The Last of the Masters
Infobox short story |
name = The Last of the Masters
Philip K. Dick
country = flag|USA
language = English
published_in = "
Orbit Science Fiction" No.5
media_type = Print (
pub_date = Nov.–Dec. 1954
"The Last of the Masters" (aka "Protection Agency") is a
science fiction noveletteby Philip K. Dick. It was published by Hanro Corporationin the final issue of " Orbit Science Fiction" in 1954. The story was written as early as a year prior, as the original manuscript was received by the Scott Meredith Literary Agencyon July 15, 1953.cite book |title=To The High Castle: Philip K. Dick, A Life 1928-1962 |last=Rickman |first=Greg |authorlink=Greg Rickman |coauthors= |year=1989 |publisher=Fragments West /The Valentine Press |location= |isbn=0-916063-24-0 |pages=451 ] It has since been reprinted in several short story collections, beginning with "The Golden Man" in 1980. Primarily based on a theme of anarchism, the story includes several philosophical dialogues on various topics.
"The Last of the Masters" depicts a society 200 years after a global anarchist revolution has toppled all other nations. The exact year is unknown. Civilization has stagnated due to the loss of scientific knowledge and industry during the now legendary revolt. Elsewhere, the last government, a highly centralized and efficient society, is in hiding from "The Anarchist League", a global militia preventing the recreation of any government. Three agents of the Anarchist League, Edward Tolby, Silvia Tolby, and Robert Penn, are sent to investigate rumors of the pocket state's existence. The government arranges their deaths, leading to the death of one and the capture of another. Tensions rapidly escalate after the state realizes the third has escaped. Assuming he will report the state's existence, the government mobilizes for
total war. In actuality the surviving anarchist attempts to assassinate the head of state: the last surviving "government robot", Bors. The story concludes with a dialogue between the two surviving anarchists, who discuss the pros and cons of their society.
Bors, a 200-year-old "government integration robot", and the last in existence, awakens after a routine maintenance check to learn that his motor system is in a state of decline. He is informed by Fowler, a personal mechanic, that he will be paralyzed in under a year. Of his entire body, only five "synapse coils" have not yet begun to degrade. These memory units are irreplaceable due to the loss of skilled technicians and rare components needed to recreate them. Bors is immediately established as an utterly necessary figure in his society, and is quickly pressed back into service as the leader of the government.
Elsewhere, Edward Tolby, his daughter, Silvia Tolby, and their friend, Robert Penn, are wearily traveling on foot down a dirt road. The three are members of "The Anarchist League", and are on a mission to investigate rumors of a government in existence near a remote mountain valley. On route, they arrive in a small rural town and stop at a local bar. The tavern is littered with ancient, decaying gadgets, the last remnants of the era of governments and
high techsociety, which none of the locals know how to fix or reproduce. Excited by the strangers, locals ask about the League. Tolby answers their questions in turn, ending with an explanation of the timeline of events which led up to the great revolt. The event is summarized as to have begun following several revolts in Hungary and France, which overthrew their respective governments. After France existed for a month free of government, [The writing of this story preceded the events of May 1968, loosely predicting it by 15 years.] millions joined the cause, now identified as anarchist, to disarm the nuclear powers. At each toppled government center millions of records were burned and government integration robots were destroyed. The result of those events is manifest as a world of anachronistic high-technology, interspersed in a pre-industrialized, agrarian culture.
The trio is invited by Laura Davis, a local, to sleep at her home for the night. They ride with her and her alleged husband, Pete, who barrels the car off the road. The event had been a staged, as Laura and Pete were spies ordered to kill the trio. Laura and her partner are killed instantly, as is Penn. Silvia is badly injured and unconscious. Tolby is also knocked unconscious. Tolby awakens in the car wreck, having survived the tragedy largely unscathed, and pulls Silvia free of the car just as a patrol of military scouts arrive aboard a jet. After a brief attack by Tolby, the scouts panic and retreat, taking Silvia captive with them. After rearming himself, Tolby strikes out in pursuit to rescue his daughter.
Bors is alerted to the situation. Learning that of a three member team of anarchists, one has escaped, he overreacts and initiates plans for a
war economy. Green and Bors debate the threat represented by the League. Green argues that the anarchists are too disorganized to represent a unified threat, while Bors points out that their disorganization is not a substantial weakness in light of their sheer numbers and determination. Bors decides to question Silvia and meets her in hospital room. He reveals to her the story of his escape during the collapse of governments and the establishment of the pocket state. Silvia struggles to her feet and assaults Bors, then attempts an escape. She is detained by guards and Bors returns to his office.
