Theme: Theology

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch published 1964

Often at the beginning of a Philip K. Dick book I think to myself ‘this has to be one of Dick’s craziest ideas’ before I remember I think that about almost all of his stories. Colonists who have been forced to emigrate to Mars occupy their time by communally taking a drug (Can-D) that lets them inhabit the minds of the Barbie and Ken-like dolls Perky Pat and Walt. While on the drug they are temporarily transported (as Perky Pat and Walt) to an Earth that mimics their carefully constructed Perky Pat layout.

Back on the real Earth the pre-cog employees at P. P. Layouts try to determine which consumer goods will be popular so that they can be minified and sent to Mars for the colonists to use in their Perky Pat environments. This balance is upset when the industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from the Proxima system with a potent new drug that he plans to market to the colonists as a more effective escape from the drudgery of Mars.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
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The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch remains my favorite PKD book even after having read them all. You might assume it was inspired by the use of LSD, but Dick claims to have not yet tried that particular drug at this point in his life. Instead, fueled by large quantities of amphetamines, he wrote this during an incredibly prolific two-year period in 1963-64 when he also wrote some of my other favorites including The Game Players of Titan, Now Wait for Last Year, The Simulacra and Clans of the Alphane Moon

Is the world of Perky Pat the same world from The Crack in Space? Who knows, but while in the mind of Walt, one of the colonists catches Jim Briskin, everyone’s favorite newsclown (or maybe just mine), on TV.

Cast of characters

  • Barney Mayerson – a pre-cog. Head of pre-fash marketing at  P. P. Layouts
  • Roni Fugate – a pre-cog. Barney’s assistant and mistress
  • Leo Bulero – chairman of the board at P. P. Layouts
  • Emily Hnatt – Barney’s ex-wife
  • Richard Hnatt – Emily’s current husband
  • Palmer Eldritch – the interplan industrialist who returns from Proxima
  • Sam Regan, Mary Regan, Tod Morris, Norman Schein, Helen Morris, Fran Schein – Mars colonists
  • Allen and Charlotte Faine – disc jockeys in a Mars satellite
  • Felix Blau – head of the police agency
  • Dr. Wily Denkmal – runs an E therapy clinic in Germany

Counter-Clock World published 1967

Counter-Clock World
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The logic of this ‘counter-clock world’ is so goofy I’m tempted to say this is Dick’s worst book (but on the other hand see Dr. Futurity).

Due to a reversal of time called the Hobart Phase, things move backwards. The dead come back to life. The living Benjamin Button their way to infancy and then eventually migrate into a nearby womb, although not necessarily that of their mother. People do some things in reverse, like regurgitate their food instead of eating it and puff smoke back into cigarette butts. They don’t walk backwards though, or talk backwards other than saying ‘bye’ as a greeting and ‘hello’ when they leave. They also say ‘food’ when they curse instead of saying ‘shit.’ It really is as idiotic as it sounds.

When the dead come back to life they call out feebly from their graves under the ground, and if someone happens to be around to hear them then a vitarium is contacted to dig the person up before they run out of air (and die again? and come back to life again?). Seems like there would be a better way to handle this bringing back of the dead.

A religious cult called the Udi, currently led by Raymond Roberts, has to contend with their old leader, the Anarch Thomas Peak, coming back to life. The timing is right for him to rise from the grave, but they don’t know where he was buried. That particular piece of information has been eradicated by the Erads at the library. They are the real villains, since their job is to destroy all books… you know, since things are going in reverse.

Sebastian Hermes, owner of a local vitarium, stumbles on the Anarch’s grave while freeing another deader. Sebastian takes it upon himself to keep the Anarch safe from the Udi, who most certainly want him dead again (although it turns out they don’t). But the Library does want him dead again, since they just got done eradicating all of the Anarch’s writing, and if he’s alive he might start teaching everything they just destroyed, especially now that he’s seen the afterlife.

