Impostor (1953) by Philip K. Dick

From January to December 2016, I took part in a Philip K. Dick read-along hosted by Nikki of Bookpunks. The challenge was to read The Exegesis of P.K.D. accompanied by one of his novels each month. You can find the first of those posts here.


I won’t lie, The Exegesis was challenging to get through, but the 12 novels kept me going. They were so much fun, as well as being bonkers in a uniquely Dickian way. Well, reading those books has turned me into a PKD fan.

In 2017, I didn’t read anything by him. After a while, I started to miss his quirky worlds and mind-blowing ideas. I even missed his everyman characters and their – at times – unintentionally hilarious dialogue. (Or maybe it was intentional, only PKD knows).

So, this year I am going to read and review some of his 150-ish short stories, starting with this 1953 tale “Impostor”.


Impostor (1953) by Philip K. Dick

‘No one cares anymore. All they can think of is the war.’ (p.1)


Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1953, “Impostor” is an early short story by Dick. It is set on Earth during a war with ‘Outspacers’ from Alpha Centauri. Spence Olham has been working hard at ‘the Project’ and wants a vacation.

‘Everything seems so grim and serious, no color to life.’ (p.2)


Sharing a ride to work, Olham is suddenly arrested by the other two passengers: his friend Nelson and Major Peters. He is suspected of being a robot sent by the Outspacers to destroy the Project.

“But I’m Olham. […] Don’t you recognize me? You’ve known me for twenty years.” (p.6)


It’s a classic Dickian tale of paranoia, identity, trust, and the threat of the outsider. Olham is a man racing against time to prove he is who he claims to be. All he needs is proof, but will the others listen to him?

‘… everyone was willing to sacrifice the individual because of the group fear.’ (p.8)


Dick later wrote this about the story:

‘Here was my first story on the topic of: Am I a human? Or am I just programmed to believe I am human? When you consider that I wrote this back in 1953, it was, if I may say so, a pretty damn good new idea in sf. Of course, by now I’ve done it to death. But the theme still preoccupies me. It’s an important theme because it forces us to ask: What is a human? And — what isn’t.’


Below are some of the publications “Impostor” has appeared in. Thanks to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database – ISFDB – for some of the images!




Philip K Dick The Best of Philip K Dick





12 thoughts on “Impostor (1953) by Philip K. Dick

      • I first became interested in PKD in the early 1980s. Despite some Dick reprints being done in the wake of Blade Runner, I remember his books still being kind of hard to get a hold of. The local specialty store had some UK imports I bought (The Golden Man), and I recall buying some in these weird winter sales where somebody would rent a vacant grocery store for a couple of weeks and sell books. A lot of them seemed to be UK remainders.

        Once I got the Collected Stories, I didn’t see the need to buy any other PKD collections. As far as single volumes go, I’d probably opt for Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities though there are plenty of good PKD stories that don’t feature menacing machines.

        Liked by 1 person

    • (I meant to send this reply first but it got lost in the ether!)
      Yeah, me neither. The older PKD collections are very hard to find at a reasonable price. Back in the 90s, I struggled to find anything by him in English bookstores apart from VALIS and The Man in the High Castle. The first PKD book I bought was the original Blade Runner movie tie-in with the film poster cover. I didn’t know the story’s true title until I read it.


  1. Let me ask you some questions.
    1) Is “clearing” a pit (created by a fallen ship) or an open space in a forest (natural)?

    2) Is this a hole on the hillside?
    Because: “They stood around in a circle, staring down. On the ground, bent and twisted in a strange shape, was a grotesque form.”

    3) Where was the body of a real Olham? On the ground beside ship or inside ship?
    First mention: “It’s a needle-ship, all right. There’s something beside it.”
    And “On the ground, bent and twisted in a strange shape, was a grotesque form. It looked
    But later: “They were dragging the grotesque remains from the ship.”
    or “dragging from the ship” mean from the ship to peak of hill or somewhere?

    Thank you in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello. Thanks for your comment and questions.

      I’m not 100% sure but I guess that the needle ship crashed into the forest and made a crater, like a pit. The crash burnt some of the surrounding trees creating a clearing.

      When the men find the crashed ship, Olham’s body lies beside the ship, “bent and twisted”. They drag it away from the ship to examine it. At first they think it is the robot. But when they look closely they find a knife stuck in the body’s chest. Robot Olham doesn’t know he is the robot until this moment. Then, the bomb hidden inside his robot-body explodes.

      Hope that helps.


      • I’m very glad that you responded.

        I also think that the ship made a clearing. This is confirmed by the words: “broken trees”, “charred stumps”. The ship broke the trees.

        The crater is also believable. The two men went down to the ship, but they were not sure who was lying there. They did not come close to the ship, because the ship was in the crater.

        There is such a question: Did they all go down to the ship? Peters, Olham and the others. Apparently yes. «Olham came along with them. They stood around in a circle, staring down.» May be only Peters and two men?

        And finally: «The blast was visible all the way to Alpha Centauri.» It is amazing. U-Bomb is «a weapon which must destroy the entire planet if we are to believe that its flash would be visible 4.3 light-years away», as written in «Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations» edited by Samuel J. Umland.


        • Yes, it isn’t clear how many men went down to the ship. I think General Peters sends two “security men” to go and look. Then Peters follows them down. After that, Olham and Nelson go down, too. So they are all beside Olham’s “corpse” when the bomb detonates.

          It must have been a VERY powerful bomb to be seen from Alpha Centauri!

          Are you studying Philip K. Dick at university?


  2. >>> Are you studying Philip K. Dick at university?
    No. But I’ve been analyzing the last part of the story for two weeks already.

    I read the story in translation. Then I looked through the scan of Astounding magazine and realized that the translation was shortened. Some nuances simply disappeared or were distorted. (the last sentence of the story; there was no indication of the reason why the ship crashed and so on.) I read the original, but I did not understand some of the points. I began to look for what was written about the story. Found an article in Google Books ( The article helped me understand why Wikipedia is written about a planet-destroying bomb. (Although it’s hard to believe.) That’s why I was here. Get answers from someone who understands the original better than I do.


    • Hello. Thanks for your comment. The dictionary definition of “impostor” is ‘a person who deceives others, esp by assuming a false identity.’ After reading the story, we are left wondering which was the “real” Spence Olham. The one in the car at the beginning of the story or the one beside the ship at the end of the story. Which one do you think was the impostor?


  3. Pingback: Retrospective for 2019 | Who's Dreaming Who

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