Review by Jason Koornick: Eye In The Sky (1957)

Summary


As a book that proved Philip K. Dick’s talents as a novelist, Eye In The Sky conveys the best elements of his style in an engrossing and psychologically twisted story.


After an accident lands Jack Hamilton, his wife and six other tourists on top of a radiation charged particle accelerator, the group begins a journey through their own separate minds and realities. Being trapped in the worlds of a crackpot racist and a self-absorbed socialite is just the beginning of this other-worldly journey. While there are many familiar elements to Hamilton and crew, in these worlds anything can and does happen. Just when they think they understand their predicament, the group is placed in a more confounding situation. The dark realities these characters must face are filled with ironies.


Stereotypes become reality and deep-rooted perceptions create nightmarish situations for the eight person group. Eye In The Sky is filled with many classic Dickian situations and themes. There is an encounter with God at the center of the universe, a house that devours people to survive and a world where people are showered with locusts for telling a lie.


Dick craftsfully leaves the reader vulnerable by altering the laws of time, physics and ultimately perception. The characters in Eye In The Sky are distinctive. While they all appear very normal on the surface, dark secrets lurk in the recesses of their minds.


Eye In The Sky is a perfect example of Dick’s brand of speculative fiction. It questions the stability of people’s belief system and shatters the trust placed in human senses. Philip K. Dick has created a masterpiece in Eye In The Sky. This novel should not be overlooked as one his important works.

 

Review

Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.

Bravo! Philip K. Dick has done it again. Reading Eye In The Sky made me feel like I was reading my first PKD novel. This story grabbed my attention and held it up to the very end.


This story was written by a young Philip Dick, just beginning to discover his own style especially for the novel. He creates a story that makes profound sense in a context where logic and rational perception are dismissed. This represents the true art of Dick’s fiction and can be seen in many of his novels which followed Eye In The Sky.

The philosophical issues of perception and personal world view are major themes of Eye In The Sky. Dick is sending a powerful message about perceptive reality and human disconnectedness. He is doubting whether people see their worlds in the same way. He’s asking questions like “Who’s to say what’s real?”, “Whose emotions are valid?” and “Just because we see it, is it there?”.


I especially enjoyed the many personality types that are exposed in this book. The suggestion is raised that some degree of insanity (however small) exists in every person’s mind. The more “normal” they appear on the outside, the more fears they may harbor in their psyches. The real-world manifestations of these insecurites and fears are highly subjective. Dick takes the opportunity to point out the irony in the way religious groups (especially Christianity) try to manifest divine power in the real world. All the doctrine involving Arthur Silvester’s Second Babiist Faith seems to highlight these inconsistencies.

The only normal person in the book is the main character Jack Hamilton (and Marsha to some degree). This down on his luck working class electronics engineer has the only reliable viewpoint in the whole novel. It is through his eyes that we experience the story. To the other characters (especially Silvester, Pritchert, Reiss and McFeyffe), their psychotic self-absorbed worlds don’t seem strange. Jack (and Marsha) are able to view the situations objectively and see how out of touch the other characters are with the “real world”, the reality where they are lying on the Bevatron.


The progression from the egocentric but mildly harmless universe of Arthur Silvester to the nightmarish worlds of Joan Reiss and McFeyffe serves to build tension and create a highly dramatic storyline. The final plot twist where McFeyffe is revealed as the traitor he’s trying to expose is shocking, devilishly clever and logical in this subjective reality. The political statements Dick is making in the final scenes of Eye In The Sky are very intriguing. He suggests that communists and right-wing government officials are similar guises behind which power-hungry individuals hide. While these political philosophies are radically different in content, the motives which drive many adherents are not so foreign. McFeyffe the top-level military strategist and McFeyffe the communist informant are the same character. One who thrives off the strength of his convictions. Like Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly, the dual personalities blur into one. The distinction vanishes and the selfish motives reveal themselves.


