The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

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This is a confusing and entertaining (1964) novel which looks at the use of mind altering drugs in a Martian society of the late twenty-first century. Life on Mars is dusty, cramped, and banal to the point of inducing psychosis, and so colonists use two drugs for escapism, drugs that can produce a new world to take them away from their humdum lives.

One drug, Can-D, is experienced communally and is depicted benignly as something which can help troubled society by papering over the cracks of troubled marriages and tense friendships. It has a short effect and ultimately brings people together in experiencing a shared illusory world. The other drug, Chew-Z, is new and more potent. It produces senses of a new world that are so vivid that the boundaries of reality and unreality become seamless. This world is experienced solely by the drug user and so every world is different. For Philip K Dick, such a drug is problematic. It isolates people from society and raises questions of a philosophical and religious nature. These are addressed throughout the book, where Chew-Z is apparently an analogy for LSD.

The plot is incomprehensible due to a Russian doll-like structure where false realities dwell within false realities. The overall impression is one of discombobulation, intended by the author in order to mimic the confused state of some of the characters. Nevertheless, it is mitigated by a snappy and dialogue-driven style full of sardonic humour and compelling observations; such is the appeal of the book. Fans of his other books will find much to enjoy, although new readers should be aware that it is one of PKD’s more chaotic narratives.

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