Science Fiction Book Review

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964/2003) Philip K Dick, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 230pp, ISBN 0-575-07480-9

This is the fifty-second title to be published as part of the SF Masterworks series and the eighth (I think) of Dick's books to appear in the series. In the colonies of the 21st Century the tedium and hardship of existance is helped by the drug Can-D, which allows users to inhabit a shared illusory world. Palmer Eldritch is an industrialist returning from an interstellar voyage who brings with him a new, alien drug, Chew-Z, which is several times more powerful than Can-D. So powerful, in fact, that it may wipe out reality entirely, leaving all under the control of Eldritch. Has he been compromised by aliens and, if so, what can be done about it...

It is possible to overestimate the importance of Dick to the field of SF, though not by much. What sticks in the mind is often the continually used trope of 'what constitutes reality, and how far do our perceptions affect it', but the joy of Dick's books for me (and many other commentators, to be fair) is the sheer ordinariness of his protagonists and characters. Frequently the most world-shattering events are almost sidelined as Dick shows how irrelevant they can be on a personal level (though never ignored completely). If ever an SF writer truly imagined what it would be like to live in The Future, then surely Dick is that writer. For all that his characters often wallow in their own ignorance and apathy, still he treats them all with compassion and respect. A recommendation is surely a case of preaching to the converted but, just in case there are still SF readers who haven't yet encountered Phil Dick, for your own pleasure please do so soon.

Tony Chester

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