Philip K. Dick also comments on the self-absorbed nature of wealthy society through the vision of Edith Pritchert. Her love for arts and high culture make her blind to the workings of the real world. She thinks everything she perceives exists for her comfort and pleasure. She has no concept or appreciation for these things on her own. She simply believes what society has taught her is fine art and lacks and sense of individuality.


The only disappointment in Eye In The Sky was the final ending. Where did the idea of Hamilton and Laws starting a record company? This is the only part that seems disconnected from the rest of the novel.


Despite the awkward closing, Eye In The Sky is a terrific novel that ranks among my top five PKD books. He expresses many profound ideas in a story that makes sense even with all it’s metaphysical complications. With strong characters and a clever plot twist at the end, Eye In The Sky offers a psychologically challenging view of human perception.

Agree or disagree? Add a comment below.

8 thoughts on “Review by Jason Koornick: Eye In The Sky (1957)

  1. A near-masterpiece that considered psychadelic visions nearly 10 years before the onset of the hallucenogenic age,without the drigs theme and before the author took them.Unlike the later,mature novels that had his trademark unresolved conclusions or cryptic answers however,it has a simply resolved and tightly plotted ending that allows the characters a return to normal.Its still a great book though and one that the later generation of new wave writers would not achieve.

    I wonder if it was inspired by Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror”.I’d be interested to know if Dick liked the artist.

  2. Major spoiler if you have not read he story already.

    I thought the ending was quite ingenious. Starting are record company seems to be precisely the thing that could happen if we were in Jack’s world, doesn’t it? So are they in reality or are they just stuck in the mind of the next person?

  3. Sorry,did’nt think I gave anything away.Anyway,no they don’t know if the’ve returned to base reality.Nothing is certain in “the wizard’s” personal Corpernican universe.

    Unlike the later novels however, beginning with “The Man in the High Castle” and later up to “Ubik”,of which EITS was a model for a novel for Dick to preform his trick of reinventing his earlier stuff into something totally new,where life and death,fortunetly or unfortunetly, can no longer be distinguished as it turns out,,the characters are at least blissfully unaware of their condition.On the other hand however,prehaps Jack feasibly did start a record company,for Dick himself once worked in a record store.Is’nt it so likely that someone so brilliant could have done the same,if he’d have taken a different career path?Well?

  4. I love PKD and was surprised I’d never heard of this book, so grabbed it when I spotted the review, which I then avoided reading until now. Good book.

    SPOILER

    As Michael said, it seemed to me that we end on Hamilton’s dream world.

    This is foreshadowed during the novel as it mentions his ambitions, his outlook, the order of casualties and their relative states of consciousness (he’s next up; that could never have been Marsha’s world), his comment about being sincere and honest when talking to his boss and then being appropriately careful when telling Mrs. Pritchard about the likelihood of return (Laws gets bitten for being too casually optimistic; just a “coincidence”?).

    However, it’s implied that Hamilton himself is not entirely sure at that point perhaps, whether its the real world or his world. In fact, the world Hamilton would “make” would be aligned with his views and outlook, which to him and most others wouldn’t be distinguishable, because:

    Earlier in the book Hamilton says that after the psycho woman, they’ll be safe because everyone else would want to return to normal reality. He doesn’t say they will *actually* return to normal reality, just that the worlds they create, aligned with their desires, would *correspond* to a normal reality.

    That’s what happens at the end.

    I think. 🙂

  5. >Where did the idea of Hamilton and Laws starting a record company?

    During the story, it’s mentioned that his basement is full of hi-fi equipment. He has a conversation with his wife about how he was experimenting with new methods, and his ambitions in that department.

    It’s not a record company, it’s a high-fidelity sound-equipment company, mixing his skills as an electrical engineer with his passion for sound and music.

    That’s what finally makes me think it’s “his dream world” at the end.

  6. The visions of his later novels,and short stories,especially “Faith of Our Fathers”,are nightmarish,psychedelic or disconcerting,but are unveilings of their true condition.It is rarely what they wanted.Often of course,the deception lies in a political or pseudo religious realm.”Eye in the Sky” contains deeply personal political and pseudo religious thought.Perhaps his utilitarian “dream world” is the one ultimate reality then.

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