“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.
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.
“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.