“Martians Come in Clouds” was published in Fantastic Universe in June-July 1953. (The information at the back of the Collected Stories gives publication in June-July 1954. This is clearly wrong. Look at the table of contents posted below.)I read it in We Can Remember It For Your Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2. It can be found there on pages 119–127.
Ted Barnes discusses the arrival of another cloud of Martians that arrived, including one that landed on his neighbor Johnson’s roof, which the neighbors tried to remove with a long pole. The Martians are grey blobs without any clear shape. They are commonly destroyed as soon as they land by mobs of local people. Ted informs his son Jimmy about the arrival of a cloud of “buggies.” They come every few years in large clouds of hundreds. Ted warns his son to stay away from them if he ever sees one. He should run away from them and find help instead.
On his way out Jimmy sees people still mulling around the Johnson lawn. He talks with classmates Mike Edwards and Ralf Drake about the discovery and destruction of the buggie. Jimmy mentions that he would like to see one, but his friends think he will run away. After walking away, he notices something moving in an evergreen tree. On closer inspection it appeared to be an old and decaying buggie, but still alive. His first impression was to run for help, but the buggie begins to reach him in his mind, sending images. The first image is of massive deserts. The next image is of buggies living in an underground chamber. The next image is Earth with its inviting oceans. The final image is of buggies living on the surface of the oceans on large discs. Jimmy realizes that the buggie was trying to ask humans to use the water for their new home because their own planet has long been dried up. Freed from these images, Jimmy asks for help. A crowd gathers and police arrive. One person says that they need to get a pole.
Using a pole, gasoline, and fire the mob dislodges and finally kills the buggie. Ted Barnes is very proud of how his son was brave in the face of the buggie. Ted’s friends praise his son as well.
“Martians Come in Clouds” tells the story of an alien species arriving on Earth (specifically a suburban section of America) as refugees from some massive ecological catastrophe on their home planet. Desiring to share the resources of the planet, living innocuously on the oceans, whenever they arrive they are confronted by mobs of indifferent and xenophobic people. They use violence to kill the few that arrive locally. The violence implemented against the aliens is a source of pride. From a young age, children are taught to have no sympathy or remorse for the visitors. While I do not want to make a precise parallel to the American urban crisis, Dick was writing this story at a time when white suburban communities were engaged in resistance against integration efforts. This was not only a phenomenon of the Jim Crow south, but was nationwide. Through red-lining, white-controlled home-owners associations, and discriminatory lending and rental practices, suburbanites worked hard to keep blacks and other minorities out. We can imagine their victories were celebrated with no less disgusting displays than we see at the end of the story. The imagery of the mob actions (poles, fire, trees, shouting crowds, police indifference or support for vigilante action) certainly suggest the racial violence of the first half of the twentieth century and the civil rights era.
We observe one of these aliens trying to reach out to Jimmy using some sort of psychic connection. It is not clear if the aliens have tried to do this to others. If they had, it makes the xenophobia of the adults are the more odious. They would know that the buggies are harmless refugees from a much less pleasant environment and in need of aid. As disgusting as this makes Ted Barnes and the other, “someone get a pole,” adults in the story, it may be the truth. Ted warns Jimmy against getting to close to the. “Listen to me—I’m telling you this so you’ll stay away from them. If you see one of them you turn around and run as fast as you can. Your hear? Don’t go near it—stay away. [. . .] Don’t pay any attention to it.” (120) The last part of that is said after a reflective pause. Does Ed know they communicate and are creatures that can inspire empathy? It seems so.
Short documentary on lynching in America.