Theme: Simulated Reality

Eye in the Sky published 1957

Eye in the Sky is one of Dick’s first novels (published just after Solar Lottery and The World Jones Made) and the first time he took a handful of acquaintances and strangers, threw them into a world that wasn’t real and let them figure it out. He would reuse this setup later in A Maze of Death and in his classic Ubik… and he would continue the idea of ‘what is reality’ in nearly everything he wrote.

A group of sightseers at a particle accelerator falls through a proton beam when a platform collapses. As they imagine they recover they actually wake into a chain of worlds created in the mind of each individual as they regain consciousness one by one.

Eye in the Sky
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In the first half of the book they are trapped in the mind of war veteran Arthur Silvester whose world is ruled by an Old Testament-like god, the titular eye in the sky.* After incapacitating Silvester the group progresses through several more worlds until there is a twist around whether or not Hamilton’s wife is a Communist sympathizer, a question the book begins with when Hamilton is fired from his job at a missile research facility over the Red Scare concerns about his wife’s allegiances.

Overall a funny and thought-provoking early work.

*Originally intended to be the Biblical Judeo-Christian God but rewritten by Dick at the publisher’s request as a Muslim god of an obscure Arabic cult so as not to offend any readers of 1950’s America.

Cast of characters

  • Jack Hamilton – employee at the California Maintenance missile research lab
  • Marsha Hamilton – Hamilton’s wife
  • Colonel Edwards – head of California Maintenance
  • Charley McFeyffe – captain of security at California Maintenance
  • Arthur Silvester – a war veteran. Creator of universe 1 overseen by the eye in the sky
  • Bill Laws – the guide at the Bevatron particle accelerator
  • Edith Pritchet – creator of the sexless and inoffensive universe 2
  • David Pritchet – Edith’s son
  • Joan Reiss – creator of the paranoiac universe 3
  • Guy Tillingford – head of the Electronics Development Agency
  • Horace Clamp – a prophet of the Second Bab
  • Silky – a barfly Hamilton first meets in Silvester’s world

Rating:

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Time Out of Joint published 1959

Time Out of Joint, which Dick wrote while he still had aspirations of being a literary novelist, is my favorite of his minor works. It has similarities with his mainstream books (all of which were still unpublished in the late 50s), but it introduces a page-turning story alongside the suburban malaise.

Time Out of Joint
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In the 1990s a civil war has broken out between colonists on the moon and Earth. Time magazine’s 1996 Man of the Year Ragle Gumm is the only one who can predict where the missiles fired from the moon will land, and he’s able to keep Earth safe, that is until he has a change of heart and begins to side with the lunatics, as those on the moon are called.

A psychotic break follows and he regresses in his mind to the 1950s America of his childhood. The military then carefully constructs a fake 1950s small town filled with a few handlers along with a majority who are brainwashed into also thinking it’s real. Ragle still makes his predictions, although now it’s under the guise of a newspaper contest where he earns a 1950s wage figuring out Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?

It would be easy to pick apart the book’s logic (how exactly does Ragle’s gift of prediction work and what do the strips of paper that Ragle finds when he begins to see through the simulated reality really mean?) but I love how Dick anticipated a baby boomer nostalgia for the 50s as he watched the Eisenhower years come to an end.

Cast of characters

  • Ragle Gumm – all-time winner in the newspaper’s Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next? contest. Lives with his sister’s family
  • Margo Nielson – Ragle’s sister
  • Vic Nielson – Ragle’s brother-in-law
  • Sammy Nielson – Vic and Margo’s young son
  • Bill and Junie Black – Vic and Margo’s neighbors
  • Stuart LoweryGazette representative
  • Kay Keitelbein – neighborhood volunteer for Civil Defense
  • Walter Keitelbein – Kay’s son
  • The Kesselmans – Ragle encounters them in their house on the outskirts of town when he first tries to escape

A Maze of Death published 1970

A Maze of Death
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In A Maze of Death a group of strangers all receive job transfers to a remote planet and await instructions as to the purpose of their colony. We have a mystery on our hands when those instructions don’t arrive, and the members of the group are murdered one by one.

The LSD-inspired plot that follows has a great ending when we find out the colonists have been in a simulated reality all along. They are actually crew members of a ship stranded with no hope of rescue, and so they enter these computer-created artificial worlds again and again, with an amnesia of their actual plight, in order to pass the time before their inevitable death in space.

The religion they all follow in their invented world was generated by the ship’s computer. It resembles Christianity, although with a logic based on the existence of a physical God.

Cast of characters

  • Ben Tallchief – Delmak-O’s naturalist
  • Seth Morley – Delmak-O’s marine biologist
  • Mary Morley – Seth’s wife
  • Betty Jo Berm – Delmak-O’s linguist
  • Bert Kosler – Delmak-O’s custodian
  • Maggie Walsh – Delmak-O’s theologian
  • Ignatz Thugg – Delmak-O’s thermoplastics expert
  • Milton Babble – Delmak-O’s doctor
  • Tony Dunkelwelt – Delmak-O’s photographer and soil-sample expert
  • Glen Belsnor – Delmak-O’s electronics specialist and the group’s leader
  • Roberta Rockingham – Delmak-O’s sociologist
  • Susie Smart – Delmak-O’s clerk
  • Wade Frazer – Delmak-O’s psychologist
  • Ned Russell – Delmak-O’s economist

Other things to know

  • How I Rose From the Dead in My Spare Time and So Can You – their religion’s holy book written by Communist theologian A. J. Specktowsky
  • The Intercessor – a Christ-like manifestation of the deity
  • The Mentufacturer – the God-like manifestation of the deity
  • Walker-on-Earth – the ‘Holy ghost’ manifestation that completes the deity’s trinity
  • Form Destroyer – the yin to the deity’s yang

Rating:

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