“The Days of Perky Pat” was originally published in Amazing in December 1963. It can now be found in Minority Report and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 301–321. This is his third story published consecutively in Amazing, following “Stand-By” and “What’ll We Do With Ragland Park” in October and November 1963. This is a good showing in a magazine that did not publish his earlier efforts.
A group of “flunkers” (people who were born before the war) wakes up to the noise of careboys delivering aid packages to the Pinole fluke-pit. Sam Regan, Norman Schien, and Tod Morrison go to the surface to investigate what is in today’s packages. They are frustrated that the careboys from Mars just sustain their life rather than help them rebuild their civilization. They start to look among the packages for things that they can use in their layouts.
Timothy Schein is preparing to go hunting while complaining to himself about how his parents spend all of their time playing with Perky Pat dolls. He collects Fred Chamberlain to help him hunt. His parents are also playing Perky Pat. As they go out they notice that most of the relief parcels have been unclaimed by the adults. They are not interested in most of what is delivered. They wonder if the careboys know that their parents use the deliveries to play with dolls. They kill a rabbit and prepare it for sale.
Norman Schein complains about the way they are playing Perky Pat. She is having her doll charge too much for therapy. Helen Morrison explains that the therapist in the layout is a private analyst and should charge more than public group therapists. Schein, however, is comforted by playing the game. It allows him to relieve life before the war. He decides to keep playing.
Later the adults of the community discuss the introduction of a new doll for their layouts called Connie Companion, but it will require a rather harrowing journey to Oakland and everyone will need to pay money. This discourages them from going for it. Everyone needs the money for playing the game. That night Jean Regan attempts to convince her husband to get the Connie Companion doll. She thinks he resists because he is afraid to be embarrassed in Oakland because their layouts will be so much better.
Norman Schein is busy dismantling some computers delivered in the relief packages to get some gears for his Perky Pat layout. Fran Schein sends her husband to use a radio the Mayor has to contact the Oakland fluke-pit. Norman uses it to contact the Oakland community. They agree to play together after an initial meeting at the Berkeley fluke-pit, but warn Norman that they are serious players and that they better send their best player.
Norman returns from the initial Berkeley meeting and informs the Pinole fluke-pit that the Oakland players will risk Connie Companion but only if Pinole is willing to wager Perky Pat. Norman and Fran are sent to Berkeley for the game with an entire layout and Perky Pat. They notice that the Berkeley flukes also play with Perky Pat but they have more primitive layouts, without the handmade furniture of the Pinole layout. As the game begins, Norm is greatly impressed by how life-like Connie Companion is. She was made of wood, painted, and with real hair. She was not made of plastic like Perky Pat. As the game progresses, Norm and Fran are shocked that Connie and Paul (her companion) are living together and are married. They object because this gives them an unfair advantage in the game. Perkey Pat and Leonard start out dating. The layout makes it impossible for them to change their marital status, however. They proceed with the game in order not to forfit.
Timothy and the other children see Norm and Fran return victorious with a Connie Companion doll. They won by narrowly avoiding a tax lien on their home. To the excitement of the other flukers, they show that Connie was pregnant and they also won a new born baby. The others, however, are unwilling to accept this change and drive Norm and Fran out of the community. Timothy wants to go with his parents. Norm realizes that the problem is that the Oakland community is developing. Their doll got married and has children. The Pinole community is stuck in place by not having Perky Pat evolve.
“The Days of Perky Pat” is a wonderful and really shocking story. Dick got the idea for it by imagining that Barbie dolls seem to be created for use by adults. They act out adult lives, live in adult houses, and seem to have adult problems. Children seem more at home playing games that are actually teaching real life skills, rather than just play acting some ideal world. “The Days of Perky Pat” gives us two interrelated tragedies. The first is that the war psychological traumatized the people who survived it. The planet is devastated and their old way of life is impossible. In order to sustain their old way of life, the adults live out their old world in a game. The rules of this game are not clear, but it seems to be a combination of Barbie dolls and the board game Life. The goal is to be most successful as you act out the life cycle of Perky Pat (or some other doll). If you have the most money in the end, after taxes and visiting the doctor and all other parts of life, you win. The children, who do not remember life before the war are the ones actually working to sustain life and develop the planet, but lacking many of the skills the adults have they just hunt and scavenge.
The secondary tragedy is that developing the planet is a real possibility. The adults have skills that they show off when they disassemble the parts from the relief packages from Mars into parts for their layouts. The community we see most closely, the Pinole fluke-pit, is quite skilled at this. Most of the care packages are left to rot. Where we do see social development is only within the context of the game. The climax of the story comes when Norman and Fran Schein learn that their dolls can progress in life, get married, and have children. The adults are capable of development. They are not entirely stuck in the past, but still they can only imagine progress within the context of the game. The children are left mostly feral as a result. The efforts from Mars to develop the planet are squandered.
This story gives one of the clearest examples of what Dick saw the problem of basing our dominant institutions on the values of the older generation. However kind or well-meaning or creative they are, the elders are more often than not stuck in old ways of thinking. It does not take a nuclear war to see this. When we wonder why corporations cannot repair their attitude toward ecology, we cannot dismiss the fact that most corporations are run by people who grew up at a time when ecology was not a major concern. Most politicians cannot empathize with student debt, because in their day university education was pretty much free. It is easy to blame the “Boomers” for leaving a pretty shitty economic, political, and environmental situation for the younger generations to clean up. Perhaps not all of it is their fault, but it certainly seems that they are playing Perky Pat while the rest of us are struggling to survive at the margins. One lesson of “The Days of Perky Pat” is that even a catastrophic collapse (like a nuclear war or the 2008 economic meltdown) does not necessarily convince people to change their point of view. Often it reinforces it.
Wikipedia entry for “Days of Perky Pat.”
Philip K. Dick Fan Site review.
Note: This page gives this a 3/5 score, which I find bizarre. Although I do not rate these stories, I tend to generally agree with how they rank them, but I think they got this one wrong. 5/5 for me, and on the layout theme, better than The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.