Adjustment Team

"Adjustment Team" is a science fiction short story by American writer Philip K. Dick. It was first published in Orbit Science Fiction (September–October 1954, No. 4) with illustration by Faragasso.[1][2] It was later reprinted in The Sands of Mars and Other Stories (Australian) in 1958, The Book of Philip K. Dick in 1973,[1] The Turning Wheel and Other Stories (United Kingdom) in 1977, The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick in 1987 (Underwood–Miller), 1988 (Gollancz, United Kingdom), 1990 (Citadel Twilight, United States), Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick in 2002 and in The Early Work of Philip K. Dick, Volume One: The Variable Man & Other Stories in 2009.

"Adjustment Team" served as the basis for the 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau.

Synopsis

Sector T137 is scheduled for adjustment, and a Clerk is supervising a canine Summoner to ensure real estate salesman Ed Fletcher is inside Sector T137 during the process. An 8:15 bark to summon a Friend With A Car is needed. Unfortunately, a one-minute delay in the bark prompts the appearance of an Insurance Salesman, causing Fletcher to leave for work late. Arriving at Sector T137 after it has been de-energized, Fletcher enters a terrifying gray ash world. Escaping white-robed men, he flees across the street back to the everyday energized world outside Sector T137, fearing he's had a psychotic episode.

The Clerk is brought to the top-level Administrative Chambers to explain what went wrong to the Old Man, who decides to personally deal with this unusual situation and orders Fletcher "brought up here". Complicating matters further, Fletcher has told his wife Ruth about the experience. With Ruth accompanying him for moral support, Fletcher returns to his workplace to prove he has not experienced a full psychotic breakdown or seen behind the fabric of reality as he still fears. Things seem normal at first, and Ruth leaves, but he soon realizes people and objects have subtly changed. Panic stricken, he runs to a public phone to warn the police, only to have the phone booth ascend heavenward with Fletcher inside.

Meeting the Old Man, Fletcher first thinks he is dead, but is informed he is only visiting; that a correction was being made, it was a very serious error, he was not changed, and his revealing to others what he saw is a grave threat. "The natural process must be supplemented—adjusted here and there. Corrections must be made. We are fully licensed to make such corrections. Our adjustment teams perform vital work." In this instance, the adjustment is to bring about a chain of events that will lessen SovietWestern Bloc war tension. Fletcher is allowed to return without being de-energized and adjusted, on the condition that he tell no one the truth he has learned, and convinces his wife that everything he has already told her was due to a temporary psychological fit. The Old Man threatens him that should he fail doing so, he will have a terrible fate when they meet again; and he adds that every person eventually meets the Old Man.

On his return, Ruth catches him lying about where he spent the afternoon and demands he tell her the truth, while he tries to stall her long enough to come up with a story she will believe. A bark is heard and a vacuum cleaner salesman rings the doorbell. While Ruth is distracted by the salesman's demonstration, Fletcher escapes to the bedroom, where he shakily lights a cigarette and gratefully looks up, saying, "Thanks ... I think we'll make it—after all. Thanks a lot."

Critical commentary

The story has been described as Dick's "first tentative try" at Frederik Pohl's "tunnel under the world" theme, in which it is imagined that mundane existence is totally a product of unseen manipulators.[3] In Philip K. Dick and Philosophy, one critic saw the story as underscoring Dick's lifelong artistic concerns with "ethics, existentialism, and philosophy", saying that the story (and the film loosely based on it) were ultimately "about how to live".[4]

See also

References

  1. Levack, Daniel (1981). PKD: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography. Underwood/Miller. p. 81. ISBN 0-934438-33-1.
  2. Orbit (September–October 1954) contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  3. Richard D. Mullen, ed. (1992). On Philip K. Dick: 40 articles from science-fiction studies. SF-TH Inc. p. 9. ISBN 0-9633169-0-7.
  4. D.E. Wittkower, ed. (2011). "Matt Damon is a vast sinister conspiracy". Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Who Adjusts the Adjustment Bureau?. Open Court Publishing. p. 103. ISBN 9780812697346.
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