“Stand-By” was originally published in Amazing in October 1963. It can now be found in Minority Report and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 323–338.
Jim Briskin, news broadcaster, receives reports from the president, Unicephalon 40-D, that an alien flotilla is 800 astronomical units from Earth is arriving. With his secretary, he discusses how to soften the horrifying report. He finds his answer in another report, on the death of Old Gus Schatz, a sub-President (the one who handles things if Unicephalon breaks down).
Maximilian Fischer gets news that he has been selected by the union to be the next sub-President. He does not want the job, but the union threatens his pension, so he heads to the White House. On the way, a union official tries to explain what he will do as sub-President, which consists mostly of keeping Unicephalon company. At the White House, Fischer is immediately informed of a scheduled interview with Jim Briskin. At the interview, Briskin asks if he is worried about the weight of the job, about his health, and other trivialities. Before the interview is complete, they are pre-empted by Unicephalon to report that the flotilla has started attacking.
A day later, the alien fleet has disabled Unicephalon, forcing Fischer into the position of President of the United States. Fisher begins meeting with his advisors, before seeing the public at a press conference. Jim Briskin asks if Fischer can handle the job (now a more serious conversation). Fisher threatens Briskin with arrest and the shutdown of his network.
Fisher and his advisors discuss plans for the counter-attack. Meanwhile Briskin is putting pressure from the outside demanding an election, since Fisher was not voted in. Briskin himself decides to run for the office. The counter-attack, his military advisors assert, will be a success.
Before the election, Briskin saturates the networks with his programs. Fisher is told that Briskin is broadcasting from deep in space and it will be impossible to shut down his media campaign. Fisher prepares to assassinate Briskin when the time is right.
With a faked studio audience, Briskin states his position against Fisher. He accuses Fisher of over reaching his authority when Unicephalon was disabled. Fisher is replacing the “homeostatic” and logical rule of the computer when his personal and self-interested policies. Fisher decides that Briskin is right and decides to step down, but not before assassinating his competitor and choosing a better replacement. Just as he is about to give the order by phone, communications are shut down.
Unicephalon preempts Briskin’s television program to cancel the election. It also orders Briskin to be “politically silent” in the future, a devastating mandate for a television reporter.
Fisher is still stand-by President but regrets he did not hold off on the Unicephalon repairs for longer. He rather enjoyed making decisions. On the television Jim Briskin is back on the air, commenting on the FBI despite Unicephalon’s gag order.
“What’ll We Do With Ragland Park” is a direct sequel to this story, published in the very next issue of Amazing. I will analyze them together.
Philip K. Dick Fan Site review.
Note: How they say this was later adapted into A Crack in Space is beyond me. Only the name Jim Briskin survives into that underappreciated novel, and it is an entirely different character. Its 3/5 review underrates this story as well.