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Philip K. Dick sold approximately fifteen short stories himself before becoming a client of literary agent Scott Meredith (through the Scott Meredith Literary Agency). "Roog" was Dick's first sale but not his first published story.
"Roog" is a story told from the point of view of a dog named Boris, who observes his master's carefully stored food in containers outside of their house day after day. Unbeknownst to the dog, these are the human's trash cans for garbage. The dog is later horrified to witness some food being 'stolen' by garbagemen who the dog knows are predatory carnivores from another planet. The dog comes to know these beings as 'Roogs', and tries to warn his master of each 'theft' with cries of 'Roog!' 'Roog!'. The humans, unable to comprehend the hound's message, think the dog is just being rowdy. Thus they attribute the sound the dog makes to be the sound that all dogs make when they are excited: 'Roog!' 'Roog!' The tale concludes with the animal being somewhat distraught, barking "ROOG!" very loudly at the garbagemen before they make off once more with trash in their garbage truck.
"Roog" was written in November 1951 and appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction November 1953 without illustration. During this time Dick worked in a record store. In an essay prefacing a collection of his short stories published in 1978, Dick recalled the story's gestation, as well as discussing its plot, its general themes and his reaction at the time. Dick relates that he contacted Anthony Boucher, a sci-fi/fantasy publisher, editor and fellow writer whom Dick recalls as a kind friend. Dick wrote, "Without [Boucher's] help I'd still be in the record business. I mean that very seriously." As a young man, Dick was very pleased with the publication, and wondered if he could quit his job at the record store and work full-time as an author, while the older Dick (27 years on) dismissed that aspiration as delusional.
Soon after "Roog"'s original publication, Boucher attempted to get it published once more, in a science fiction anthology being compiled by a person Dick refers to as "Ms. J.M." (Judith Merrill Interview with Lupoff). However, she disliked the story, finding it obscure and hard to understand. She also criticized Dick's description of the garbagemen as inaccurate, apparently unable to see that the description is from the protagonist dog's perspective. Despite Dick explaining the story in a letter to J.M. regarding the themes of the work, she rejected the story. Anthony Boucher, however, proceeded to publish it, and it remains in print today, at one time even appearing in a high school literature textbook.
Dick regarded Roog as "quite a serious story". Dick explained in the introduction to The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick that Roog "tells of fear, it tells of loyalty, it tells of obscure menace and a good creature who cannot convey knowledge of that menace to those he loves". Furthermore Aaron Barlow suggests an insightful connection of the story to the nature and themes of his writings:
|“||By the end of “Roog,” however, Dick has encouraged speculation that the “garbagemen” really might be aliens held off by dogs the aliens call “Guardians.”
Boris faces two problems. First, though he barks that “Roogs” are coming, no one understands. He cannot communicate his warning. Second, his “Roogs” may be a delusion instead of a real danger. Boris cannot tell which; he doesn’t even know that he could, in fact, be wrong. He has seen the paperboy and barked at him, taking him, without any evidence, as a Roog. [...]
Dick gives no hint of any “truth” behind Boris’s subjective perceptions. Whatever the case, Boris’s inability to communicate his concern leaves the matter moot and leads him to fear the breakdown of his world of suburban dog-life—and leads Dick to think about Boris’s situation in human terms. [...]
As a dog, Boris views the human world through the blanket distortion of canine point-of-view. Yet what he sees subjectively may be “real”—just as it may be a mask or a deception created through his own limited perceptual abilities. That these “may“s exist concerned Dick a great deal. Perhaps the blanket distortion of human point-of-view makes experience as difficult for us to decipher as for Boris.
Perhaps Boris, finally, is something like the poor fantasy writer no one listens to. Like, hmm, Phil Dick. Like any struggler for communication, particularly for communication that transcends individual, varied perception.
|— Aaron Barlow, Reality, Religion, and Politics in the Fiction of Philip K. Dick, Perception and Misperception and the Role of the Author: An Introduction To The Writing And Philosophy Of Philip K. Dick.|
He also compares the short story with a quote of Dick on the subjective realities of humans:
|“||Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. [...] If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.||”|
|— Philip K. Dick|
- The dog in "Roog," Boris, was based upon a real dog called Snooper, who belonged to a neighbor of Dick. Snooper became very alarmed every time the garbagemen arrived to pick up trash, and this inspired Dick to write the short story.
- Rickman, Gregg (1989), To The High Castle: Philip K. Dick: A Life 1928-1963, Long Beach, Ca.: Fragments West/The Valentine Press, p.388 ISBN 0-916063-24-0
- Levack, Daniel (1981). PKD: A Philip K. Dick Bibliography, Underwood/Miller, p. 121 ISBN 0-934438-33-1
- RC, Lord. Pink Beam: A Philip K. Dick Companion. p. 12. ISBN 9781430324379. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
- The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 1, The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford, (1990) Citadel Twilight p. 401 ISBN 0-8065-1153-2