Surface Raid

Story Background
“A Surface Raid” was published in Fantastic Universe in July 1955. It can be found in We Can Remember It For You Wholesale: The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. Volume 2 on pp. 155–170.


Plot Summary
Harl visits his father Edward Boynton. Harl tells his father that he came into some information during his educational activities, revealing that his father will be going to the surface on a raid for some “saps.” Edward explains that it will be a small raid, taking place sometime in the next week. They need some saps, mostly male, to work in the factories. Harl tells his father that he will be going on the raid as well. Edward tries to talk him out of it, but eventually gives in. He instructs Harl to prepare for the trip to the surface. The radiation from the war has declined, but he will still need to prepare equipment. Harl sees his Youth League leadaer, Fashold, to tell him the news. Fashold warns Harl that he learned that the saps are a different species but closely related them. They used be called “technos” before the war. They were mutants that developed in the technocratic class and were able to reveal themselves as superior during the “Final War.” They are the descendants of the technos that survived the war by living in underground bunkers. After this explanation, Harl gets news that the team is ready to go to the surface.

Edward tells his son that the saps have been slowly reclaiming the surface using stone-age tools. The war left the surface of the Earth with a coating of blackened rock. Edward instructs Harl that they will wait until night to begin the raid on the sap villages. The sun makes working difficult for Harl. He ventures out on his own. He sees the sap village, from which he wants to capture a handful for use of the Youth League. The saps have a shiny copper-black skin. Their village is at a Neolithic level, with basic agriculture and animal husbandry. Harl observes the village for a while, watching with fascination their work and their various activities. He realizes that the saps are not a dying race at all as he was taught. He becomes infatuated with one women who, along with a man, works on painting a clay bowl. Desiring to speak to her, he approaches the woman. She screams and flees. Hearing the screams and noticing that the saps were stirred, Edward contacts Harl and command him back to the base.

Back at the sap village, the woman—Julie—describes what she saw to Ken, her brother. It has two black eyes, looked blind, while skin, and huge hands and feet. A Mr. Stebbins explains that those creatures—called goblins—used to be men but were transformed into monsters by living underground where they collect and hoard metal.

With this story, I move into 1955. I wanted to first take a moment to discuss where I am at in the stories. The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick has 118 stories. He published a few more in his lifetime, mostly novellas that were later turned into novels. Of these 118, Dick published more than half of them in 1952, 1953, and 1954. If we add 1955, the total is over 3/5 of his total story output. His pace of short story writing slows and he began to write novels, but looking back at what I have written on these early stories, it is fair to say that those years are some of the most productive and creative (since many themes were reused from the stories in the novels) in Dick’s lifetime. The mid-1960s, of course is the other peak of his creativity (and another peak in his story writing). I hope this blog has been showing how rich these stories are. They should not be seen as simply apprenticeship works or as try-outs for his novels. Some of his best ideas are hidden in those stories. They are worthy of more consideration.

“A Surface Raid” is another look at posthumanism after a war. Thematically it is quite similar to “Planet for Transients,” which is about the human survivors fleeing Earth after it was taken over by posthumans. In this case, the people who hid in the bunkers and the people on the surface diverge for two reasons. One reason is that they were already divided before the war by class. The technocratic class had already been overtaken by mutants who saw themselves as superior to humans. The second reason is the varied conditions of life underground and on the surface. The people on the surface became golden skinned, while the “technos” underground turned into mole men, who seem to fit the profile of goblins due to their tendency to attack communities on the surface and hoard metal. The two sides come to see the others are animals. The “goblins” look on the “saps” and labor to be enslaved (much how we use animals) and the “saps” see the “goblins” as monsters (a rather well-deserved label).

Morlocks and Eloi rom "The Time Machine," which has similar themes with "Surface Raid.".

Morlocks and Eloi rom “The Time Machine,” which has similar themes with “Surface Raid.”.

The people of the surface suffered greatly by the war. They lost use of the surface and had to reclaim it bit by bit with primitive tools before they could being agriculture again. This struggle made them resilient and culturally formidable. This is something that Harl picks up on when he observes the village. The “goblins” have access to all the advanced technologies and what do they do with it? They created hierarchical systems under ground and depend on people from the surface for their basic labor needs. Of the two posthuman populations, the “saps” seem the most free. Harl is enamored by the freedom, physical beauty, and resilience of the “saps.” “But they did not appear to be a dying race. They were working hard, tirelessly chipping at the hydroslag, fixing their arrows, hunting, plowing, pounding grain, weaving, combing.” (166) The hope in the story comes from Harl’s realization of the humanity of the “saps.” This will not go anywhere. Harl is the ultimate example of a creepy nerd. Because of this he is unable to make a connection to the “sap” village and there is little hope for future development.

Unlike “Planet for Transients,” where the posthumans and the humans lived in general peace and employed mutual curiosity, here we find two posthuman populations who are convinced that the other are not human. This is a bit tragic but more realistic. Like the divergent posthumanism of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, we see that class was the original sin that caused the divergence in the first place. Given the world that we have, divided as it is between gated communities and slums, perhaps such a division of society is inevitable.

Background from Philip K. Dick Fan Site.

Speculation on humans evolving into two species.
*Note: This article, like the story, suggests that technology use will be key to dividing humanity into two species.


About tashqueedagg

Searching for the radical themes in American literature. American literature for the age of Occupy
This entry was posted in Alien Invasion, Bureaucracy, Philip K. Dick, Posthumanism, Power, Technology, Transhumanism, war and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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