The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K Dick (1965)
‘He offered to sell them the secret of eternal life. All he asked in return was their souls
It was always Saturday
You woke each morning with the comfortable feeling that you didn’t have to go to your job. Instead, you could climb into your brand new Jaguar, pick up your girl and go to the beach.
Except that when you looked into your shaving mirror you saw a note tacked up, written in your own hand:
This is an illusion. Make good use of your time, buddy boy.
Because the illusion wouldn’t last. And soon you would be back as an unwilling colonist on the dreary planet Mars. ‘
Blurb from MacFaddan edition of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Definitely in the running as one the finest, if not the finest, of Dick’s novels, TTSOPE examines a whole galimaufry of human issues, including the use and abuse of power
within various relationships.
Barney Mayerson works for the company who hold the Perky Pat franchise. Colonials on Mars , whose lives are hard and bleak, are sold the drug Can-D and can experience a shared reality via the doll, Perky Pat, and her ‘layouts’. Barney is a precog and it is his job to assess objects that be ‘minned’ to be used within the layouts, such as clothes, furniture and household items. Barney’s ex-wife Emily is a potter and her new husband Richard Hnatt brings some of her work for assessment, which Barney rejects, even though he knows they would be successful. His new precog assistant and lover, Roni Fugate, realises their worth, however.
Meanwhile news has come in that Palmer Eldritch has returned from Proxima Centauri. Eldritch has steel teeth, a silver prosthetic eyeband that has replaced his eyes and an artificial hand – the three stigmata. He has also brought something with him, a new drug to rival Can-D, called Chew-Z
Much of the remainder of the novel takes place in various subjective realities of Can-D and Chew-Z and Dick characteristically unsettles the reader by confusing – in the mind of certain characters – the internal ‘reality’ with the drug-induced subjective reality; the result being that the reader is sometimes led to believe that the character has escaped from the drug trip, when he/she actually hasn’t.
The word ‘stigmata’ in the title is relevant, since Dick is comparing the communal sharing of the drug, and the subsequent shared experience, with the Christian tradition of Mass. This is of course, subverted by Eldritch’s manipulation of the Chew-Z experience, since he can control the subjective realities of the participants. Thus, Eldritch becomes the antichrist.
The visual image of Eldritch is based upon a vision Dick had in which he saw a face in the sky with metal eyes and teeth, and was overcome with a sense of the presence of evil.
Away from the main plot strand, we have Richard Hnatt, Emily’s new husband, who negotiates a deal with Eldritch for her pots to be ‘minned’ for the Perky Pat layouts. Hnatt uses the money to take his wife and himself to a clinic where ordinary humans can be upgraded evolutionarily to be turned into ‘bubbleheads’ – evolved humans with greater mental functions and a horny ridged skin.
Unfortunately in some cases, the treatment causes the patient to regress and devolve, and Hnatt fears that this is what he has done to Emily.
Barney’s boss, Leo Bulero, is a bubblehead. At one point, under the influence of Chew-Z, he travels into the future and meets two ‘further evolved’ males, who have come to visit Leo’s grave. They tell Leo that he is a hero, the man who killed Palmer Eldritch.
During the conversation it becomes clear that the evolved humans are no more evolved than anyone else.
The great irony of the central metaphor (Can-D representing the sharing of the wafer and wine of the Christian mass) is that Dick is suggesting within the novel that the colonists have only the choice between the two drugs. To try and exist without the drugs would be unthinkable (although Barney did initially state that he was going to live on Mars without resorting to using Can-D)