The Variable Man

Cover image for


Author: Philip K. Dick
Published: 1953
Language: English
Wordcount: 26,083 / 84 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 74.8
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 7,245
Added to site: 2010.04.28 27514

He fixed things—clocks, refrigerators, vidsenders and destinies. But he had no business in the future, where the calculators could not handle him. He was Earth’s only hope—and its sure failure!

Show Excerpt

thing," Fredman said feelingly.

"But the odds might change back," Margaret Duffe, President of the Council, said nervously. "Any minute they can revert."

"This is our chance!" Reinhart snapped, his temper rising. "What the hell's the matter with you? We've waited years for this."

The Council buzzed with excitement. Margaret Duffe hesitated uncertainly, her blue eyes clouded with worry. "I realize the opportunity is here. At least, statistically. But the new odds have just appeared. How do we know they'll last? They stand on the basis of a single weapon."

"You're wrong. You don't grasp the situation." Reinhart held himself in check with great effort. "Sherikov's weapon tipped the ratio in our favor. But the odds have been moving in our direction for months. It was only a question of time. The new balance was inevitable, sooner or later. It's not just Sherikov. He's only one factor in this. It's all nine planets of the Sol System--not a single man."

One of the Councilmen


Average Rating of 4 from 5 reviews: ****
Dai Alanye

Read this as a boy, only retaining the title and the thought it was pretty good. My tastes have changed, it seems, and now it strikes me as quite simplistic.

Paulo Respighi

Centaurus and Earth are at war, but because of computers and the time it takes to travel to the enemy, each weapon advance is predicted and a defense invented before the weapon can reach the enemy. So no weapons get built. They're just designed, and the information is sent to a computer to calculate the odds of victory. The odds are slowly getting better for the Earth, but then an accident pulls a 20th century fix-it man 200 years in the future, and the odds go haywire.

The fix-it man and the twisted villain are good characters, and the society seems reasonably oppressive. It's kind of a long story, but satisfying.

Henry L. Ratliff

(1953) Sci-fi (Planetary War) / Adventure

From 'Space Science Fiction' September 1953.

R: ****

Plot bullets

  • In the future, the Earth is at war.with a galaxy far, far away.

  • Earth has a a plan to defeat the enemy.

  • The battle plan can be put into effect when the predicting machine puts the odds in Terra's favor.

  • The odds look good, but that was before the man from the past came.

  • His presents is a variable: one the predicting machine cannot process.


Well, we're heading that way. Computers calculating the odds of winning a war, and governments reacting to constantly improve the odds. Earth in the future has discovered she is ringed in by the decadent Alpha Centauri empire which is stifling expansion. If the odds get good enough, Earth can attack Alpha and break out to expand. They are in the process of making a giant bomb to completely eliminate the Alphas. Odds are looking better with this bomb.
Into that mix comes an earth man from the past who is an idiot savant at fixing any electronic circuit and making it work. the computer war odds become confused by this "Variable Man." A giant furball erupts beween the government who wants to eliminate him to stabilize the odds, and scientists who want to protect and use him.

Good twist to the ending. A suspension of some disbelief is necessary to accept the uncanny talents of the variable man.


I'm used to these short stories being light on character development and med-heavy on fluff but this was one of those stories that caught me off guard. In short: dystopian future circa mid-2100s, Earth is trapped in its own galaxy by an ancient race, humans are perpetually geared for war with this race with the only restraint coming from a computer which calculates the odds of winning which is always against them...until a 20th century man is pulled from the past.

There are problems galore with this story - the whole time travel thing was a stretch, there were plenty of eyebrow raising moments (e.g. how much damage can a human take and still survive?) none of the main characters (other than maybe the villan) were well-developed and even then, few of them were very likeable. Still, it was an engaging story and one I'd recommend.

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