Survey Team

Story Background
“Survey Team” was published in Fantastic Universe in May1954. 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 367–377.


Plot Summary
Halloway and Young meet on the surface of the planet Earth, near Colorado. The Enemy’s signal flares light up the background. Whatever beauty used to exist in this place has long been destroyed by the war, now it is only rubble and devastation. Young does not remember the time before the war, but Halloway did. A rocket land with a report on Mars. The report from Venus was not encouraging.

Young analyzed the report from Mars and declared that that planet will be a fine place to emigrate to, based on the surface conditions. With the other planets in the solar system impossible, Mars was the last chance for humans to escape the system of underground bunkers. People could survive there, but they were quickly going insane. Reclamation of Earth (even if the war could be ended) would take too long.

The survey team, including Halloway, Young, a Captain Mason, and the navigator van Ecker, arrive at Mars. Halloway wonders if there are still Martians on the planet, or possibly an ancient civilization. They get to the surface by jumping from the moving rocket. On the surface they immediately see the ruins of an ancient civilization.

The survey team begins establishing a defense and scouting for food. Halloway concludes the civilization on Earth was long dead. Mason notices that Mars was not destroyed in war, but used up. Young accuses the Martians for being wasteful and getting what they deserve. Some crew members located some written documents and brought them to Halloway. They also report that they discovered rocket launching towers. The Martians did not die out, they fled Mars when they had finished using it up. The records show that they found a useful planet and moved the population there, but the colonies on the new planet fall apart into war and barbarism. With Mars no good, Young suggests that the humans follow the Martians. They must have gone outside of the solar system. If they really fell into barbarism, they could be easily defeated.

Carmichael, who was working on the documents, uses a telescope frozen into place to locate the escape planet, that all the documents proved was pristine and rich. Carmichael concludes that the telescope is broken when it only shows Earth.

Later, Young explains that the descriptions of the escape planet fit Earth thousands of years ago. Humans on Earth must have been descended from these Martian refugees. Halloway decides to try to use Martian technology to continue the search outside of the solar system. Mason suggest that to destroy a third planet would be immoral, but the others are already dreaming of settling on the new world.

“Survey Team” is the story of two planets. One destroyed by unsustainable consumption and the other by war. The original Martians used up every natural resource on their lush planet and were forced to flee to Earth. They would have done the same to Earth, but their various colonies broke up into tribes, forming the Paleolithic communities. This gave them a second chance. Eventually, war destroyed Earth forcing the Terrans/Martians to seek out a new home. This story seems to get to the same place the rebooted Battlestar Galactica series got. In the television series, the descent to barbarism was a conscious choice as a way to avoid an endless cycle. Here it was forced on them. The suggestion is that the Martians had a rather unified culture, perhaps sustained by rampant consumerism (is that familiar to anyone?). This shift to Paleolithic ways of life seems to have been a good thing, although it is disparaged by the survey team. Young—one of the team members—even suggests that such barbarism will make them easy to conquer. In the long-run that division may have caused the war. We have no idea about the nature of “the Enemy,” who is just mentioned a few times. In fact, it gave them a sustainable civilization. Unfortunately for us the costs of returning to the Paleolithic will be too high so we seem to be stuck with industrial civilization, for better or for worse. Dick takes the pessimistic road at the end by having the survey team plan a migration outside of the solar system. “Juddy and Young and Halloway gazed up, faces eager, hands clenching and unclenching. As if they were already there. As if they were already holding onto the new world, clutching it with all their strength. Tearing it apart, atom by atom. . .” (377) Mason, whose point of view describes this final scene, has a more wise position. He thinks humans own Mars as their birthright and should settle there, make it their home. Escape is the easy solution. Sustainably remaking Mars (or Earth for that matter) is the hard job. But we already know this. What is striking for me is how vivid the message is in this 1954 story.

The sustainability of living in bunkers is sometimes never questioned. In “The Defenders” people may be a bit anxious about living in bunkers, but they were not given a timeline. Here, Dick suggests that living underground causes (or I suppose in any permanently indoor setting) causes mental illness and has effects on the development of children born into these conditions. Our culture has voluntarily moved inside more and more over the last half century. Home are larger, more versatile, and more connected to the outside world. The normal reasons I had for going out as a kid (playing with friends, shopping) are not even there anymore. In fact, we are seeing a rise in mental illness (although I am sure the causes of that are very complex).

Background on “Survey Team” from

A bit Malthusian, but an attempt to estimate how many Earths to support our way of life sustainably.

Another sustainability prediction based on the “How many Earths?” question.

Article on leaving Earth.


About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
This entry was posted in Alien Invasion, Alien Life, Consumerism, Empire, Environment, Philip K. Dick, Politics, Power, Space Exploration, Technology, war and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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