‘The Electric Ant’ by Philip K Dick

This is Philip K Dick’s most frightening short story. The terror in Dick’s stories comes from their solipsism, their narrative disjunctions, the cognitive dissonance that the reader must sometimes maintain in order to follow the plot as told. In ‘The Electric Ant’, the protagonist discovers first that he is an android(!), and second that there is a tape reel running between two bobbins in his chest. The tape, which is punched with holes, is read by a gadget; when a hole in the tape it passes through the reader, an object appears in the protagonist’s perception. The tape, it transpires, is the source – or more accurately limiting factor – of everything in his world. The story follows his experiments with the tape, until the point where he cuts it entirely. 

First published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1969. Collected in The Collected Short Stories of Philip K Dick, Vol 5: We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, Orion, 1987

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