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The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick (read in 2015)

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Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

This is one of Dick’s trippiest works. He envisions a planet Earth in the future that is too hot to visit during daytime without special cooling gear. Humanity organizes itself to get off-planet. To combat the boring conditions in the colonies, there is a drug called CAN-D that, when taken by groups, allows a shared hallucination. The hallucination approaches reality when it can be anchored on real-life objects, so there is a thriving market for “layouts”, which are basically intricate dollhouses. The colonists take the drug and subsume themselves into a shared hallucinatory life in the layout.

The story centers on Palmer Eldritch, a heroic but exceedingly odd space traveler who’d been lost to a far-off solar system, but who has supposedly returned, Barney Mayerson, a precog who’s been drafted as a colonist, Leo Bolero, his boss and owner of the major layout company. Palmer starts peddling CHEW-Z, an even-more powerful alternative to CAN-D that is capable of making people travel inter-dimensionally or hyper-spatially or just condensing time to a dot, so that an entire live can be lived in a so-called real-world instant. Things get really, really trippy with nested layers of reality, non-real layers of reality due to hallucination—shared and individual, as well as complete overtaking of other people’s bodies and personae. The precog makes things lively with predictions of assassination, but the intended target is unsure how to prevent an event for which the time-stream isn’t even clear.

More details in the Wikipedia entry. If that sounds good to you, then this book is highly recommended. I loved it.


“The elevator arrived. The doors slid aside. Inside the elevator waited four men and two women, silently. All of them were Palmer Eldritch. Men and women alike: artificial arm, stainless steel teeth … the gaunt, hollowed-out gray face with Jensen eyes.”
Page 194

Reminiscent of agent smith in the matrix.

“I’ve walked into and out of a million of them, these so-called ‘translation’ worlds; I’ve seen them all. And you know what they are? They’re nothing. Like a captive white rat feeding electric impulses again and again to specific areas of his brain—it’s disgusting.“ “I see,” Barney Mayerson said. “You want to wind up in one of them, knowing this?” After a time Barney said, “Sure.””
Page 206
“Our opponent, something admittedly ugly and foreign that entered one of our race like an ailment during the long voyage between Terra and Prox … and yet it knew much more than I did about the meaning of our finite lives, here; it saw in perspective. From its centuries of vacant drifting as it waited for some kind of life form to pass by which it could grab and become … maybe that’s the source of its knowledge: not experience but unending solitary brooding.”
Page 214
“She walked back to him, her eyes dark and shaded, without light. “When you grabbed me, to take that bindle of Chew-Z; you know what I saw? I mean actually saw, not just believed.” “An artificial hand. And a distortion of my jaw. And my eyes—” “Yes,” she said tightly. “The mechanical, slitted eyes. What did it mean?” Barney said, “It meant that you were seeing into absolute reality. The essence beyond the mere appearance.” In your terminology, he thought, what you saw is called—stigmata.”
Page 221