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“Eye in the Sky” by Philip K Dick (1957)

“Eye in the Sky” is Philip K. Dick’s first novel to really express the reality-bending genre that he eventually comes to command.

Eight visitors to a Bevatron site in Belmont, California have an accident when a scaffolding collapses, and they fall sixty feet to the floor below, passing through the beam of the particle accelerator on the way to the ground. One of those visitors, Jack Hamilton, has just been fired from his job at the guided missile plant because the military staff fear his wife Marsha may have Communist sympathies.

When he awakes he finds himself in the hospital along with the other victims of the accident: Marsha, McFeyffe the head of security at the missile plant, Bill Laws, the Negro tour guide, Mr. and Mrs. Pritchet and their son, and Miss Joan Reiss. Luckily no one is hurt badly so they return to their homes, only to discover that the world has strangely changed.

They slowly discover that the world is now directed by a deeply involved god. Physics, electronics, even economics work based on the grace of the One True God of (Tetragrammaton). More grace means your car works. Loss of grace means that boils are visited upon your person. The ruler of this world is Horace Clamp, prophet of the One True God in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

After some adventures, and a face-to-eye encounter with (Tetragrammaton), Hamilton learns that this world is the creation of Arthur Silvester, one of the other people involved in the accident. Together with the other members of the group they render Silvester unconcious in the (Tetragrammaton) world, and awake in a new world, which is again a shared hallucination, or perhaps truly another dimension.

The new world is created by Mrs. Edith Pritchet, who is willing to banish from existence anything that offends or causes problems, starting with sex and ending with Helium, Neon, Nitrogen, and air. Naturally, after that everyone dies and they pass on to the next world, a place brimming with menace, rigid and harsh, that of the paranoid Miss Joan Reiss.

An especially memorable scene is when the cheerful prostitute/waitress Silky from previous worlds has been transformed into an ominous spider-like thing lurking in her den in the basement of the Hamilton's ranch house. Of course everyone is armed in this world, so they try discuss killing Miss Reiss, fulfilling her paranoia. There's an eerie scene where the group turns into blood-sucking aliens under the paranoid gaze of Reiss, just before she dies.

The final world is a police state, clamping down on the unruly masses of looters and rioters who prowl the streets. As Bill Laws says, it's "the Communist idea of America - gangster cities, full of vice and crime." McFeyffe, the security officer,, claims that this world is Marsha Hamilton's vision and it was only through the accident with the bevatron that Jack Hamilton learns about his wife's true beliefs. But, when Jack knocks her unconscious they learn the world comes from McFeyffe's mind. He is the true Communist sympathizer.

After finishing the book, it’s interesting to re-read the beginning and realize that it’s an inherent problem not being able to fully understand what someone else is thinking. This is what gets Jack fired -- because they can’t tell what Marsha is thinking. Yet, once we start living within people’s minds, we realize the restrictions, the horror, the fascism that could be in any one of us. The idea for “Eye” probably came from an event that occurred in Dick’s life. According to Wikipedia, “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 briefly befriended one of the FBI agents.[24]”

Dick didn’t invent shared alternate realities. According to a biography of Dick called “To The High Castle” by Gregg Rickman:
“The roots of [“Eye in the Sky”] are in the "group mind" of such stories as Damon Knight's "Four In One" (1953), a story Dick is on record as admiring; and Fredric Brown's "What Mad Universe" (1949), a tale of bizarre realities alternate to our own, figments of one man's imagination... Ever the craftsman, Dick told Ed Meskys in the early 60s "how it was important to maintain the pace of the book by making each adventure shorter than the one before it."

But it’s easy to see how he took to this idea. Subsequent novels of his often involved groups of people sharing a hallucination, sometimes by accident as in “Eye”, and sometimes on purpose, as in the Perky Pat layouts of “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.”

Surprisingly, the moment that Dick started to find his own genre was when he decided to give up writing science fiction. The biography “Divine Invasions” by Lawrence Sutin has this passage:
"Eye" established Phil, at age 28, as one of the very best young sf writers. As a practical matter, however, ACE paid only a flat rate of one thousand dollars for Phil's SF novels -- with future royalties very much in doubt. There were other avenues to bolster his SF income. Phil recalled being offered, around 1957, a job writing radio scripts for the Captain Video program... But beyond economics, Phil wanted to break through into the mainstream so badly he could taste it.And so, in 1957, just as the glowing reviews of EYE were pouring in, Phil informed Wollheim and Boucher --...--- that he was giving the field up to devote himself full time to mainstream novels.

Unluckily for Dick, but luckily for his fans, his next novel “Mary and the Giant” was rejected by publishers so he returned to writing science fiction.

From the back cover:
Here is a heady jest, the first book since Fredric Brown’s “What Mad Universe” in which, within the plot’s legimate framework, anything - but anything can happen.
This glorious jape is, briefly, the story of an accident to a bevatron, in which eight people, in falling a considerable distance, pass through the highly energized beam. They recover and return home, sharing the feeling that something is vaguely amiss; but when an irreverence gets you a mysterious nip in the leg, and a lie brings a plague of locusts, the feeling gets less vague. From there it takes off madly, in wild hyperbolic sweeps of unabashed imagination. Two guys ride to heaven on an umbrella, and there’s a house which eats people. Characters are killed, and restored for the next go-round to try it over. The earth comes to an end more than once.
It’s worth eleven times the price and all your rereading time. I like it. -- Theodore Sturgeon