Oh, To Be a Blobel!

Story Background
“Oh, To Be a Blobel!” was originally published in Amazing in February 1964. It can now be found in Minority Report and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 359–373.

cover

Plot Summary
George Munster goes to see an automated therapist—Dr. Jones—about his rather unique problem. Munster is a decorated veteran from the war against the Blobels. The Blobels emigrated to the Sol system and eventually ran into conflicts with Terra. Munster is unmarried but has a big problem. To become a secret agent against the Blobels he had to take their form.

At home he decides he did not get much from his meeting with the robotic therapist. He still converts to Blobel form twelve hours a day. This keeps him from getting a job or a wife and forces him to live on a veteran’s dole. It has been this way for over a decade, since the war ended. He gets a phone call from Dr. Jones. He suggests he has a solution to Munster’s problem. He goes to the office the next day.

Dr. Jones introduces Munster to a pretty woman named Miss Vivian Arrasmith. Jones explains that the women is a Blobel spy captured during the war. She cannot return to Blobel society on Titan because she converts to human form eighteen hours a day. Jones computes that they share the human form six hours a day.

Years later, Dr. Jones is questioned about the marriage between Arrasmith and Munster. Although not illegal, it has resulted in four children: one Blobel, one human, and two hybrids. Making matters worse, the marriage is breaking up

The main problem in the Munster marriage was that Vivian made more than George. Having children made matters worse. Vivian wants George to spend more time with the Blobel child. The first child—the Blobel—made George feel like a failure. The hybrid children are not much better, which George still sees as aliens. George starts to think that to save his marriage he should move to Titan. George has become a rather wealthy businessman but he is unhappy in his marriage. Eventually he found a more mundane solution. He got a mistress.

His mistress, Nina, is also a former Blobel spy. He tries to convince Vivian that they should emigrate to Io. Vivian does not want to and divorce proceedings begin. Dr. Jones calls again. George tells Jones how he had a fourth child on its way, who should be a full-blooded Terran. Jones volunteers as a couple consular, but George assures him that the marriage is over and that he is having a relationship with another Blobel. Later, George gets news that if he wants his business to expand to Io, he must become a citizen, which means becoming a Blobel.

Vivian goes to see Dr. Jones for more advice. She reveals that she underwent therapy and is now a human 24-hours a day, but George has already left.

On Io, George has completely converted to being a Blobel.

Analysis
With “Oh, To Be a Blobel” Philip K. Dick returns to the theme of family and adultery. This is a theme that he loved to explore in his novels and stories, but is rarely presented as clearly and powerfully as in this story. The feeling in the story is the utter impossibility of two people to really know each other. We are liquid but our institutions (such as marriage) are solid. At the climax of this story, Vivian has converted to being a human full-time, while George has converted to being a Blobel full-time. I wonder how often this happens in marriages. People break up because they are too different and years later they are either more alike than ever, or have swapped positions. This is what happens in the Tennessee Williams play “Summer and Smoke,” and it happens here.

As Dick explains, this novel was about war and the requirement in war to become like your enemy in order to be victorious. “We had beaten Germany, but both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were getting more and more like the Nazis with their huge police systems every day. [. . .] Look what we had to become in Viet Nam just to lose, let alone to win; can you imagine what we’d have had to become to win?” (379) However, the story also speaks to us about the crisis in the family and the seeming inability of people in intimate relationships to understand each other and create meaningful lives. Mendal’s law, giving George 2 hybrid and one alien child, reminds us of the utter unfamiliarity we all have with the ones we love in this liquid world.

We can also read “Oh, to Be a Blobel!” in terms of Dick’s career-long dialog about monogamy and the alienation within the most fundamental institution of modern culture: the family. When we first read of the psychiatrist’s plan to ensure that the two hybrids spent several hours each day in the same form, we are perhaps reminded that in the dual-income family, to spend so much time together per day is a luxury few of us enjoy. Indeed, George Munster and his wife seem almost lucky (or unfortunate depending on our perspective) to have so much quality time. In this reading, George’s time as a Blobel is akin to the normal bourgeoisie participant in the modern economy’s time at work. It is spent away from loved ones and involves great and perpetual alienation from family, but is no small part of that man’s consciousness and identity. When he chooses to spend his entire life as a Blobel, instead of dealing with the profound crises within his own family, chooses to invest himself fully into this other identity, much like how individuals abandon their family for the more secure, predictable, and understood environment of the workplace.

Resources
Wikipedia page on “Oh, To Be a Blobel!”

Philip K. Dick Fan Site review.

Another bloggers review.

A great piece of fan art based on this story.

An attempt at dramatizing the story.

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About tashqueedagg

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

4 Responses to Oh, To Be a Blobel!

  1. essexric says:

    It was a difference of appearance that started the conflict with the Blobels.Only by becoming them,did we realize that “we” could relate to them empathically,and enable “us” to “mingle” with them,even though we defeated them.The protagonist has a crises of identity however,due to his habitual shape shifting and doubts about his humanity because of the abstraction he experienced.It is also compounded by the dubious nature of his offspring.Humanism seems vague and indefinable.Lord Running Clam and the human characters in “Clans of the Alphane Moon”,have no difficulty empathizing with each other it seems,because obvious physical differences,are not an issue.

    The same problems exist in the modern family you mention,that of alienation.The familial warmth that should coexist,such as close contact and caring,is being eroded away as simple human values are being replaced it appears,by a more autonomous lifestyle that prevents human interaction.The issues with empathy I mentioned in OTBAB,are pertinent here.

  2. Simon Wright says:

    I always wondered if Dick used the thinly veiled “Gift of the Magi” set-up as a nod to the O’Henry endings that seemed almost formula for mainstream sci-fi anthologies (“Twilight Zone” comes to mind) at the time.

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