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.
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
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 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 atP. 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
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