The Golden Man

Story Background
“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.


Plot Summary
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.”

Background information from

Short essay on “The Golden Man.”

New thesis on the end of the Neanderthal, possible interbreerding with homo sapiens.


About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
This entry was posted in Bureaucracy, Humanism, Philip K. Dick, Posthumanism, Supernatural Abilities, Transhumanism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Golden Man

  1. terenceblake says:

    This story is a precursive working of themes that will be treated in more detail in Frank Herbert’s DUNE. The mutant as potential dominator, but also the trap of precognition. Cris is presented as in the grip of his “inflexible path”, he knows where we guess, so he has no freedom at all. His vision of the world is synchronic and spatialised, where human intelligence is diachronic, i.e. comprising novelty and uncertainty. He is all protention, and no retention. He is perceived as a god, but that is an effect of his golden appearance, a tool of sexual manipulation.
    He is called a “deeve”, a deviant, but in fact he cannot deviate from his precognized “inflexible” path. Without language, without interpretation, he cannot sublimate into culture or morality. His superiority is Darwinian, but he is driven by his instincts. Anita feels something like love and worries for him, he feels no such empathy, he just impregnates and uses her, and dumps her as soon as escape is possible. There is no semantic bridge, not because he has superior semantics, but because he has no language. There is no empathic bridge either. In view of his inflexible future we humans are the deviants, introducing complexity into what would otherwise be a simple life.
    The story’s ending with his escape is foreshadowed in the complexity of human social organisation. They were able to catch Cris because of a perfect “clamp” that lest no holes allowing escape. Yet Anita does not answer to Wisdom, and his security clamp down is incomplete: “I have no control over her. If she wants, she can check out.” This is the loophole that Cris exploits.
    Yet this victory is like that of a computer winning at chess by exploring mechanically all the consequences of possible moves. Cris’s “intelligence” is synchronic and algorithmic: he knows, where the aptly named Wisdom’s is diachronic and heuristic: he guesses. Of course it is informed guessing, but all it takes is sufficient computational power to see half an hour into the future to triumph over even experienced well-trained expert guessing. Baines is right to remark that such superior computation is not a sign of mental or spiritual superiority: “Superior survival doesn’t mean superior man.” Cris’s precognition is a “neat faculty”, but it is not a “development of mind”.

    • Dick as we know very well,was fascinated by throwbacks and devolution.Running parallel to this I think,was an equally intense fascination with misfits.All are explored in this short story.Throughout his multiplex work though,all three factors are often indistinguishable and form multi themes.

      In “The Simulacra”,mankind’s domination is to be given over to the Chuppers,a sort of derisive name for people who are born Neanderthals and share an isolated community in Mexico.They are not “our” ancestors,but because of an impure strain in “our” gene bank,some of humanity’s offspring are now starting to devolve,and these throwbacks are ready to reclaim their ancient heritage in the wake of government collapse.Those that were viewed as malformed misfits,will it seems rule the Earth.I suppose this runs contrary to Darwinism.

      Devolution in his liquid fiction,is usually the result of entropy,that once again,combines to form a mega theme.In “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”,privileged people undergo evolution therapy,but this can backfire,which means for those unfortunate to have to experience this,will sink into the “tomb world”,the kingdom of entropy,where everything is stagnant and growth is impossible.Those that emerge effected by it will regress,such as Emily Hnatt,a potter in TTSOPE, whose artistic and intellectual capacity,has dwindled to a previous time in her life.It seems,as with the retro Stone Age malcontents already mentioned,evolutionary growth is cyclical.There is no chance to reach any summit.

      In “Martian Time-Slip”,what I called the “kingdom of entropy”,is apparently ruled by a malaligned boy,who because his vision allows him to see the Universe in it’s natrual state of decay,posseses a power equal to God or else an avatar of him on Earth[or Mars]and manipulates it.He can only view it though in a perpetual state of stagnation,and has no capacity for creativity.He has attained an unprecedented height of transhumanism,but is a misfit unaware of his powers because of his alienation,despite being able to control his own fate.However,although his faculties are impaired,he does because of his superior abilities,posseses a greater fluidity to see ultimate reality more clearly than ordinary people,and is probably better than the mutant in “The Golden Man”,whose only attributes are precognitive.

      Another version of the “tomb world”,is to be found in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”,which is perceived by another Dickian misfit,John Isodore,who recognises the external and ultimate decay happening to the Universe,that he calls Kipple.Like Manfred in “Martian Time-Slip”,he is treated with contempt because he is different,in this case because he didn’t pass his IQ test due to his impaired intellect because of the radiation,and is classified as a “special”,but in fact is possessed of a greater wisdom than most normal people.In mental fusion with the ambiguous messiah Wilber Mercer,in which he shares his suffering with others,he rises from the “tomb world”,and experiences growth as the pre-apocalyptic days are restored.The evolution of transhumanity is imbued with spiritual enlightenment,and the end of devolution by entropy,is probably in sight.

      The devolution of the modern world by entropic decay,is seen at it’s most potent in “Ubik”,but “Counter-Clock World” is probably the best example of spirituality reversing the baleful process of entropy,as the dead are revived literally from the “tomb world”,but unfortunately fall victim to devolution again as they grow younger to finally return to the womb.Returned to the physical reality,there is no chance to evolve into a higher level of humanity that a spiritual birth could have provided,and fall victim to the cyclical process again,but what can you expect in an world made imperfect? In this case,transhumanism and divergent humanity is imbued with pseudo religious meaning.

      The portrayal of misfits as low caste malcontents,was probably never more acutely portrayed by Dick,than in “Clans of the Alphane Moon”.Classified as clinically insane,they
      are viewed as no better than the other misfits I’ve cited,but like Manfred and Isodore,are visionary in their outlook,and probably possess a greater understanding of “our” flawed world than “normal” society.Like the maligned Chuppers,they also might be more likely to inherit the “world” as it falls into spiritual and cultural decay.

      The “Golden Man’s” ascendancy would mean the end of “civilisation”.He has nothing to offer the modern,technological world in which he is cast in the short story.I’ve just attempted to show alternatives where different sorts of humanity outside of “accepted society”,can be of benefit in Dick’s fictional reality.As I say though,it is flawed,and can’t always conform to standards of higher Darwinism.

  2. Pingback: Review: The Golden Man | Xeno Swarm

  3. Pingback: The Augmented Agent and Other Stories, by Jack Vance – part 1 | gaping blackbird

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