Tolby infiltrates the mountain valley, and after killing and outmaneuvering inexperienced soldiers, Tolby arrives at the government center and encounters Fowler. Fowler alludes to his personal inability to harm Bors, but states "it's got to be done." He directs Tolby and spurs him onward. Tolby rushes past several check points and confronts Bor's final defender, Peter Green. Green is killed by Fowler, who directs Tolby on again. Alone, Tolby confronts and kills Bors, only to realize after the fact that the robot was crippled, which shocks and dismays him. The building immediately falls into confusion as the citizens of the city react with hysteria and grief; a condition that it is implied to spread outward to the troops in the hills, resulting in mass
desertion. Tolby is no longer resisted in the confusion, and reunites with Silvia. Silvia questions if killing Bors and disrupting the society was the right thing to do, noting their advanced technology and efficient industries. Tolby counters that while the outside world lacks this productivity, the system relied on war to protect itself. They both resolve that the debate is moot, as Bors is dead and the system will decay without his knowledge, and that time was against him. The story ends with Fowler observing them as he secretly keeps three remaining synapse coils, "just in case the times change."
Characters in "The Last of the Masters"
The following is a list of the main characters of "The Last of the Masters", and the groups to which they hold allegiance.
The pocket state
The world's last government is a pocket state, hidden in a remote mountain valley. The state is tightly centralized around the world's last government robot, Bors, and bureaucratically managed for optimum efficiency in all sectors of the economy and military. The effect is "an accurate and detailed reproduction of a society two centuries gone." The reproduction is also complete with advanced technology found nowhere else on earth, such as futuristic jets and hand-held "vidscanners". All of the details, blueprints, and plans for the society were designed with the data contained within Bor's memory units, and as such, the entire society is totally dependent upon his leadership.
; Bors: The title character, Bors is the last "government robot", an artificially intelligent machine who displays a degree of emotion and even psychological complexity. Described as male, he was damaged and in transport for repairs when the anarchist revolution began 200 years prior, allowing him to survive in hiding. Within his memory banks he holds the last records of advanced science and technology, using them to guide his society at high efficiency. Bors is a benevolent dictator, operating according to utilitarian principals. Though he wields hegemonic control over his society, he views his dictatorship as the last bastion of humanity's scientific progress, and views himself as a guardian who oversees and protects it. His body has begun to break down due to his age: his legs no longer work, and his motor system will be irreparable in a matter of months, causing full paralysis to take place in under a year. The only part of his body which has survived the wear of time are five irreplaceable "synapsis-coils", which store his vast knowledge of science. This causes him to privately despair that he will soon die, taking this knowledge with him. He also becomes increasingly paranoid, fearing to trust a loyal assistant, Peter Green. The only human he confides in is Fowler, his personal mechanic.
; Fowler: A personal assistant and mechanic to Bors, Fowler is a duplicitous and pessimistic figure. He privately recognizes that his society is stagnant and that its leader is becoming mentally unbalanced. He expresses cynicism regarding the subservient role humans in his society play to Bors. When Edward Tolby infiltrates the government headquarters, he chooses to betray Bors. Acknowledging that he couldn't personally kill Bors, but that "it's got to be done", he directs Tolby, kills Peter Green, and finally stands aside to let Tolby kill Bors. In the final scene of the story, Fowler secretly salvages three "synapsis-coils" from Bor's wreck, "just in case the times change."
; Peter Green: An assistant to Bors, Peter Green is among the few humans trusted to oversee his body while it is unconscious for repair. Though loyal to his leader, Bors becomes increasingly paranoid and begins to distrust Green. When Bors overreacts to the threat posed by the Anarchist League, Green insists that they are too disorganized to be of threat, but fails to convince Bors. Green's loyalty is ultimately proven when he stands as Bors' last defense against Edward Tolby, dying in the effort.
; Laura Davis: An undercover scout for the government, Laura lives in a small town 30 miles from the mountain valley that hides the pocket-government. When the Anarchist League sends three agents to investigate rumors its existence, she is ordered to engineer their deaths in a car wreck. Laura does so, but ironically she and her partner are also killed in the collision.
The Anarchist League
"The Anarchist League" is a global organization dedicated to seeking out and destroying governments. Established at some unknown point during or after the global revolt, they are organized around "League Camps", which dot the landscape. Members of the League are easily recognized by their "ironite staffs": metallic walking sticks which they are trained in using as weapons. These tools are a symbol of the League, "the walking Anarchists who patrolled the world on foot, the world's protection agency." In order to perpetually continue this nomadic lifestyle, League members receive social benefits. They are not required to pay any form of "tax"; can receive products and services for free by providing proof of membership to the League; and are generally highly respected and admired as the guardians of society. In order to join the League, recruits must pass an examination focusing on their knowledge of history and politics.
; Edward Tolby: An agent of the Anarchist League, Edward Tolby is the father of Silvia Tolby, and friend of Robert Penn. The trio are sent to investigate rumors of a government still in existence near a mountain valley. Upon entering a small town, Tolby provides exposition into the
alternate historyof the story. His story telling attracts the attention of Laura Davis, who schemes to kill the agents in a car wreck. As the only conscious survivor, Tolby kills three military scouts before the soldiers can execute Silvia, but fails to rescue her as they retreat back to their city. Alone, Tolby sneaks past the rapidly mobilizing army of the state. Upon reaching the government center, he is aided by Fowler, defeats Peter Green, and assassinates Bors. Having assassinated Bors, he is dismayed to realize the robot was crippled and expresses genuine sympathy for it. He then rescues Silvia. The story concludes with a discussion between Tolby and his daughter. Silvia questions that if a planned society can be as scientifically advanced as the one they stand amidst, it might have been wrong to destroy Bors and the pocket society. Tolby rebukes this, countering that the absence of standing armies, wars, and atom bombs in an anarchist society is more than worth the price they pay. His final line in the story is, "We did our job. And we'll never be sorry."
