Monday, August 6, 2007

Chapter Four

Blogging The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Part Five

It's good to be home and nice to get back to the novel. I can't believe I'm only on chapter four. I hope to pick up the pace significantly this week so let's dive in.

Analysis:

Chapter four begins with Leo Bulero attempting to see Palmer Eldritch at James Riddle Veteran's Hospital. Bulero in all his rind-headed glory is purposeful to the point of rudeness. Mayerson observes, "E-therapy had not brought [Bulero] tranquility" (58). Leo's got a 'purpose-driven life,' but not in that 'chicken-soup for the soul' kind of way (sorry there's lots of self-help books to browse in the airport).

Bulero meets Palmer's shall we say mannish daughter Zoe and quickly learns that he's been double-crossed by the United Nations who appear to be protecting Eldritch. Leo storms out and feverish phone calling ensues. The action in these first four chapters is mostly video conference calls and face to face meetings. I wonder how this would translate to film. But you cannot remove these plot points and I think it would be a disaster to substitute car or jet-pack chases for these scenes. I think a good adaptation of this film would focus on these meetings and background all of the trappings of the genre. In other words, the world could look very much like our own, having a kind of 'timeless' look, while in the background hover cars, personal cooling units and suitcase psychiatrists (all of which must be voiced by Albert Brooks) indicate a future earth. I like the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when that guy phones home from the yo-yo-shaped space station, wishing his kid a happy birthday. Not exactly edge of your seat cinema but who says science fiction can't slow down the plot a bit.

The doll-house and sacramental translation drug business is a dog-eat-dog one, as we are discovering. In this chapter. each character plots and schemes against the others in an attempt to get ahead. (I think this novel will actually be quite easy to write about for my students. I may ask them to give me three examples of characters looking to live someone else's life.) We see Mayerson and Fugate use their precognitive abilities to make a power grab at P.P. Layouts. Leo's making deals left and right in a panic; even Mayerson is surprised by Bulero's total inability to cope with any form of competition. Bulero, at one point, laments his involvement in the illegal drug business and wonders why he didn't end up designing rocket guidance systems for G.E. and General Dynamics - notice he didn't think about perhaps giving kittens to sick children or anything in any way charitable.

Dick moves the plot along incrementally, and with great economy he often shows us exactly where a particular character's story is headed. Mayerson notes in passing that he has sacrificed a lot of for his career, 'his marriage and the woman he - even now! - loved' (58). After Mayerson manages to get Leo to let him 'ride-herd' over all the pre-fash pre-cogs, Leo accuses Barney of being a tragic figure, of having that 'Greek sin - what did they call it? Hubris?' (61-62).

I love to hate Leo; he's hilarious and he's so unethical and selfish as to be completely unsympathetic. 'Come to me, artificially accelerated cortical-development idea, he said in prayer. God help me to overcome my enemies, the bastards' (56) and then, still in prayer presumably he begins to think, 'Maybe I can make use of my fashion pre-cogs.' Leo treats Mayerson like a commodity and then demands that Barney treat him like a pal when he needs him to. He reminds me a bit of Mr Burns on The Simpsons.

Footnotes:

47) Page 51 'tipped his expensive hand-fashioned wubfur derby to the girl': The Martian Wub initially shows up in PKD’s first published short story "Beyond Lies the Wub,” (Planet Stories, July, 1952); able to engage in metempsychosis. Also integral to short story, “Not By It’s Cover,” (Famous Science Fiction, Summer, 1968); Wub-fur bound books have contents that deal with immortality changed. [Would a human that wears Wub-fur have it’s contents/essence changed?] (fb)

48) Page 61 'snink': as far as I can tell this is another word Dick made up, but there are a lot of videogamers out there with the screen name snink. Coincidence?

10 comments:

umberto rossi said...

These first chapters are just piling up gunpowder for the subsequent fireworks. It's like the opening moves in a chess game, only it's a game whose rules are fixed by one of the players (Dick) and will change on the run. It's the Game of the Rat.

Chaser said...

