PHILIP K. DICK “The Defenders.” Novelet. First published in Galaxy SF, January 1953. First reprinted in Invasion of the Robots, edited by Roger Elwood (Paperback Library, April 1965). First collected in The Book of Philip K. Dick (Daw, paperback original, February 1973). Along with two of Dick’s other stories, “The Mold of Yancy” and “The Unreconstructed M,” the basis for his novel The Penultimate Truth (Belmont, paperback original, 1964).

   The story begins with a married couple unhappily having breakfast together. The war news is good, but there is an uneasiness to their conversation that suggests that not all is well. Gradually it is revealed they are several miles underground, and the war on the surface is being fought with robots (called leadies) on each side. Because of uncontrolled radiation, the Earth itself is uninhabitable.

   Strangely enough, the husband is called into his lab to learn that one of the leadies that has been brought down for a progress report is not radioactive after all. Baffled, a team including our protagonist is sent to the surface to investigate.

   I will not spoil your enjoyment of this story by telling you what they learn, but if you have read enough of Philip K. Dick’s work, I imagine you can guess what the twist is well enough on your own.

   Of course, though, that’s the point of the story, but what Dick also manages to do is describe living conditions not on, but inside the Earth so well that we, the reader, can feel the oppression of a life that is so subtly unbearable, although it has been made as palatable as technology can do it.

   It’s short for a novelette, only 25 pages long, but I think it was long enough to make a noticeable impression on SF readers of the day. My only personal unhappiness with it is that the ending seemed to me to be an overly happy one. To me, it was a case of too quick, too soon.