The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: SF Masterworks
(Gollancz, £6.99, 230 pages, paperback, first published 1964,
this edition published 13 March 2003.)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch begins in typical Dickian
fashion, establishing several different viewpoint characters and narrative
threads that will entwine, in one of Dick's most
complex weaves, as the novel progresses. It's the late twenty-first
century. The Earth is overpopulated and (very presciently of the author)
suffering the effects of extreme global warming. Leo Bulero is the major
supplier of Can-D, a drug which allows its users to participate in a
shared world, which helps assuage the tedium of offworld existence.
However, Leo's supremacy is threatened by mysterious industrialist Palmer
Eldritch, who has returned to the solar system bearing a new, much more
powerful drug, Chew-Z, which replaces reality entirely. Is Palmer Eldritch
a new Messiah, with Chew-Z his Communion wafer? Assuming that the man
recovering from his injuries in seclusion really is Palmer Eldritch,
of course ...
Eldritch's face, with metallic slitted eyes, is a memorable image.
It derives from a vision that Dick had for a few days in the 1950s,
of a malevolent face filling a quarter of the sky. The local priest
thought that Dick had had a vision of Satan. Three Stigmata was
written in 1964 and published the following year, in the midst of Philip
K. Dick's most productive period, one of the SF genre's benchmarks for
both quality and quantity. Amphetamine-assisted it may have been
-- and also bear in mind that genre novels were shorter then than now
-- but two or three of Dick's finest novels emerged from the period.
Even lesser works, like The Simulacra for example, have much
to recommend them, but at the top of the heap would be The Man in
the High Castle, for some people (but not me) Doctor Bloodmoney
... and this one. Three Stigmata is a fast-paced and wide-ranging
story that requires close attention to follow all its twists and turns
as reality and hallucination become inextricably tied together. This
is one of Dick's very best novels, and it's hardly dated at all.
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