“Planet for Transients” was first published in Fantastic Universe in October-November 1953. Cited page numbers come from We Can Remember It For You Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2 (New York: Citadel), 327–339.
Trent, wearing an oxygen tank and checking counters, is walking through an area teaming with life. Through a radio, he reports that he is heading up toward some ruins ahead. He guesses that those ruins are the remains of New York City. Trent is warned about his supplies and against eating any of the wild plants that he may run across. Trent is approached by two males with blue-gray skin, each with six or seven fingers and additional joints. Speaking a common language, they ask if he is a human. The males are named Jackson and Earl Potter. Trent tells Jackson that he is from a camp in Pennsylvania with a couple dozen others. Trent also explains that his people survived the War by hiding in mines and growing their own food in tanks with electrical generators. Jackson and Earl Potter are delighted because it means that humans have survived the war despite the predictions of others. Trent has to go back due to the lack of breathable oxygen.
There are many new forms of life on the Earth since the War. Although the entire surface is radioactive and most life died out, the life that survived developed accustomed to radiation. Evolution was also sped up. Some of these life forms are flying rabbits (flap-rabbits) and blue-skinned giants (toads). Trent meditates on the precariousness of his situation. He was actually seeking out other human settlements. His own settlement is powered by human-generated electricity. Oxygen and food is running low. If they cannot find another human settlement.
Trent is captured by a tribe of “bugs,” a group do humanoid insects that have evolved since the War. They capture Trent in hopes of claiming a reward. Soon the “bug” tribe is attacked by “runners,” small people who run on kangaroo legs. The runners inform Trent that there is a tribe of humans in Canada that they had contact with, but they have disappeared.
He follows the lead to the North but finds the settlement abandoned as the runners told him. He contacts his community, telling them that the settlement has been empty for a few weeks. While they are sending aid to Trent, it will take a couple of days and Trent’s oxygen will only last one day. While waiting for his death or his rescuers, Trent sees a rocket landing near him.
Norris asks Trent about his mine and how many survivors there are. Norris informs Trent that they can take about half of his settlement, picking up the rest in another week. Norris is from the survivors of the Canadian settlement, which left Earth on a refurbished bomb. They resettled on Mars, but have plans to find a better location in the outer solar system. Reclaiming Earth is not an option because that would mean the death of all the species that evolved since the War. Earth is no longer for humans and to survive, humans must move on. The war transformed humans from the owners of the planet, to transients—tourists.
“Planet for Transients” is such a nice story because it shows humans and posthumans mostly getting along. Just as amazing, it shows human communities after a war getting along. The standard post-apocalyptic motif I grew up with, and I reckon is still dominant, is that the end of civilization means the unleashing of brutality. Whether it is the video game Fallout, the novel The Road, or the comic book series The Walking Dead apocalyptic literature assumes that without civilization to restrain us, we are brutes. I will say much more on this when and if this blog series gets to Dr. Bloodmoney (I already introduced this theme in my other blog, Neither Kings nor Americans), so I will not say much more about it now. But to summarize, the idea Dick seems to have is that the destruction of society increases our need for solidarity and community and cooperation.
The central theme of this story is posthumanism and a future of the Earth without us. An uncomfortable idea and common enough now, but still innovative in the 1950s. As the cliché about apocalyptic literature states it, it is easier to imagine the end of the world or the end of humanity than the end of capitalism. This seems true enough, but it is still difficult to face an Earth replaced with post-humans. I suppose this is why an apocalypse always requires survivors, who will refuse to let go of human control of the planet. In contrast, the surviving humans in “A Planet for Transients” take the role of good parents who are willing to step aside for their children. The posthumans are in fact the children of humanity, being products of the post-war environment. If only more parents thought like Norris does at the end of the story. “Earth is alive, teeming with life. Growing wildly—in all directions. We’re one form, an old form. To live here, we’d have to restore the old conditions, the old factors, the balance as it was three hundred and fifty years ago. A colossal job. And if we succeeded, if we managed to cool Earth, none of this would remain.” (338)
I submit that this is the real theme of “Planet for Transients.” It is a warning against conservatism and the orientation of our societies toward the values of the last generation. We should be doing the opposite, but it requires the difficult task of setting aside and giving control of the future to those younger (and maybe more foolish, reckless, or even irrational) than us. Sustaining the old is simply too destructive.
Review of the book The Earth After Us.
*Note: This book considers a posthuman earth.