“The Golden Man” was published in If in April 1954. Dick originally gave the story the name “The God Who Runs,” which is more in touch with the posthumanist themes of the story. It can be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick in pp. 167–173. Dick’s own analysis of the story can be found in the same volume on pp. 411–412.
A salesman asks the people at a diner about the town he is at, named Walnut Creek. He shows the man next to him a photo of a woman with eight breasts. The man ignores it in disgust, but a farmer takes more interest. They discuss the local Denver DCA camp, which contains mutants until they are euthanized. They discuss some of the mutants that have been discovered in recent years. One colony hid out in coal mines for forty years. Another can control minds. These various mutants emerged on Earth after the War. Part of the reconstruction plans has been to seek out and destroy these mutant, and the government has proved very effective in their task. The salesman asks if there are any mutants nearby. They do not answer and he finally asks directions to his destination, the Johnson Farm.
Nat Johnson is watching his children play. One of the children is Cris, a feral mutant with golden skin and hair. He never plays with the others and always stands aloof from the group. When he does play he uses his strength to speed to outshine the children. Suddenly Cris darts out of sight. The “salesman” from the diner arrives in his 1978 Buick claiming to be the owner of the Pacific Development Corporation. He is asking for directions to some land that he purchased. Johnson tells him after looking at the deed that the land is fifty miles away. Baines asks for a drink of watch. Johnson being to prepare it and comforts his daughter that the man will be gone soon.
On his way inside, Baines snoops around the house. After Baines stops an attack by Johnson, he reveals himself to be from the DCA and places Johnson under arrest. Cars drive up the dirt road and enter the farmhouse and block off the exits to the farm. Johnson tells Baines that the mutant ran away, that he had knowledge this was going to happen. Baines tells him that they will study his powers and decide whether to use or euthanize the mutant. Johnsons daughter tells them that he is often out on his own, and that he is beautiful, “a god come down to earth.” A few moments later, Cris surrenders himself to Baines. They take him to the lab while Baines warns that this mutant is a unique challenge.
Baines and an agent at the lab, Wisdom, want to study Cris for forty-eight hours before deciding his fate. He has no language but was matured fully by thirteen. It is amazing that they kept him secret for eighteen years. The first test is to shoot him. Five bullets shot at Cris’ back were all evaded in a blur of movement. This strongly suggests that his power is not telephony since the shots were random. It may be psychokinetics. Baines and lab worker, Anita, discuss the problem of mutants like Cris. If a mutant emerges that is “homo superior” they will eventually over take homo sapiens in the samto shoot Cris wie way that homo sapiens replaced Neanderthals.
The next test is a shoot at Cris with ten tubes, all in constant motion, and entirely randomized. This test will disprove mind reading as the cause of Cris’ abilities. When Antia see him she is enamored immediately, comparing Cris to a god. She urges Baines not to kill him, saying that he is not a monster like the others. None of the projectiles strike Cris. As the guards attempt to enter the chamber holding Cris, he escapes and runs through the building. Wisdom orders the building sealed off, worried that if he escapes he will truly be the protype of the race that will replace humans. Baines tells Anita that despite how he looks Cris is an animal, lacking a frontal lobe. He is actually less than a man in cognitive ability.
Anita is still comparing Cris to a golden god. Baines worries that Cris proves that intelligence has failed and reached its limits. They realize that Cris is able to see into the future—technically he has a broader present. Evolution will slowly expand this ability to realize the future until there is no temporailty. This will mean the end of progress because there will be no real struggle for survival or uncertainly about the future. Wisdom, in panic, demands that Cris be found and killed.
Cris evades guards on his way to Anita’s room. Despite her understanding of the situation, Anita is unable to kill Cris, who overwhelms her with sexual feelings. In a moment of rationality, she orders Cris out of her room, but Cris kisses Anita and she is easily seduced by the “god, come down to earth.”
Later, she warns Cris that they will kill him if he tries to escape. She is frustrated that all he does is run away. She helps Cris escape the lab and Cris uses her as a human shield when the guards approach. He abandons Anita when making his final escape. This escape proves that Cris had two abilities: precnogantive ability and the ability to manipulate the sexual desire of women. Combined, these abilities will make the survival of Cris and his offspring inevitable.
“The Golden Man” starts with the situation in “Crawlers” but expands it into a profound argument about the nature of evolution and posthumanism. Like “Crawlers” we are given a post-war environment where mutants are running through the population. Unable to co-exist with them, the government works to purify the human population of these elements. “The Golden Man” is slightly more honest about this. Instead of simply hiding them away on an island, the government actively murders the mutants that they capture because of fears that one of these mutant strains will become “homo superior.” Most of the mutants are your typical freak (the eight-breasted woman), but some are more insidious, creating alternative communities or having unstoppable powers (like Cris).
Dick had given us a close analysis of this story in comments prepared for one of the short story collections this work appeared in. Dick was consciously bucking a trend at the time to see mutants as benevolent and in charge. In this way, most mutants were how technocrats, aliens, and (sadly) often governments are presented. I think this probably comes from a belief in evolution as progress over time. Dick fell into this teleological evolution often enough, but in “The Golden Man” he is a true Darwinian, showing that what matters is adaptability to the environment not progress. Cris is actually a throwback in many ways. He cannot speak, he has little connection to humans even in his family, he lives in the woods. Socially and intellectually he may not even be at the level of “Lucy.” Yet his precognitive abilities and irresistibility to women (who always see him as a deity) makes him perfectly adaptable to the world. It also promises the end of the human domination of the planet. So, Dick’s revision is that mutants would be bad for us (if not necessarily malevolent) and marginalized, feared outsiders. Dick wrote: “My theory as to why people too this view [the view of mutants as good] is: I think these people secretly imagined they were themselves early manifestation of these kindly, wise, super-intelligent Ubermenschen who would guide the stupid—i.e. the rest of us—to the Promised Land.” (412) This about this next time you waste money on psychics or those people who claim to talk to the dead. At best they are quacks, at worse they are your potential ruler. (If you really had psychic powers would you use it to give people readings for $20 bucks an hour? Really?)
The relationship between the pre-human hominids and humans will come up again in Dick’s fiction. It is a perfect way to look at questions of posthumanism. Posthumanism needs to be questioned and even feared for the same reason the Neanderthal had good reasons to fear the rise of homo sapiens. This will be looked again in The Crack in Space.
This is one of Dick’s earliest explorations of the precog idea. In The World Jones Made we again see the precog as a dangerous force. In that case, the precog uses his ability to see one year into the future to overthrow the government and become dictator. Other precogs are presented as useful, taking jobs for corporations or working for the state in various capacities. He seems to back away from this position that precogs are necessarily unhuman and dangerous. I am not sure that was a good shift. The precogs in the stories are much more dangerous to humanism.
Wikipedia entry for “The Golden Man.”