Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Second Half of Chapter One

Above: Inspired by The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, reader Josh Burker created this photo collage in the 1980s

Blogging The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Part Three

In 1964, soon after writing The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, PKD wrote a letter to his friend and fellow sf-writer, Ron Goulart, explaining that in his "formula" for writing a novel you introduce three characters in the first three chapters:

"First character, not protagonist but "subhuman," that is, less than life, a sort of everyman who exists throughout the book but is, well, passive; we learn the entire world or background as we see it acting on him...We see the world we are going be inhabiting, and here the novel differs from the short story: it is not a dramatic progression culminating in a Scene or Crisis but, as I say, an entire world..." (Sutin Biography 137)

Richard Hnatt is clearly this novel's "subhuman" and the world he introduces us to is like the final slide in an Al Gore powerpoint presentation. We quickly learn that it's HOT! REAL HOT! I'm honestly a little creeped out by the eerily prescient world Dick is imagining. I wonder how widely global warming was being discussed in the 60s.


The first couple of paragraphs in this section are what is called an 'infodump.' Writer Daniel Green gripes about infodumps in an interesting blog entry which specifically mentions the second paragraph on page 8 (beginning (The key glacier...). He's right - to a certain extent. Infodumps are supposed to be neatly woven into the prose, but actually I think PKD does a pretty good job on this one. After all he's introducing us to an incredibly rich and complex world. But there are lots of infodumps in this section.

We quickly learn that the Sierra Club's worst nightmares of rising temperatures are coming to pass as we are introduced to Richard Hnatt and his wife Emily (who just happens to be Mayerson's ex-wife).

As Hnatt rides to his meeting with Mayerson, we find out more about Barney, most importantly that he divorced his wife after she got pregnant twice, thereby violating the by-laws of their exclusive Conapt, 33. Does anybody besides me wonder how Mayerson, as a precog, could have failed to see these outcomes? Did he end up producing two incredibly unfashionable "miniatures"?

Notice also, the businessman Hnatt meets on the thermosealed interbuilding commute car says Mayerson's despicable behavior (sending his wife and kids (where are the kids?) packing) is understandable as everyone wants to live in 33:

"what wouldn't you and I give to have an apartment in 33 or 34?" (page 12)

Brrrr. Everybody dreams of having a better life. Mayerson wants to live like Bulero, Hnatt and the businessman want to live like Mayerson. This is a thread that runs through the entire novel.

We also get our first information about Palmer Eldritch in a very important pargraph:

"Palmer Eldritch was too wild and dazzling a solo pro; he had accomplished miracles in getting autofac production started on the colonies, but - as always he had gone too far, schemed too much. Consumer goods had piled up in unlikely places where no colonies existed to make use of them."

Not only does this description sound similar to 'kipple' as it appeared in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but this sets up our notion of Eldritch. Providing more supply than there is demand, Eldritch imposes his consumer goods both on the settlers as well as on the cosmos at large, filling the empty space of the solar system with his goods, his will transformed into matter.

In the climactic scene of chapter one, Hnatt comes face to face with Mayerson and Roni Fugate and the conflict escalates as Mayerson, dismissive and prickish, rejects Emily's ceramics, while Miss Fugate (after clutching a ceramic vase to her chest) suggests Emily's cases will sell very well. For a thorough discussion of how pre-cogs might see the future, check out this article from SFCrowsnest.com.


4) page 8 'had increased by 16 Selkirks': Alexander Selkirk was the Scottish sailor who became the castaway that inspired Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and presumably that Tom Hanks movie. (dg) Thanks Frank Bertrand and palmer_eldritch

5) page 8 'Ol' Skintop' and '4.62 Grables' also appear to be invented but if anyone has additional insight let me know. (dg)

6) page 8 'owed ten and half skins': we learn later that this refers to truffle skins which are being used as currency. (10-1 they're extraterrestrial truffles) (dg)

7) page 9 'whip hand': "give the whip hand", "look a gift horse in the mouth", "long in the tooth", "put out to grass", "getting his oats" and so on. These may be considered dead metaphors as the historical equine-related meaning is generally not appreciated by the contemporary user. Source: Answers.com (dg)

8) page 11 'ever seen a Proxima thing?': Proxima Centauri, red dwarf star, closest to our sun, 4.22 light yrs. away (fb)

9) page 11 'flashing the info to the P.P. disc jockey...orbiting Mars': The idea of an orbiting radio disc jockey playing a key social role is one of the central themes in "Dr Bloodmoney" which Dick wrote less than a year before Stigmata (dg)

10) page 12 'Palmer Eldritch': "A palm branch, in Christian symbolism, suggests the martyr's triumph over death. A palmer is a pilgrim who, as a sign of having been to the Holy Land (or the Prox solar system?), carries a palm branch (or the Chew-Z lichen?). Eldritch, of course, is a favorite adjective of Lovecraft and other writers of the Weird Tales pulp era of the twenties and thirties." (Sutin bio pps 132-133) (dg) Thanks Patrick Clark and Perry Kinnman!

11) page 13 'autonomic cab': automated cab drivers are perhaps the most common recurring trope in Dick's novels. They're everywhere. Perhaps the most notable appearance is near the end of 'Now Wait For Last Year.' (dg)

12) page 13 'he mumbled a prolix prayer': prolix simply means prolonged but there is an old Rabbinical saying Dick may be referencing here:

"prolix prayer prolongeth life" Source: Sketches of Jewish Social Life (dg)


Anonymous said...

I always thought 'Selkirks' was a reference to Alexander Selkirk, the supposed inspiration for Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

Anonymous said...

Also, doesn't PKD use 'Grables' because Betty Grable was, well, hot?

And 'Ol' Skintop' appears to be completely made up - it doesn't exist in the World Glacier Inventory, anyway!

Anonymous said...

Eldritch's 'success' at autofac over-production is reminiscent of the short story Autofac, where the factories keep on producing while there are resources available, fight amongst themselves over resources and end up launching 'seeds' of themselves into space.

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