by Philip K. Dick
It has been nearly a decade since the world erupted into war, eight years since all of mankind descended to cities beneath the earth, as the toils of modern warfare had made the surface uninhabitable. No longer able to face each other on the battlefield, man has instead constructed advanced military androids dubbed 'leadys' to fight their battles for them above ground, where no living soldier could survive. Mankind has largely been relegated to a 'Rosie the Riveter' role, fueling the endless destruction taking place outside while the leadys do the dirty work, reporting back often with the latest news.
But what if these robots, mindlessly sacrificing themselves for the benefit of their nations, had been deceiving everyone all this time? An American crew, the first people to venture to the surface in eight years, is about to find out.
Science fiction stories often explore one of three types of worlds: the Utopia, the Dystopia, and the Inter-Planetary. Taking place exclusively on (and beneath) Planet Earth, "The Defenders" does somehow make our planet come across simultaneously as the first and the second--although both can be viewed as strictly illusory.
It's interesting to note that the robots here are not merely mindless drones carrying out the whims of their creators, nor are they out-of-control robo renegades in the role of the adversary--roles they usually fill in tales of a Utopia and a Dystopia respectively. Here they act as secret saviors of the human race, showing not the author's fear of technology, but the author's fear of mankind itself.
This short story was originally published in the January 1953 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. While written in a pulpy style suitable for the era and audience, author Philip K. Dick does show promise of the mastery he would eventually gain. While the blatant moral and anti-war posturing may be a turn off for some, those interested in the pre-history of the mind who brought us the source material for the hit films Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and Scanners may want to set aside a few minutes to give this fable a look. Even Dick himself must have been somewhat impressed with his own themes, as this story was expanded into a full-length novel entitled The Penultimate Truth approximately 11 years later.
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