“Strange Eden” was published in Imagination in December 1954. It can be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick in pp. 111–121.
Captain Johnson—leader of a planetary survey team—leaves the ship to observe the surface of a rich and green planet. He is pleased to look at the untouched planet. Had Terran Development here it would already have been spoiled. Brent, a crew member more experienced than the captain, is interested in the presence of non-Terran species and immediately looks for clues. Johnson, says that they can leave. The planet is not necessary for the survey. He also confesses that the planet gives him the creeps.
Brent sets out alone to explore the area. He is an experienced sportsman and he is hoping to catch some prey living out in the forests. He comes across a large cat, the size of a rhino, sleeping. With some regret at killing a sleeping beast, he prepares to shoot when two more cats walk by ignoring him. Brent continues exploring and dreams of opening up an elite resort here. The game would be tame because they did not know about humans and they would be exotic. Farther down the trail he sees a small brick house and realizes that this planet is inhabited. It turns out to be farm and all the animals are completely tame and docile. He meets one of the people living here, a girl. She address him by name and says she has been expecting him. She introduces him to her brother Aeetes, but he quickly departs. The girl explains that they were following the communications of the ship, but learned to speak Terran through encounters long ago. They had visited Terra before. Although no Terrans know of these aliens, they have had contact for thousands of years. The girl herself is eleven thousand years old. Scientists in earlier times slowed down the aging process and this has allowed the population to continue to expand into the stars. Brent speculates that all the myths and religions were founded by these aliens. The game of chess was one import that the girl confesses to. She asks about Captain Johnson, saying he is smarter than Brent. Brent them tries to rape the girl, over her warnings that she can easily kill him. A force wave released from a belt she is wearing pushes Brent off of the girl. She tells him to leave for it is not their way to kill Terrans. She reminds him that he is the infant and Terra owes all their major civilizational achievements to them. Terra is just a stop-over in the galactic empire. Brent’s sexual attraction toward the girl, is at odds with her powers, knowledge, and story. Using telepathy the girl realizes that she reminds Brent of an old lover. She admires Brent’s bravery but warns him against his ignorance. Impressed she asks him to sit next to her.
After having sex, the girl warns Brent that the contact with her will change him the way it changes and domesticated the animals, only much more intense. She, however, does not care the harm she might inflict. Overcome with her beauty, Brent agrees to stay despite the warnings. She allows him on the condition he never blame her for the consequences.
Captain Johnson worried that Brent will not return. The girl arrives at the ship and apologizes for not returning Brent at once. She tells him that Brent will be staying behind with the other men. Johnson later sees a large cat-like creature following the girl into the woods. Johnson decides that this planet must be investigated. His last sight of the surface is the beast shaking its fist at the ship.
“Strange Eden” is one of Dick’s stories that is so full of fodder for contemporary popular theories that I have a hard time enjoying it. Let me get it out of the way before talking about some more promising angles to the story. First and most importantly we have yet another taste of Dick’s interest in (I cannot yet say acceptance of) the ancient alien theory. We get a big piece of it near the end. “I’ve watched your race advance and fall back into barbarism and advance again. Endless nations and empires. I was alive when the Egyptians first began spreading out into Asia Minor. I saw the city builder of the Tigris Valley begin putting up their brick houses. I saw the Assyrian war chariots roll out to fight. I and my friends visited Greece and Rome and Minos and Lydia and the great kingdoms of the red-skinned Indians. We were gods to the ancients, saints to the Christians. We come and go. As your people advanced we came less often.” (118) Of course, that last part is always required of the ancient alien thesis. Apparently they were only interested in humanity at one point. It is not only bad archeology and bad humanism (assuming that humans could not even invent gods without outside help), it is rather lazy science fiction writing. I would like to see some good science fiction set in the ancient world (bronze-punk anyone?). Any examples? Aside from the ancient aliens we have mind reading, teleological evolution (see “The Infinities” discussed on this blog), and a rather unbelievable two-man survey crew (one a nerd and one a jock).
The sexual politics of this piece is where the real wonder is for me. As in “The Piper in the Woods” we are given a rather ephemeral, but elegantly beautiful girl who drives me to refuse their work and mission. Brent is overcome with desire from the girl and even attempts to rape her. (Rape can only be discussed here in terms of his intention. There was never any threat to the girl since Brent completely misread the power relations in their relationship.) At this point he likely sees her like the prey he wanted to catch. In his mind she is a native subject easily dominated and controlled. He is never a threat to her and she never loses control of the situation, eventually using his desire to expand her harem of former humans. Through her sexual power, she is able to bring the colonizer into her way of living. This is not entirely unlike the story of early settlers in America going to live with the Indians, although in the story the benefits of the move are much more overtly sexual. But, if you prefer a more competitive interpretation, the story begins with the hunter trying to bag game, and then get the girl. All the time, it is the hunter being hunted.
Wikipedia entry for “Strange Eden.”