The Adjustment Bureau (Original title: The Adjustment Team)
By Philip K. Dick
Published by Brilliance Audio
Read by Phil Gigante
This is yet another example of one of Philip Dicks stories that was picked up by “Hollywood” after his death and turned into a motion picture. I haven’t seen the movie, but from the synopsis I read it does not sound like anyone bothered to worry about sticking to the story. Then again I cannot be sure the screen writer(s) bothered to read the story, because other than the literal “Deus ex machina” of unseen agents manipulating us and adjusting our fates, the two have nothing in common. The movie got favorable reviews for the most part on IMDB.com, but I have learned not to rely on IMDB ratings.
Late Update: after writing this I did manage to see the movie and I was correct, it has very little in common with the story save that there is a higher power (who might be God and his angels) who adjust how things happen. After that, the two stories have nothing in common unless you care to say they were both ostensibly written in English.
However, let us only discuss the short story. Ed Fletcher is a real estate agent who, owing to a mistake in timing by members of the adjustment team (although I do not recall that the phrase is ever used in the story), arrives at work late that morning during a period of “Adjustment.” One gets the impression that such adjustments are going on all the time, but being caught up in them we just do not notice. In this case, Ed should have been caught up in the change, but, instead is an outside observer, seeing something he should not see – life there has stopped and everything seems to be made of gray ash. He rushes home and tells his wife but when they return to his office everything is normal again, except that he soon realizes that everyone and everything has changed in some way. He decides to tell the Police about this (I kept thinking, and they will lock him up in the nearest asylum) when “heaven” or someone steps in and… well, if I go any further I’ll have told the whole story.
It is not one of Dick’s best. His best include “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (aka Blade Runner), “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (aka Total Recall) and “A Scanner Darkly.” Maybe I like schlock, but I also enjoyed “Ubik.” I think this is a case in which the author left too much to the imagination. It’s only a short story and probably should have been at least a novella, if only to not just lay out a strange concept and then neatly tie it up with a quick explanation, but it does pose the interesting late-night discussion topic, do we have free will or are we controlled by fate?
I tend to side on the free will side of that argument, pointing out that I got past sophomore philosophy decades ago and even then was not fascinated with the concept of arguing points of an argument for which no answer could ever be proven. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Answer: the wild red junglefowl (Galus galus) which through domestication (possibly hybridized with the grey junglefowl (Galus sonneratii) became Galus domesticus… Before that, you ask? Well if we go back far enough there was this set primitive bacteria or something like that… I think that part is still being debated – it is hard to find virus fossils.
Anyway, it is an interesting concept even if it has not been properly developed and being only a short story, it won’t take you all that much time to read it.
I can only assume this was published as an overpriced audiobook because it was adapted into a movie. Brilliance makes sure on the cover that the word “Unabridged” is at least as large (and more easy to distinguish) than the title of the work. This is possibly because it takes nearly as long to read the cover as it does for Phil Gigante to read the story (57 minutes).
Mister Gigante does a passable job of reading the story, however. I did find his attempt to make Ruth sound like a woman sounded more like a man making fun of the way a woman might speak, but to be fair, I could not do as good a job. (I can review these things, but my own attempts to read out loud never satisfy me which is a major reason I have never volunteered to help out the Librivox guys.)
So it is a short story with and interesting concept which, sadly, reads like Phillip Dick mailed it in, but Phil Gigante managed to keep me listening interestedly throughout. I cannot, however, recommend buying a copy of it (starting at $9.95) but if you can find one in your local library or in the collection of a friend, you may find it an enjoyable hour.