My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Please excuse my French, but this is a giant mind fuck of a book! All I could say when I finished it was, wow. Dick tackles a lot in this book. You’ve got twenty-first century global warming as it’s envisioned in 1964 when he wrote it. You got recreational drug use — Can-D and Chew-Z — similar to pot and LSD. You’ve got people who have been drafted to colonize other planets, all miserable and using Perky Pat (Barbie?) layouts as escape mechanisms. The thing that makes this aspect of the book interesting is the colonists use Can-D as a type of shared VR experience where anything in the Perky Pat layout can be lived through Can-D. It’s the only “out” these colonists have. Unfortunately, renowned explorer Palmer Eldritch has returned from 10 years in the uknown Prox system, and he’s brought Chew-Z, an upgrade drug in that anyone can experience any type of world they want. The creepy thing is, Eldritch inhabits virtually all of these worlds in a hellish sort of way and in fact, somehow, becomes the people taking the drug.
Palmer Eldritch is initially portrayed as God or a type of god before Dick settles on an ancient alien type of being who has taken over Eldritch and intends to take over all of humanity. The book is about good and evil, God and Satan, reality versus unreality, and so much more. The first 50 pages or so are fairly straitlaced, but then the book (d)evolves into utter insanity as we’re introduced to Palmer through Barney’s (the main character) boss Leo. Palmer has three distinctive stigmata, as we learn. He has a misformed metalic jaw, a metalic right hand (why right?) and fake horizontal eyes. As more people chew Chew-Z, these people take on these stigmata as part of their persona and at some point you realize you can’t distinguish between the “real” characters and Palmer, as they all trade personalities at some point. A neo-Christian named Anne, whom Barney is taken with while on Mars, tells Barney late in the book, the pot is not the potter, and that might be the crux of the entire book. What are we left with, after all? It’s difficult to tell, just as it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Ultimately, I don’t think you can. While this is a drug addled book, it’s also a highly religious book with all sorts of (unanswered) questions that Dick ponders. It’s a crazy read, so read with caution. Recommended.