; Silvia Tolby: An agent of the Anarchist League, and the female lead of the story. She is sent with her father, Edward Tolby, and friend Robert Penn, to investigate rumors of a government in existence in a remote mountain valley. After barely surviving a car wreck which leaves her unconscious, she is captured by a military patrol and taken to a government center. Injured, she is questioned by Bors and eventually rescued by her father. The story concludes with a dialogue between them. She questions if society can have access to progress through high technology and industry, wouldn't it be worth accepting a government. Tolby counters this by pointing out that in an anarchist society, there are no standing armies or atomic weapons threatening millions, and that this is worth the social stagnation they pay.
; Robert Penn: A friend and partner to the Tolby's, Robert Penn is a fellow agent of the Anarchist League. He is sent with them to investigate the rumors of a government near a remote mountain valley. Penn is murdered by Laura Davis and her partner when the duo conspire to kill the anarchists in a car wreck.
quotation|"Though he recognizes the dangers of relying on an elite or a government, Dick was more than aware of the problems at the other extreme.
In "The Last of the Masters," a popular anarchist revolt demolished a government run by robots...
Afterwards, to insure that no government could be re-established, members of an Anarchist League (aware of the contradictory nature of their organization) roamed the world.
One of the ruling robots, however, managed to survive, and started a new, organized movement hidden away in a mountain valley. At one point, the robot converses with one of his maintainers about why no one in the valley would want to disable the robot, though they could...
The world outside is depicted as poor and dirty, quite different from the opulent organization of the valley...
Though the anarchists triumph, Dick does not vindicate them, keeping it clear that the robot had certainly accomplished something in that valley, though it had eventually gone too far.|Aaron Barlow|How Much Does Chaos Scare You? (2005) [cite book |title=How Much Does Chaos Scare You?: Politics, Religion, and Philosophy in the Fiction of Philip K. Dick |last=Barlow |first=Aaron |authorlink=Aaron Barlow |year=2005 |publisher=Lulu.com |location= |isbn=1411633490 |pages=248 ]
The exact date Philip K. Dick wrote "The Last of the Masters" is unknown, but the original manuscript of the story was received by the
Scott Meredith Literary Agencyon July 15, 1953. It was published over a year later, in the 1954 November/December issue of " Orbit Science Fiction" No.5, which was the last issue of a short story anthology series by the Hanro Corporation. It was republished in 1958 for the Australian market by Jubilee Publications Pty. Ltd., in "Space Station 42 and Other Stories", a part of the " Satellite Series". [cite book |title=Space Station 42 and Other Stories |year=1958 |month=March |publisher=Jubilee Publications Pty. Ltd. |location=Sydney |isbn= |pages=114 ]
The story was not published again until 1980, with the release of "The Golden Man", a collection of classic stories by Philip K. Dick. This collection also included the only commentary the author ever wrote regarding the story itself. Following this, "The Last of the Masters" was included in several more PKD short story collections – most of which have seen multiple print runs.
"The Last of the Masters" has been included in the following publications, listed in chronological order:
*cite book | year = 1954 |month=November/December | title =
Orbit Science FictionVol.1 No.5 | publisher = Hanro Corporation| location = New York, NY | id =
*cite book | year=1958 |month=March |title=Space Station 42 and Other Stories |publisher=
Jubilee Publications Pty. Ltd.|location= Sydney, NSW |id=
*cite book | year = 1980 | title = The Golden Man | publisher =
Berkley Books| location =New York, NY | isbn = 0-425-04288-X
*cite book | year = 1984 | title =
Robots, Androids, and Mechanical Oddities| publisher = Southern Illinois University Press| location = Carbondale, IL | isbn = 0-8093-1159-3
*cite book | year = 1987 | title = The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. III, The Father-Thing | publisher =
Underwood-Miller| location =Lancaster, PA | id = ISBN 0-88733-053-3
*cite book | year = 1989 | title = The Father-Thing | publisher =
Victor Gollancz Ltd| location =London, England | isbn = 0-575-04616-3
*cite book | year = 1991 | title = Second Variety | publisher =
Citadel Twilight| location =New York, NY | isbn = 0-8065-1226-1
*cite book | year = 1997 | title =
The Philip K. Dick Reader| publisher = Citadel Twilight| location =New York, NY | isbn = 0-8065-1856-1
Anarchism and the arts
Assassinations in fiction
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
Footnotes and Citations
* " [http://www.philipkdickfans.com/pkdweb/The%20Last%20Of%20The%20Master.htm The Last of the Masters] " entry at the [http://www.philipkdickfans.com/pkdweb/ Encyclopedia Dickiana] .
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