Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Ballard Takes on PKD (in 1966)

Auto-enthusiast J.G. Ballard, generally considered a very 'Dickian' writer, wrote the following fairly shallow review of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch in 1966:

J. G Ballard: “What to do till the analyst comes” The Guardian: 31 March 1966, p. 6

"The social satire, in the past one of the strongest forms of science fiction, has withered away in recent years, perhaps reflecting the present mood of complacency about our manners and morals – or, just conceivably, a sense that the future holds a great deal worse in store. Certainly the future described in Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch makes our own times seem Arcadian. The twenty-first century hero, Barney Mayerson, carries a computer psychiatrist around with him in a suitcase to provide instant therapy. However, the psychiatrist, Dr. Smile, who measures his patients’ stressing Freuds, has the demoralizing habit of pronouncing their names wrongly.
Elsewhere notions of reality are equally confused. Even the cement in the vast housing blocks that stretch from coast to coast is synthetic. Intermittent failures of the cooling systems reduce entire record collections to fused lumps, and the population has given themselves over to chewing a hallucinogenic drug, Can-D. No one could blame them, nor expect them to put up much of a fight against the even more sinister drug, Chew-Z, that appears on the interstellar horizon. “No one made us chew Chew-Z,” Barney repines at the end, but the point is never followed up. As with so many of these consumerised nightmares, “The Space Merchants” pre-eminent among them, the author and his characters implicitly accept the social and moral values ostensibly under attack.
…One guesses that the writers of these so-called satires, like the advertising agencies they envision in the future, already see us a passive robots barely able to distinguish one branded product from another."

Ballard is actually panning several books here, but any mention of the others has been removed because nobody cares about other writers.

For those who haven't read Pohl and Kornbluth's "The Space Merchants" do so now. We'll wait.

Amazing right?

Is Ballard still alive? Someone should ask him about this article because I think it clearly shows young optimism being, well, overly optimistic. In fact we can't tell one branded reality from another, or rather we can tell them apart but simply don't care about the difference (which frankly is one of scariest things about The Three Stigmata). What would Ballard say about this reality? Or this one? And did Ballard describe the political mood in 1966 as "complacent"? If that's right all those VH1 specials I watched were completely misleading!

Thanks again to PKD-Otaku contributer Patrick Clark for transcribing and sending this along. Hopefully you're all dusting off your copy of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch in preparation for our reading which will commence in two short weeks (July 15).


Alex said...

Thank you for exposing me to "The Space Merchants." It was so amazing.

I'll have to buy Three Stigmata soon.

Anonymous said...

Yes Ballard is still alive although not in great health apparently. Still writing, his latest book Kingdom Come was published last year.

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