The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick (Orion, 1964)
This science fiction novel was published in 1964, and it was set in a future world of 2016 where mankind has exhausted Earth's resources and soaring temperatures mean that many unlucky souls are sent out to colonise other planets in terrible conditions.
Design consultant Barney Mayerson's work for PP Layouts involves utilising his predictive cognitive abilities (Pre-Fash precog) to forecast future successful sales lines. He decides which to include in the Perky Pat layouts that have made his employer massively successful on every planet to which colonists have been sent. After all, when a Perky Pat layout is combined with the hallucinogenic drug Can-D the nightmare of scratching a pitiful living from the sand on Mars becomes bearable. Just about.
No wonder then that every colonist scrambles to get their hands on Can-D, chew the stuff and sleepwalk into the oblivion of being right there in the layout. They get to be Perky Pat if they are female, or her hunky boyfriend Walt if they are male, for as long as the drug works.
All seems rosy for Barney, except that his assistant Roni is better at his job than he is, he still yearns for his ex-wife Emily even though she's remarried and his precog ability tells him that his boss is about to murder Palmer Eldritch, PP Layouts' newest competitor in business, in only a few days time. Oh, and he's just had his call up to head off to Mars.
Barney actually manages to be a pretty likeable character. This is partly despite (and partly because of) his self-imposed career nosedive and personal suffering. I just felt really sorry for him. The poor guy has his work cut out trying to shape a future for himself that is better than chewing Can-D (or Eldritch's new product Chew-Z instead) out on Mars. Palmer Eldritch has just returned from the Prox system, and his spaceship has crash-landed on Pluto.
In an attempt to improve his career position, Barney threatens his boss Leo and oversteps the mark. He is then reduced to agreeing to do Leo's dirty work in the war of corporate espionage that is about to break out. This involves heading off to Mars voluntarily in order to screw over Palmer Eldritch by pretending that a batch of Chew-Z triggered epileptic fits so that Eldritch's product will be blacklisted in the Solar System. This would leave PP Layouts, and Can-D, with a secure monopoly once again.
There are so many twists and turns in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which is quite a short novel at only a couple of hundred pages long. Barney is the main point-of-view character, which helps the reader to overlook his many flaws and come to root for him as the story progresses.
Palmer Eldritch is splendidly enigmatic. He's almost as much robot as human courtesy of the artificial eye, bionic hand and steel teeth that make up his three stigmata. Sometimes he is just a hologram, other times he is physically present and he seems able to move around the universe with total ease.
The tech side of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is quite light, so it's soft science fiction rather than hard. The focus is on a vision of the future, still relevant today even if 2016 hasn't quite been as Philip K Dick imagined.
This is also, like many of his novels, as much about character as about the broad outcome of mankind's futures. Philip K Dick novels combine these two features effortlessly together, producing a more person-focused storyline than other science fiction writers. Reading his novels is quite a gentle experience that I always enjoy.
The comments section is open for you to share your thoughts. In the meantime, thank you for reading my review of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick. I'll be back on Friday.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Behind Her Eyes here.