“Second Variety” is a 1953 science fiction novelette by Philip K. Dick. It is about a post-apocalyptic American major who joins forces with a handful of Russians in order to eliminate robotic killing machines.
Killer Robots That Look Like Humans
Reading this story stirred up the same scary emotions I felt while watching the recent Battlestar Galactica series. I thought that was an excellent TV series, and it still ranks as one of my all time favorite science fiction stories from any medium. One of the coolest things about it was the fact that there were several Cylons who looked and acted just like humans – that is until they had a chance to take out some meat bags! It was kind of scary, actually – just like this excellent story from one of the masters of pulp science fiction.
Non-spoiler Summary in a Nutshell
Hendricks is the commander of a small American force stationed in the slag and ash of nuclear ravaged France. A few miles away is group of Soviet soldiers. And in between is an army of technological killers known as The Claws – merciless, bladed machines that were created to kill humans. When the Soviets send an emissary to propose a truce, Hendricks journeys out to see if they are serious. What he meets along the way is more disturbing than anything he has come in contact with before!
My Two Cents…
- I very much enjoyed the eerie and dis-trusting tone in this story. In fact it was so tense that I suspected everyone of being the Second Variety!
- The setting, while bleak and dreary, was still very cool. The remains of a nuclear ravaged Earth was perfect for this story.
- Yeah, it felt like a little bit of a stretch for the people in this story to trust each other so quickly – especially after being such bitter enemies for so long and all. But then I remembered that this story was written a long time ago, so I was a little more forgiving then. Just keep that in mind while you read it.
Interesting Tidbits About This Story:
- Page Count: 26
- Word Count: 15,062
- “Second Variety” was the winner of the 2004 Retro Hugo Award for Best Novelette of 1953..
- Did you know that in 1995 this story was made into a movie? Yep. Check out the trailer for Screamers.
Where You Can Find Second Variety:
- This story was originally published in the May 1953 edition of Space Science Fiction.
- You can read a free text version of this story at the Internet Archive.
- It has been included in many short story collections – but I read it in the excellent anthology: The Philip K. Dick Reader.
Craving More Stories?
If you liked “Second Variety” then you’ll probably also enjoy When Thorns Are the Tips of Trees by Jason Sanford.