Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin), 2012 edition
orig. written 1957 & published by Ace Books.
Tradepaper, 243 pages.
What does it say about me that this was a Christmas gift?
“When a routine tour of a particle accelerator goes awry, Jack Hamilton and the rest of his tour group find themselves in a world ruled by Old Testament morality, where the smallest infraction can bring about a plague of locusts. Escape from that world is not the end, though, as they plunge into a Communist dystopia and a world where everything is an enemy.
Philip K. Dick was aggressively individualistic and no worldview is safe from his acerbic and hilarious take downs. Eye in the Sky blends the thrills and the jokes to craft a startling morality lesson hidden inside a comedy.” (jacket copy)
As you may have guessed from the synopsis, Eye in the Sky employs the ridiculous with an indiscriminate hand. Such brand of humor isn’t for everyone, nor is the novel. Not to come across as snotty, it is one of those reads that comes out better if the reader has a good grasp on their history lessons. That said, it does have that timeless quality as the U.S. hasn’t progressed that far from extreme political paranoia and race- and class-ism. And apparently, helicopter parenting is not a new phenomena after all. In true Dickian fashion, Eye in the Sky is bizarre, but incredibly relevant.
I heard a bit of a humming sound as I read the science in the fiction (more the physics than the electronics, oddly enough); so forgive me if I do not observe plausibility. As it was, I was quickly swept up into the impossible (but familiar?) situation the Hamiltons, and then the tour group, finds themselves in.
If they’d expected to wake at all after the accident, it should have been in a hospital. Instead they wake in what increasingly appears to be an alternate reality—but whose? and how? It isn’t a deserted island destination but a dystopia of frightening—and amusingly imagined—proportion. And the next reality after they’ve survived the first is just as terrifying. Our guide and protagonist Jack Hamilton reads a lot like Rick Deckard (for those of you who’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)—though instead of a young Harrison Ford, I cast Cary Grant. He is wry, and a bit bewildered.
It becomes clear as the novel progresses that regardless of the diverse perspectives/utopic visions, there is little room for Jack and his wife Marsha’s less conservative views. And they are not the only ones who do not belong, finding the ‘reality’ conflict-ridden, to say nothing of oppressive. Eye in the Sky introduces a question of social tolerances; what one is able to abide, arguments toward degrees of moderation in the face of extremist points-of-view. The young black tour guide and physicist, Bill Laws, and free-thinking, feminist Marsha Hamilton are the most intriguing to watch. And it is also interesting to think about how are protagonist reads and responds to the shifting landscape about him. For fans of character-driven novels, Dick is a favorite spiked dessert. He is nothing if not provoking.
And he knows how to set up a good thriller. I should have seen the end coming, and I know I owe this book a second read at least. Dick is excellent with the surreal and painfully concrete. His imagination and social critique are love letters, exactly what I need to know exists out there; so eloquent and messy, yet precise.
recommendations… If you are a Philip K Dick fan, this one should not escape your notice, unless the occasional religious and/or nationalistic irreverence is not your cup of tea—though now I am wondering when/where he doesn’t make such commentary? If conspiracies and paranoia are a Sunday afternoon, Dick continues to dispense thrillers with a delight in the darkly absurd. Eye in the Sky is especially bizarre, but it is a quick and compelling read for fans of such things.
of note… this is a read for the Sci-Fi Experience 2014.