“Fair Game” was originally published in If in September 1959. It can now be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 1–12. While published quite late in his short story career, it has a feel much like his earlier stories. It was written in 1953.
Professor Anthony Douglass is telling his wife about his new project, which will keep him busy his university work. Unspoken is his fear that a new generation of scientist will move up the ranks, displacing old timers like himself. Looking out of the window, Douglass see a giant eye looking down into the room.
Douglass tells his colleague, Professor William Henderson about what he saw. Douglass is certain that what he saw was studying him. Jean Henderson, a lecturer, suspects it is an ad campaign. Later, they consider the possibility that he was being watched from above. Douglass considers other options such as surveillance by communist groups. On his way out from the office, Douglass sees a bar of gold on the group. Illegal now, he could not sell it in the United States, but if he took it and went abroad it would be enough for a comfortable retirement. While he debates what to do, the gold bar vanishes and he sees a giant face in the sky.
The next day he discusses the situation with his colleagues, this time at his home. They realize that whoever is watching them must live in the same dimension as humans, because they seem to interact with them. Jean Henderson brings up the possibility that Douglass’ experiences have theological explanations. He may be seeing what the Greeks interpreted as gods. Another realizes that whatever wants Douglass must be after his technical and scientific expertise. Douglass goes outside and sees a beautiful blond woman. The girl tries to draw him out into the open, but Douglass hesitates. Lightening bolts strike the ground near the girl and she disappears, much like the gold ingot. He gets in his car and starts driving toward Denver. He thinks he will be safer in the valley.
During his drive he becomes more paranoid as he realizes that of all humans, he is the most desired by these aliens. He debates if he should accept their temptations. Maybe he will become a powerful person, but they may also enslave him. Tacks fall from the sky, puncturing his tires. As he gets out of the car, a giant net takes him up into the sky. Two creatures appear before him and they discuss their catch using psionic communication. He is dumped onto a giant frying pan.
It is easy to disregard “Fair Game” as a silly story about alien “fishermen” trying to catch a human. On the first reading, it probably should not be taken too seriously. Maybe this is why it took six years to get published. On closer review, we find that “Fair Game” is still an interesting look at the nature of the surveillance state. The key point is that Douglass feels the paranoia of being watched. This is a common motif in Dick’s work. It is hit home powerfully in Time Out of Joint as Ragle Gumm realizes that he is the center of the world. When we are being watched, it is easy to assume that the reason we are being watched is because we are important. Perhaps this was the case in the early days of the security state. Tax collectors would only pursue you if you were rich. Spies would only search through your private documents if you were politically important. Before advanced communication technologies and computing, the state could not really afford to care much about what most of us did. This changed over the course of the twentieth century as we all got gradually placed into the grid. Now we are being watched whether we are important or not. Surveillance is too cheap and too automated.
Once Douglass understands that he is being targeted by the creatures in the sky, be specifically targeted with compelling pieces of bait, he concludes that it is because of his knowledge of physics. This is logical. No one else was being watched and he was one of the best scientists on the planet. Imagine his surprise when we learn that he was chosen because he was one of the plumpest. We can thus add another level to paranoia. Yes you are being watched, but this does not mean you are important. It is arrogant, in an age of mass surveillance, to think that just because you are the target of the state that you are of interest to them.
We get a small taste of theology here, where Jean Henderson suggests that the faces Douglass sees in the sky are the explanation for Hebrew and Greek mythology. Dick has done similar things in his early stories, finding explanations for religious beliefs. Unfortunately, once again Dick finds a naturalistic explanation but not one that we can take seriously as a preternatural cause of religious experiences. It is really no better than the ancient aliens hypothesis. It is too bad. Dick was interested enough in theology that have perhaps written some compelling explanations for religious experiences, but he never really follows through on that. In other words, if something like VALIS explained religious experiences, there would be much more evidence of that.