Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky
Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick; Mariner

This is the second Philip K. Dick book that I’ve read.  It was first published in 1957, but I read the Mariner Books 2012 edition.  Previously, the PKD books were published by Vintage – and they had really colorful covers.  I do not recall ever seeing Mariner Books before, but their new covers for the PKD books are somewhat. . . dull or uninspired.

I want to say, right off the bat, that I only gave this novel three stars – the same rating I gave the other PKD novel that I read.  However, I think of all the books that I have rated on this blog, PKD books are probably the most difficult to rate.  I definitely believe that overall, all things considered, the PKD novels are only three star novels.  Nevertheless, somehow PKD novels are in a category of their own and reading them (or not) based on a rating is not the best method.

Eye in the Sky has a hurried and cruddy ending.  The last few pages are just dumb. The main character, though smart, is often churlish.  I don’t really understand the purpose of the character Silky, and don’t like her in any case. These are the main complaints that I have about the novel.

Now the good stuff.  I love PKD’s writing style.  I have nothing to compare it to in order to give an example of how PKD writes.  Technically, this novel is written without overwhelming descriptions.  The whole thing takes place in California – a setting PKD was himself familiar with.  I wonder if he picked this location just to cut down on the amount of work he would have to do regarding the setting or if he picked it because he is always writing something autobiographical?

This whole novel is almost a reflection on an incident that happened to Dick and his wife:  in 1955, he and his second wife, Kleo Apostolides, received a visit from the FBI, which they believed to be the result of Kleo’s socialist views and left-wing activities. The couple also briefly befriended one of the FBI agents.  In the novel Eye in the Sky, Jack Hamilton is fired from his high-tech-for-government job because his wife, Marsha, is suspected of being a Communist.

A group of people on a guided tour of a new particle accelerator have an accident as the structure they are on collapses while the accelerator is running.  Somehow this forces their consciousnesses into one, so that the group experiences reality as it is understood and fantasied about by various members of the tour group.  Obviously, this is an awesome laboratory experiment in fiction playing with concepts of subjective reality. So, while the group is in a reality created by only one of their number, the rest struggle to return to their original “real” world.  Because now, the group has to consider what is “real” and what is better or worse about the worlds their consciousnesses are creating.

The first “world” is the most intriguing, in my opinion, and I feel that PKD develops this one the most.  In this world, created by an older solider who was on the tour, the group falls into a reality which is extremely theocentric.  In fact, this is so much the case that it seems everyone carries around with them a copy of the book Bayan of the Second Bab.  Sins and good works are punished or blessed in the same moment as the act, and prayer is responded to immediately.  It makes the act of prayer seem superficial, but also all of the actions of people are obviously under some statistical rubric which determines the what/how of the response to their actions.  PKD’s incorporation of elements of Babism (not sure if it’s the Persian spirituality or the re-evolved Bahai movement) is fairly interesting.  Everyone in this subjective reality tends to be fanatical believers and the main character finds this world the easiest to assimilate – even if he does consider himself a dedicated empirical scientist.  There’s a lot of neat stuff in this chunk of the novel.

The other realities of the consciousnesses of the tour group are not as developed as the first.  One is absolutely downright creepy and horror-film worthy.  One woman on the tour was a paranoiac.  And her reality expresses the constant press of fear and conspiracy that her worldview generally has.  The other characters are forced to resort to extreme measures to escape this particular fantasy-reality.  However, I think some of the elements in this “reality” are very scary and telling about the author.

Besides the character of Silky, I don’t really know what to say about the character of Bill Laws.  Laws is a black man who graduated with a science degree.  Throughout the novel, though, he alternatively blames and befriends Hamilton for his successes and failures.  Laws sometimes seems under the control of the “fantasy-reality” and sometimes it seems like he is faking the effects of the events (for example, his dialect which he seems to engage and disengage at random).   At one point Hamilton tells Laws that he’s the most “neurotic sonofabitch” he’s ever met.  Laws saves Hamilton’s “life” in one of the realities.  In another, Laws uses Hamilton as an example of how a privileged white man did not have the same experiences in college and has more career prospects simply based on skin color.  One of the reasons I don’t know how to interpret this character is because he is constantly shifting – even as much as all the realities are shifting.  In a lot of ways, Laws is Hamilton’s doppelganger.  But what PKD was trying to get across to me as a reader through the character….. I have no idea.

I love PKD’s writing – it’s incredibly fluid and smooth.  The pages turn and the story progresses and it all makes reasonable sense when you’re in the novel.  There is this ease with which PKD’s writing seems to have that makes me jealous – no one should seem to have such an easy time writing.  And of course, he probably did not – however, reading the finished product, it seems so fluid and easy.  I will definitely read as much PKD as I can – and I will probably still rate the novels three-stars.  And I will probably still marvel at how good a writer PKD is.

3 stars

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