The Preserving Machine

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Bizarre invention of Dr. Rupert Labyrinth, in the short story "The Preserving Machine," by Philip K. Dick, first published in the June 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Concerned about preserving music, art, and culture in an unstable world, he invents this machine to turn musical scores into living creatures. He designs it, but sort of hilariously subcontracts it out to "A small midwestern university." It works, and the animals have the characteristics of the music: Beethoven beetle, Bach bug, Schubert lamb-puppy, Mozart peacock-like bird, Stravinsky bird, a Wagner animal. Unfortunately, the animals go feral, and the Wagner animal turns wolfish, killing the Schubert animal. Doc catches one of the changed Bach bugs that has developed poisoned spines, and runs it though the machine backwards:

He picked up the fruit jar carefully and we walked downstairs, down the steep flights of steps to the cellar. I made out an immense column of dull metal rising up in the corner, by the laundry tubs. A strange feeling went through me. It was the Preserving Machine.

"So this is it," I said.

"Yes, this is it." Labyrinth turned the controls on and worked with them for a time. At last he took the jar and held it over the hopper. He removed the lid carefully, and the bach bug dropped reluctantly from the jar, into the Machine. Labyrinth closed the hopper after it.

"Here we go," he said. He threw the control and the Machine began to operate. Labyrinth folded his arms and we waited. Outside the night came on, shutting out the light, squeezing it out of existence. At last an indicator on the face of the Machine blinked red. The Doc turned the control to OFF and we stood in silence, neither of us wanting to be the one who opened it.

"Well?" I said finally. "Which one of us is going to look?"

Labyrinth stirred. He pushed the slot-piece aside and reached into the Machine. His fingers came out grasping a slim sheet, a score of music. He handed it to me. "This is the result," he said. "We can go upstairs and play it."

We went back up to the music room. Labyrinth sat down before the grand piano and I passed him back the score. He opened it and studied it for a moment, his face blank, without expression. Then he began to play.

I listened to the music. It was hideous. I have never heard anything like it. It was distorted, diabolical, without sense or meaning, except, perhaps, an alien, disconcerting meaning that should never have been there. I could believe only with the greatest effort that it had once been a Bach Fugue, part of a most orderly and respected work.

"That settles it," Labyrinth said. He stood up, took the score in his hands, and tore it to shreds.

Doc Labyrinth also appeared in a 1954 short story "The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford."

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