title, this suggests that the wub, which originated “way behind us” in time, lies “way beyond” us in evolution and mental capacity.

    • tashqueedagg says:

      Thanks for that. All sounds solid to me. I am so stuck in my sociological reading of Dick (my forthcoming book on Dick will be called “Philip K Dick and the World We Live In), some of this stuff flies right past me, or I just do not dwell on it.

      Actually, I rather think this is an overblown story. Maybe because it was the first he published, it is so commonly read and respected.

      If you skim through this project, you will find the general contours of my approach. Feel free to add to it as you wish.

  2. Pingback: Comment on “Beyond Lies the Wub” by Philip K. Dick | Xeno Swarm

  3. terenceblake says:

    The idea that there is an Epicurean reference, however playful, is confirmed by the sequel “Not by its Cover”, which I have not yet read. According to the Wikipedia entry: “Wub fur, so the story suggests, continues to live after the “death” of the Wub, and as such is highly prized owing to its postmortem production of a luxurious pelt that has numerous, albeit trivial, human applications. One such application is its use as a book cover by a Mars based publisher who issues a new Latin volume of Lucretius‘ poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_By_Its_Cover.

  4. Yes it is an “overblown story”,but is only a debut,and written for a rather lurid publishing house.The “sequel”,”Not By it’s Cover”,is far superior.It seems to be too flimsy for so much philosphical discussion,but from what I know of “The Odyssey” and Odysseus,the captain I think would be better compared to King Priam,the Trojan ruler of a powerful but decadent kingdom.

    In an article Dick wrote I think in 1981,he said the captain’s name Franco,referred to the Spainish dictator,and was his allusion to political inference.

  5. Rhys hamm says:

    ;o;

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