You know, we got ourselves into this. No one made us chew Chew-Z.

PKD scholars tend to divide the author’s career into three eras: the 50s pulp with flashes of literary merit, the golden era of the 60s and early 70s with many of his masterpieces, among them Ubik and Flow My Tears, and then the late 70s and early 80s with the fascinating spritual journey that yielded, among other things, the VALIS trilogy. Published in 1964, one might view The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as a prelude of things to come, a blend of science-fiction and faith that maintains a relatively grounded story. Through the three eras, we can trace an analog to Philip K. Dick’s life, one that began in the dregs of pulp science-fiction with mainstream aspirations, and was bombarded with drugs and bizarre religious experiences into the oblivion of quiet tragedy, ending on March 2, 1982. As Philip K. Dick was buried next to his long dead twin sister — the original dark-haired girl — the mainstream was finally introduced to him through Ridley Scott’s brilliant Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? adaptation released later that year in its first of many forms.

Nowadays that mainstream often considers The Three Stigmata to be one of his best novels, along with A Scanner Darkly and The Man in the High Castle, and I must say real quick that I’m glad this is our reality, where we can evaluate his work and not be laughed at, where my mom knows who Philip K. Dick is and we’ll all be lining up to see the Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said or Disney’s King of the Elves in years to come. But anyways The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch tells the story of an Earth on the brink of destruction, where people are forced into emigration to a miserable existence on Mars, and find sole respite in Can-D, a drug that offers shared hallucinations — the ultimate escapism. Or is it? There’s talk in the wind of a competing substance known as Chew-Z, as manufactured by the enigmatic Palmer Eldritch. God promises eternal life, Chew-Z can deliver it, as they say. Corporate bigwig Leo Bulero and his top psi consultant Barney Mayerson investigate and soon find themselves in a plot to assassinate Eldritch, who may or may not be human. Or God. They travel across space, time, and everything, often propelled along by the fierce women in their lives.

What starts as a pretty typical Philip K. Dick novel, one that could conceivably share the world of Ubik or Flow My Tears, with its flying cars and vidphones and corporations, mutates into a spiritual meditation on the big questions. Science-fiction is being used here as means to reach these areas of exploration, which is why it’s important to remember that Philip K. Dick was definitively an author of science-fiction. Like Kurt Vonnegut. I’m not just saying this because I’d like to use this useless blog in defense of the genre, and don’t want to lose one of its key players, but because with The Three Stigmata we witness the growth of an artist. Dick always wrote about ideas close to his heart through fantastical worlds and scenarios, but in his discussions of faith and God strike a profound chord.

We know they’re coming from a very genuine place, as Philip K. Dick would not only become obsessed with the religious half of these books, but always stuck by the science-fiction half. He always hoped to be accepted by a popular audience, but knew that the perception of his genre was that of the literary ghetto. 40 novels, 50 short stories, only a handful non-science-fiction — that’s dedication.

There’s not much I can say about this book, and not much I can say to remember the author that hasn’t already been said. For a better resource, be sure to check out the review catalogue on the Genrebusters website, which has many of his works, and if for all diehards, make sure to pick up the recently released Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. It’s an involved, thoughtful tale of endless unpredictability and spots of humor that punctuate a terrifying, absurdist reality.

For a two hour interview with the author I just found on YouTube but haven’t yet listened to, click here

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