“A World of Talent” was published in Galaxy in October 1954. It can be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick in pp. 321–352.
Tim evades a party at his house by withdrawing to his room. He notices “Others” in his closet and in his room. Having given up trying to communicate with them, Tim just observes them with fear and excitement.
Tim’s parents, Curt and Julia are both precogs, in an arranged marriage. They live with a diverse population of mutants, people with psionic power, and “Norms.” They are engaged in an endemic conflict with the Terrans, who want to prevent the independence (asserted earlier) of the colonies of abnormals and ensure that they will not overtake humanity. Julia, Curt, and the government official Fairchild discuss the geopolitical situation and the challenges of precogs living as a couple. Fairchild was instrumental in the secession movement. He demonstrates a stone that provides propaganda messages in support of the independence movement. Reynolds, the head of the psychics on the Colony insists that they will win because they are superior to Terrans who do not have psi powers. The party descends into argument over the strategy for the future. The main tension is between Fairchild and his supports, who believe in a universal colonial identity including both Psis, Mutants, and Norms, against Reynolds, who believes in the genetic superiority of Psis.
For Julia and Curt, the tension is more personal. They were arranged to be married in order to pass on their talent, but their son lacks any apparent precognitive abilities. Under Reynolds’ regime, children like Tim would be eliminated as throwbacks to an earlier stage. Curt defends Tim’s right to exist, but Julia warns him that as he lacks talent is really is of an almost different species.
Curt visits Big Noodle at a school, leaving Tim with the Psi-class authorities there. Big Noodle is an obsess idiot savant, who has massive parakinetic power and is the major defense grid for the Colony. He can stop missile attacks from Terra using his ability. Curt meets also with Sally, a thirteen year old teacher at the school with the power of animation. Curt need Big Noodle to bring Pat to him instead of his normal routine of using Big Noodle to send him to Pat. Pat is 19 years old from Proxima IV and currently Curt’s lover.
Curt leads Pat into Fairchild’s office. Typically, mutants who show an ability can be promoted to the class of psi after a meeting such as this, but Curt reveals that Pat—designated a mutant and eligible for sterilization at 21—is actually a fourth class, an anti-Psi. She can nullify telepathic probes.
After the meeting, Curt and Pat are having coffee at Curt’s house. Julia is initially cold to the idea of Pat staying with them. Julia and Curt discuss his affair with Pat. Curt explains that her innocence was a major attraction for him.
After retrieving Tim from the school, Curt and Pat discuss the ramifications of her anti-psi abilities. It is possible that every type of Psi power will lead to the development of an anti-psi ability. Curt believes it is nature’s way of restoring balance. They take Tim to the ocean, who likes it because there is no place for the “Others” to hide on the beach. Pat and Curt consider that Psis have long lived amongst humanity but that they were often misidentified as saints.
Curt discusses the opening of a fourth category with Fairchild. Curt hopes that the fourth category will be immune from the sterilization law. Fairchild’s general humanism makes him sympathetic but he knows that Reynolds and others will hotly resist the possibility of anti-Psis or any other check to their power.
Curt tells Pat the good news at a bar. As Pat begins making future plans for her life, without the burden of relocation to a camp and sterilization, she is murdered with a poison dart. Reynolds reveals himself and explains to Curt that they have been following him since he visited Reynolds. Pat died painlessly, he claims. Curt takes Pat’s body and escapes the bar, finding Sally at the School. She had informed on Curt. Over Sally’s protests, Curt enters Big Noodle’s chambers and explains to him how the Corps of psychics is taking over. Big Noodle—who is deathly afraid of Sally—kills her by transporting large plastic blocks to fall on her body. He then transports Curt and Pat to Proxima IV. In her last moments, Sally transforms Big Noodles body into a mass of spiders, killing him and the Colony’s defenses.
On Proxima IV, Curt—now with Tim who was also transported by Big Noodle—seek out a Resurrector who can bring Pat back to life. Curt reflects on all that has been lost. The Corps will take over the government from Fairchild. Terra can attack the colonies without Big Noodle to defend them. Failing to find a Resurrector, Tim and Curt are alone. Curt sees an old man and later a small child. Curt learns that there are the “Others,” actually Tim at different points in time. Rather than just producing a mutant, Julia and Curt gave birth to the ultimate precog. Tim (the old man version) explains that the Center Other (Tim in this time) has not yet realized how the ability works, but that they can change the present by changing the past. The Anti-Psis must be allowed to prosper or the future will be bleak. Tim then shows Curt a timeline where Pat is alive and his life still has meaning.
“A World of Talent” is the pinnacle of Philip K. Dick’s early experiments in several major motifs. In this story we see the maturation of his frontier motif, showing a fully Promethean world emerging on the frontier colonies. His study of posthumanism begun in “The Golden Man” is fully mastered in this story. We see one of his more mature and honest depictions of adultery here as well. The tension between diversity and homogeneity in government is also explored. In short, this is an amazingly rich story and in my opinion the height of Dick’s early talent. It is as rich a world as any of his early novels (all much longer than this story). We see that he has grown out of the desire for a cheap and easy twist ending and instead gives us an emotionally rich and promising ending. Despite this, the Web site Philip K. Dick Fan Site says that little comment has been made on this story. This is unfortunate and an oversight among the scholars.
The central political tension works on two levels. Broadly speaking we are in a divided empire. Terra has relocated the mutants and Psis to the colonies, which are also populated with people without any ability. This was a solution we have seen before in his stories, most notably in “The Crawlers.” To preserve humanity, humanity+ is moved far away. Of course, they soon develop feelings that they are superior to normal humans and fight for their independence. The secondary tension is about how to manage a new society where part of the population deems itself superior to the rest. Fairchild (the liberal voice) wants a diverse society. Reynolds thinks that humanity+ should rule the rest, ensuring its own power through eugenic manipulation. Is this not the story of much of modern history and a tension that still must be resolved in a world where racism, inequality, and exclusion are as real and as devastating as ever? The story ends with hope, telling the reader that Reynolds’ future is not the only future. But we need to cultivate our society along different values to get there.
Dick is continuing his revision of the mutant science fiction of the 1950s, which tended to present the mutants as superior and benevolent. Dick—living in the wake of the Holocaust—of course will have none of that. There is no good reason, given human history, to think that humanity+ would not ultimately see themselves as the inheritors of Earth. (To their credit, the writer of the television series Babylon 5 incorporates this realization in his depiction of people with psychic powers.) If normal humans with political power could do what they did in Nazi German, what could the real “supermen” be capable of? Reynolds is the realization of this fear. In my view, this tension is much more powerful in “A World of Talent” than in “The Golden Man.”
I will leave more comment on this story for essays I hope to write in the future. But I urge Philip K. Dick fans to take a second (or first) look at “A World of Talent” and not to just read it as a thematic predecessor of Ubik or Martian Time-Slip. It is also one of the most filmable of the early stories due to its richness, detail, various competing tensions, and emotional power.
Wikipedia page of “A World of Talent.”