Published in 1957 (or thereabouts) Eye in the Sky is one of Philip K Dick’s earliest novels. As such a lot of the established features of Dick’s future reality are not manifest in the story, in fact this is a ‘near future’ story which begins in an alternative 1957 when eight people are involved in an accident while visiting a particle accelerator – the ‘Bevatron’.
The main character, Jack Hamilton, has been fired from his job at a Californian research lab due to his wife Marsha’s left-wing political leanings. Remember this is set during the McCarthy-era – a time in the US where it was thought that it was better to be dead than ‘Red’. The couple are caught up in the accident and while they lie injured on the floor of the Bevatron, laws of normal time and space cease to apply. The victims experience a series of fantastic shared worlds created from their thoughts, fears and aspirations.
The first world they encounter contains the eye in the sky – the eye of God looking down on everyone and passing divine justice on anyone who steps away from the path of righteousness. Like all the subjective worlds featured in the story this world is the figment of one of the eight minds trapped in the accident, in this case the mind of Arthur Silvester a geriatric political conservative and believer in a quasi-Babi religion. This allows PKD to comment on theology – one of his favourite subjects to which he would return frequently in later novels – with an emphasis on the ridiculous.
The second world is from the mind of Edith Pritchet a hypercritical elderly mother. She eradicates anything she finds irritating from the world to the point, with some encouragement from other characters, that the world is reduced to a piece of airless rock. The party of eight die and each time they do so (or knock out the person who is creating the world) they are transported into another fantasy.
The next world is created by Joan Reiss who has a severe case of paranoia. Everyone becomes accident prone and Jack Hamilton’s house becomes a kind of biological killing machine trying to eat up the occupants.
There is some uncertainty over the next world they enter although it is manifestly the construction of someone with Communist sympathies where America is populated by depraved gangsters, morally deprived underage drinkers and capitalist scum. Marsha is immediately suspected as being the culprit, but when she is knocked out and the fantasy continues, blame is placed elsewhere – turns out that Charles McFeyffe, the man responsible for Hamilton being fired is a secret Commie.
Back in the real world, having survived the accident, Jack Hamilton reproaches his ex-boss for his attitudes towards and Marsha and tries to implicate McFeyffe in a Red conspiracy. His arguments come to nothing, he has no solid evidence to support his claims, but again the author gets a chance to expound some anti-McCarthy views along the way. It’s no surprise that PKD was being ‘watched’ in later years.
I enjoyed this book for what it was – a humorous look at (late 1950s) modern society in a science fiction fantasy setting. It had its dark moments (an inside-out cat being the most horrible) and contained some glimpses of what PKD would write about in more detail and with more style in his later works.