I disliked this one when I first read it. I also hated rereading it, but now there are some notes…

Cast of characters

  • Sebastian Hermes – owner of the Flask of Hermes Vitarium
  • Lotta Hermes – Sebastian’s young wife
  • Father Faine – Sebastian’s employee
  • Dr. Sign – the doctor employed by Sebastian
  • Bob Lindy – Sebastian’s engineer
  • R.C. Buckley – Sebastian’s salesman
  • Cheryl Vale – Sebastian’s secretary
  • Joseph Tinbane – a police officer who gets involved with Lotta
  • Anarch Peak – the leader of the Udi cult before his death
  • Raymond Roberts – current leader of the Udi cult
  • Douglas Appleford – a library employee
  • Mavis McGuire – chief librarian at the People’s Topical Library
  • Carl Gantrix – Raymond Robert’s attorney
  • Ann Fisher – McGuire’s daughter sent to seduce Sebastian
  • Tony Giacometti – represents a third party from Rome also interested in the Anarch

Other things to know

  • The Hobart Phase – a time reversal that started in 1986 named after Alex Hobart who predicted it
  • The Erads – they work in the library eradicating all existing books. The main antagonist when we find out the Udi don’t intend to harm the Anarch
  • F.N.M. – the Free Negro Municipality

Rating:

Related:

Radio Free Albemuth published 1985

I prefer Radio Free Albemuth over VALIS, which I’m only making that comparison because they cover a similar story… I prefer a lot of Dick’s books over VALIS.

Radio Free Albemuth
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He wrote this one first in 1976, and when his publisher wanted to make some changes Dick instead rewrote it as an entirely new book which was published as VALIS in 1981. Radio Free Albemuth itself wasn’t published until 1985 several years after he died. The story from Radio Free Albemuth shows up in VALIS briefly, altered and in a much more tripped-out fashion, as a movie that Dick and his friends go see.

The book starts out narrated by Dick himself before switching to the point of view of his friend Nicholas Brady and then switching back to Dick’s POV at the end. It implies Dick and Nicholas are one and the same, just like Dick and Horselover Fat in VALIS, although that’s never revealed to be the case here. Rather Brady serves as a what if? version of Dick if he had left Berkeley sooner and had a different career. Some autobiographical details, like the burglary of Dick’s house (which he was convinced was orchestrated by the police or FBI) make their way into the story, but Brady inherits many of the other events from Dick’s life, such as being alerted to his son’s undiagnosed hernia by VALIS’s pink light.

The overall plot involves the effort of Brady, guided by VALIS, to stand up to the tyrannical rule of the U.S. president Ferris F. Fremont. Brady plans to sneak subliminal messages about Fremont’s ties to the Communist party into an album released by his record company, although I’m not sure how that would topple a totalitarian government that kills and imprisons with impunity. The middle section of the book told from Brady’s POV is the least interesting as it deals with the long-winded theology about VALIS which is a satellite that is also God… I think. One day I will read Dick’s 1000-page Exegesis and his VALIS theories may all make sense.

In the end Brady and Sadassa Silvia (who had also been contacted by VALIS) are both killed by Ferris F. Fremont’s stooges. After the U.S. destroys the VALIS satellite the opposition doesn’t stand much of a chance. The government lets Dick live imprisoned in a labor camp, and in a clever turn of events, at least from a meta point of view, they release agitprop books they’ve written under his name.

The low-budget 2010 movie, with some really low-budget special effects, most likely would only appeal to fans of the book. It’s very faithful, including all the elements that were probably silly even by the standards of the 1970s, although I do like Shea Whigham’s low-key portrayal of PKD.

Cast of characters

  • Nicholas Brady – an aimless resident of Berkeley turned record executive in Southern California
  • Rachel – Nicholas’s wife
  • Phil Dick – the part-time narrator as himself
  • Ferris F. Fremont – the president. A Nixon stand-in, although in this case Fremont is a sleeper for the Communist party
  • Vivian Kaplan – a young FAPer (Friends of the American People) Dick gets involved with
  • Sadassa Silvia – a young woman also contacted by VALIS who works with Nicholas to put subliminal messages in the albums put out by Progressive Records. Played by Alanis Morissette in the movie.
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