Philip K Dick
Based on Story - Imposter
Story Version Notes
The original Imposter story was around 15 pages long, so a medium length short story. It opens with Spencer Olham, a high level scientist, saying goodbye to his wife, Maya. Spencer works on weapons to defeat an alien attacker that is attacking Earth. Spencer is picked up by a friend, Nelson, to go to work. It turns out that Nelson and Major Hathaway, a CIA type, both feel that Spencer is a robot "replacement" made by the aliens in order to infiltrate and destroy the weapons lab.
Nelson and Hathaway take Spencer to the moon to destroy him, but Spencer pretends he IS a robot about to explode and manages to escape back to earth in the confusion. Spencer is convinced he's a human (of course) and calls his wife to ask for a doctor to come to the house, to prove it with tests. However when he gets to the house, the cops are already there. Spencer realizes that the supposed alien robot must have crash-landed in a nearby wood and heads there to find the robot, to prove it never switched with him. He leads the cops there and soon Spencer, Nelson and Hathaway are indeed at the crashed alien ship. Spencer feels this will prove he's innocent - but instead of finding a robot beside the ship, they find Spencer's dead human body. Spencer realizes that this means he IS the robot after all, and this triggers him to explode. The blast is seen on Alpha Centari.
Lisa's Reaction to the Story Version
This was a great story - you really understand Spencer's fear of being killed for no reason. He talks about how people get paranoid and make mistakes protecting themselves in extreme situations. He understands why Nelson and Hathaway are so paranoid and is doing his best to prove to them that he is in fact just a human. It's an interesting thought that a robot could be created with all the memories of the human so the human doesn't realize he is a robot. Spencer's idea to pretend to be a robot to enable his escape is quite good.
You have to wonder why Hathaway doesn't have some way to "test" Spencer to prove he's human or not. Hathaway says that Spencer has a trigger phrase to "set off the bomb" - so why not just tape shut Spencer's mouth, plug his ears and then test him in safety before destroying him? Especially if Hathaway is an important scientist in the effort, the aliens could in essence wipe out the progress of Earth by just pretending to target all of the scientists involved in warfare with these robots. If there's a bomb in Spencer powerful enough for the blast to be seen in Alpha Centauri, undoubtedly some sort of test will spot it.
Which brings me to my second concern. This blast sounds like it tears apart the earth. So why bother having all this deception with robots and replacements and trigger phrases? The robot obviously landed on earth and made the switch. So why not just land and explode? It hardly sounds like the explosion had to be right IN the lab. In fact the explosion in the end takes place right next to the ship where it landed. So why didn't the robot just explode when it landed and have done with it? If they'd said that the blast missed its target, that would make more sense. But to say at the end that the blast was a world-shattering event makes the rest of the aliens' motives seem silly.
Movie Version Notes
The movie version of Imposter came out in 2002, and starred Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe. Tony Shalhoub was Spencer's friend, Nelson. In the movie version, Spencer is accused of trying to kill the leader of the Earth people, not just blow up a lab. He is then just taken to a room in the weapons facility for the destruction - in this case it's a hugely painful ripping out of the heart. Once again, Spencer pretends to be a robot to escape but sadly in this version he is forced to kill his friend, Nelson on the way out. In this version Maya is a doctor, and there's a whole story about the poor people who are forced to live outside the protective shells and live an awful live because of this invasion.
Spencer gets a person from this undground to help him get into the hospital, gets his hands on his medical records and runs a full body scan to prove he's human. Unfortunately, the machine gets stuck around his heart level (where the supposed bomb is) and he has to run out. He ends up heading out to the woods where the alien spacecraft is, and ends up there with Hathaway. Once again, they find the dead body, and Spencer realizes he is a robot. But in this twist, there's *also* the body of his wife there - they are BOTH robots. Spencer explodes, and the movie ends with footage of the two robot versions making love that morning, neither of them aware that they were robots.
Lisa's Reaction to the Movie Version
This movie was not loved by critics, but if you read the story I think you really see that the movie did a GREAT job with it. The critics usually picked on the special effects, but the story is about Spencer and his quest to prove he's human before Hathaway kills him. It's not really about special effects. I think Gary Sinise does a great job of playing a smart scientist who isn't a "superhero" or spy or anything else, but who is caught up in this paranoia and tries to find a rational way out of the trap he's in. Just like in the story, he understands the paranoia and why it's there, and approaches it all logically. The idea of the poor underclass having been locked out of the shield area, and the shielded area being so high class and gorgeous, was a great one. Very much like Metropolis. The technology to ID people is very realistic especially in a war-time situation.
However, a few complaints. First, they ARE in war-time and have very real threats from aliens. Therefore, if people were wandering around WITHOUT the ID tags, they should be immediately caught. Any time there was a turnstile and Spencer showed up as "no ID", alarms should have sounded. In the underground they should have put a fake person's ID into him instead of just removing the original one and leaving him without any. Second, we have the same sort of issue as we had with the story - namely, if Spencer exploding out in the woods was "good enough" to kill the Chancellor, what was the point of making 2 robots? However, I don't think the movie actually implies that the Chancellor WAS in danger from that blast. Because it was in the woods, it did kill Hathaway and his crew, but I think the Chancellor was safe.
Also, again, if Spencer was a high level weapons person, they shouldn't kill him "just in case". They should test him and find out if he has a bomb in him. I suppose you could say the aliens had such great technology that it would evade all tests. But heck, tape his mouth and ears shut and try a few things, just to see. The ability to test people would be invaluable for future robot detection.
What I *love* about the movie is the ending. This isn't just a "boring story" that then ends and you say "Oh well." It added TWO extra twists on top of the original story, which is quite amazing. First, there's the twist that the wife was ALSO a robot, so it wasn't just Spencer that was mislead. Maya had all the loyalty and love and chapel discussions about faith, all while being a robot. Second, the final shot of the two 'robots' making love was simply brilliant. The two robots fully and totally loved each other and made love together. But both were just running memory tapes of the dead humans. Does that mean the robots *didn't* love each other? Or does it mean they loved each other just as fully as the humans had, because they had the same set of memories? I think that was a fascinating insight that Dick never went into.
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Imposter is in the Selected Stories book from Amazon.com
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