Ah, yes, Thomas M. Disch's characterization of one of PKD's narrative ploys would be appropriate.
Good point, Umberto.

But more important, I would suggest, is the wubfur hat that Bulero wears.
Good footnote Ragel.

Wubfur seems to have some amazing properties, and if a human being is wearing some of it, what indeed would happen to them? (One of my all time favorite PKD stories is that first published one, "Beyond Lies The Wub."

palmer_eldritch said...

I assume the human wearing the wub fur would be changed in some way - perhaps similar to Captain Franco in Beyond Lies... but not as rapidly. In both stories the essence of the Wub lives on and changes that which it comes into contact with in a good way - like a benign Palmer Eldritch.

Chaser said...

Yes, the "essence" of the Wub does live on, especially in "Beyond Lies The Wub." But what about Captain Franco's essence?

After all, the Wub engages in metempsychosis by challenging Captain Franco to look him in the eyes as he shoots him (the eyes are the windows to the soul), thereby enabling his essence to supplant that of Captain Franco.

And in "Not By It's Cover," the Wubfur binding changes certain contents of certain books.

So, the Wubfur hat Leo Bulero wears in The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch seems to fall into the latter category, in that it (by "covering" part of Leo) could change certain "contents" of Leo Bulero. And remember that Leo has undergone E-therapy to speed up the evolution of his pre-frontal cortex. As a consequence it's become enlarged, thus the derogatory "bubble head" or bubble dome slang used.

Would it be Leo's ability to perceive and think that is most affected, or what?

umberto rossi said...

Wub is a stage prop, like many s-fnal objects, creatures, places that Dick grabbed whenever he needed to and threw in the story or novel he was busy writing at top speed to send the manuscript and get some money. Let's not forget he was a divorced sf pro writer. He had to pay alimony, but he was no Asimov or Heinlein in the 1960s. He wrote an awful lot of novels in an incredibly short period, also using an inordinate amount of amphetamines. So cannibalizing his previous works, be they other sf novels, earlier short stories or unpublished "realistic" works was a survival strategy. He probably remembered the wub from his story of the 1950s (published more than 10 years before!), but he wasn't interested in the properties of wubs in that text. He simply needed something weird to keep his narrative as S-fnal as his publisher liked (we know he always put psi powers in them because of editorial demands; you don't have psi powers in his novels after Flow My Tears...).

Chaser said...

I guess my question wasn't clear enough, because I wasn't asking if Philip K. Dick's reference to the Wub in The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch was a "MacGuffin," or not. Nor was it trying to get at the intentional, pathetic, affective, or premature teleology fallacy.

In "Not By Its Cover," the Wub is at one point characterize as "...a Martian animal that looks like a fusion between a hog and a cow." But also, "Wub-fur is rare because a wub very seldom dies. By that I mean, it is next to impossible to slay a wub -- even a sick or old wub. And, even though a wub is killed, the hide lives on."

And the owner of the Obelisk bookshop wonders "...if it would impart the same high level of survival factor to anything is was made into."

So, in The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, Leo Bulero is described as wearing an "expensive hand-fashioned wubfur derby."

Does his wearing of this wubfur derby affect him in any way, such as a higher survival level factor?

And, Umberto, that's a good photo of you at:
www.rickmcgrath.com/jgballard/shangai_
shepperton.html.

umberto rossi said...

Mr. Chaser's question:

"Does his wearing of this wubfur derby affect him in any way, such as a higher survival level factor?"

No, I don't think it does. However, there's no explicit mention of it in the whole novel. As I have already said, the wub here is no more than a prop, not a functional element of the plot.

Chaser said...

Would your perspective also apply to Philip K. Dick's allusion to the Wub in his novels, The Penultimate Truth (1964) and The Zap Gun (1967)?

Or might Bulero wearing a wubfur derby help explain his survival of what Palmer Eldritch does to him?

I'm not at all convinced mentioning the Wub is just window dressing for The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch.

umberto rossi said...

Chaser, I propose to put this discussion in the fridge, and then start it again at the end of the reading. We might see things in a very different perspective then.

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