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The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch: SF Masterworks #52

by Philip K Dick

(Gollancz, £6.99, 230 pages, paperback, first published 1964, this edition published 13 March 2003.)

Review by Gary Couzens

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 cover scanmost 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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