The name Philip K Dick emerges quite frequently in any debate over the identity of the world's greatest science fiction author. Consider, then, the claim that Dick short stories are actually a more impressive achievement than his novels. Excessive, you say? I think it's true. Dick's one hundred-odd stories contain at least one mention of most of the ideas that shaped modern imaginative fiction. As such, the five-volume collection of his stories, of which "Beyond Lies the Wub" is the first volume, must be centerpiece of any serious scifi collection.
Dick's prose is never lavish, but always plain and workable. In a sense this merely disarms us, as we don't expect such wondrous invention from apparently normal writing. Aside from that limitation, however, these stories range over everything imaginable: from fantastic to prosaic, from the present time to far future settings, and from horror to tragedy to light-hearted wry humor. Two of the best comedy stories in this volume feature Dr. Labyrinth, a kooky inventor who sees problems and solutions quite differently from the rest of the human race. In "The Preservation Machine", he invents a method for converting musical works to animals, so as the great classical masterpieces can have better odds of survival in a Darwinian world. In "The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford", he discovers that inanimate objects will come to life if they are sufficiently irritated. "The Preservation Machine" ends with the discovery that the struggles of a dog-eat-dog world have transformed the works of Bach and Schubert into hideous bits of cacophany, a prime example of how even Dick's humorous tales are not without their bite.
On the horror end we have "Colony" and "Meddler". In "Colony", a exploration team on a new planet finds that murderous blobs of protoplasm are capable of imitating any inanimate object. As Dick himself says is the end notes: "The Ultimate in paranoia is not believing that everyone is out to get you, but rather that everything is out to get you. "Meddler" tells the tale of reckless engineers who build a mirror scoop for observing the future. Regrettably, their own observations guarantee that the future will be a worse place. How can this be? Dick explains the enigma in high style.
Among the more solid hard sf stories is "Mr. Spaceship". An elderly professor agrees to have his brain donated to a cause; it will be installed as the command unit for a spaceship, where its intelligence will allow it to navigate alien minefields. However, the titular vessel has plans of its own, and may prove capable of outwitting both the humans and the aliens. It's a fine example of Dick's faith in individual cleverness against the mass stupidity of government, bureaucracy and corporatism.
It's hard to pick a best story from such a volume; it's a classic case of 'they're all so good'. Top honors would have to go to "The Little Movement". A bizarre old man sells toy soldiers to unsuspecting children. But who's really in charge of the operation, and how can such a sinister scheme be stopped? In second place comes "Nanny", a triumph of wicked humor and shrewd observations of human nature. Mechanical nannies are sold to suburban families, but (as always) there's more going on than meets the eye. In this one, Dick correctly anticipated how parental obsession with child safety would come to overrule common sense.