“The War with the Fnools” was originally published in Galactic Outpost in the Spring 1964 issues. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 41–51.
Captain Edgar Lightfoot of the CIA gets news that the Fnools have come back and taken over the town of Provo. This time they have arrived as tiny real-estate salesman. The war with the Fnools has been raging for a long time. They have been trying to take over the Sol system, but as two or three foot tall creatures, they both look ridiculous and do not seem to carry much of a threat. The one talent that gives them an edge is their ability to copy human form.
A captured Fnool is brought before Lightfoot for questioning. The Fnool insists that he they will win victory over the Terrans. But while he makes his threat he never quite gives up his cover as a real-estate salesman.
Meanwhile, the Germans have received news of the Fnool attack and have prepared an anti-Fnool unit, made up of humans shrunk to less than a meter high. In the Soviet part of the world, plans were also being made to stop the Fnool invasion. But they also work on plans to put the captured Fnools to work or to even use them as special bridages.
Lightfoot is trying to convince the Fnool how silly their plan to invade Earth is. They seem not to notice that they are only two-feet tall and have little chance against the Terrans. He jokes that cigarettes make them grow. The Fnool tries the cigarette and he grows to four feet.
Major Hauk, who defeated the Fnools twice before, realizes that they will win this time and retreats to a bomb shelter with Miss Smith, a secretary in the CIA office. They go to the bomb shelter together, but Hauk leaves for a bottle of Scotch, promising to return immediately.
Lightfoot is with two captured Fnools. They head to Hauk’s office and Lightfoot beings drinking from a bottle of scotch. This allows a Fnool to steal his gun. Drinking the Scotch makes the Fnool six feet tall. Hauk arrives for his Scotch and saves Lightfoot. If they can grow the Fnools again, maybe they will lose their recently discovered advantage. If a cigarettes grows them, followed by a Scotch, what is next, they wonder. Their question is answered when an eight-foot tall Fnool leaves the bunker after having had sex with Miss Smith.
“The War With the Fnools” is a joke first and foremost. The punchline rests on a rather vulgar three-step move toward coitus. First one smokes a cigarette, the drinks a Scotch, and finally gets the girl. Each stage, elevates the size of the Fnools as if these three things are the steps to maturity. This has the result of possibly saving the Earth from invasion because the big weakness of the invading Fnools is that they are not the same size as the humans. After the three steps, the Fnools are eight feet tall, again easily noticed. Dick apparently thought it was time for the invasion of Earth to be taken a little less seriously. “The War With the Fnools” foreshadows Mars Attacks.
This story reminds us of “Explorers We” in the way that invaders do not seem to know how strange and awkward they look. In this case, they see a real-estate salesman, put on the clothes of a real-estate salesman and think that they will fit it, but are completely oblivious to the fact that they still look ridiculous. I suppose this type of thing plays a major role in many cross-cultural encounters. Someone goes to another country, tries to fit in by speaking some of the local language or dressing like a local, but is nevertheless immediately identifiable as an outsiders. (Maybe drinking and sex is the key to assimilation.)
I have not said much on this blog about Dick’s sexism and I suppose it is time. As is well known, Dick often presented wives and ex-wives as abusive, adulterous, and exploitive. Other women are background characters that exist for the sexual gaze of the male protagonists. (Given that these male characters are not always sympathetic, this is not necessarily bad.) Dick sometimes wrote female characters that were well-developed. Some of the early short stories on adultery were very good at presenting sympathetic and complex women (the men in those stories often became 2-dimensional). That said, “The War of the Fnools” is Dick at his worst in this regard. Miss Smith is the secteraty in the CIA office. She makes the men around her uncomfortable because of her large breasts. She is scolded for how she dresses and told to wear a swaddle around them. I suppose this could be a fairly realistic portrayal of the sexism in a 1950s or 1960s office, but as the story develops we see Miss Smith stays in her role as a sexualized other. She first attracts the gaze of Hauk, who wants to hide in the bunker with her as a pretense for a tryst. Finally, she have sex with a Fnool after only a few moments together in that same bomb shelter. In her longest spoken sentence she talks about how weak and unprotected she feels without a man to protect her. What worries me is that Dick so easily succumbed to the sexism of his era, and it is really too bad. This story could have been told from Miss Smith’s perspective—given her ultimately central role in possibly saving the world—and could have been a much more interesting exploration of sexual freedom. It may have made it a much better dirty joke too.