“The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree” was written in 1977, but not published in Dick’s lifetime. It appeared first in the Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 307–313.
Joe Contemptible is woken up by Mr. Bed by being thrown onto the ground. He is later given women’s clothing to wear from Mr. Closet. Mr. Coffeepot gives him a mug of soap suds. Mr. Door does not let him leave for his office. It seems that Mr. Computer is have problems again. Perhaps he has been reading Phil Dick stories. Joe Contemptible thinks about what a bad idea it was to begin running everything from a central computer. This is not the first time the system broke down. They were promised such efficiency and ease. When Mr. Computer breaks down and has one of its psychotic episodes, Joan Simpson, who is kept in a permanent state of immortality listening to radio soap operas, can repair it. He reads the newspapers, which reports on Hitler becoming pope and waits for Simpson to fix things and bring the system back to normalcy.
Fred Doubledome and Dr. Pacemaker are working on the computer while they wait for Ms. Simpson. Mr. Computer states that its real name is Tom Sawyer. Doubledone is amazed that the only really sane person on the planet (because she avoids the automated system) is so beautiful. Simpson quickly deduces that Mr. Computer experienced a trauma. She finds the letters J.C. associated with someone going to a DNA programmer to die. This J.C. works at a record store and is an expert on German Lieder he bubblegum rock.
Joe Contemptible escaped his apartment via the window and is soon stopped by police. He is introduced to Ms. Simpson. Simpson asks Joe why he wants to die. Joe suggests there are feeling of inadequacy based on his childhood. She explains that Mr. Computer likes him and is taking his suicide traumatically. Simpson decides to try to heal Joe Contemptible instead of Mr. Computer and tells the authortiies that she will no longer wait at the center of the Earth to periodically treat Mr. Computer. Joe worries that this life is too boring at the record store, but Simpson assures him that it has already gotten more interesting.
“The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out of Its Tree” is a very powerful story and perhaps one of the clearest examples we get in his stories of Dick providing a clear answer to the problem of automation. He could have written yet another story about humans foolishly creating an automated system, only to have it break down catastrophically. Here, the malfunctions are mostly humorous (some that are spoken of are more serious). What really matters to us as readers is the punchline, where Joan Simpson decides to stop trying to treat (repair) the automated system and instead work on healing a single human being. The entirety of human existence has been automated so there is no need for human interactions anymore. Mr. Doubleday suggests that all of humanity has been driven insane by living under this system. Only Joan Simpson remains immune from this creeping insanity. They are in desperate need of therapeutic help, but the only person equipped to treat them is assigned to treating Mr. Computer, maintaining the system that is driving everyone mad.
Mr. Computer is a wonderful metaphor for Lewis Mumford’s “The Machine,” the total suppression of human individuality to institutional and mechanical organizations. The response to “The Machine” is the rebuilding of human interactions, one at a time as needed. This answer is there throughout all of his works, but here it is presented with clarity and elegance. It is a shame he never sent it out for publication. Maybe it was saving it as a personal reflection.
Philip K. Dick Fan Site review.