Patrick's Reviews > Martian Time-Slip

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
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Sep 06, 11

Read in September, 2011

Working my way back into reading all Dick's novels again. Here is some classic Dick (ew!): the clunky exposition, the complexity of reality. This one begins and ends by concerning itself with a bevy of topics and characters: unions, autism, the education system, family life, marital infidelity, gentrification, small-time businessmen, racism, aborigines, mental illness in children, and etcetera. Martian Time-Slip begins and ends as a story about modern suburban life, and the fact that it takes place on Mars hardly matters.

Of course, this being a Philip K Dick novel, things eventually take a sharp turn for the bizarre. While Dick's explanation of autism and schizophrenia might be dubious, within the context of the novel they seem most chillingly real, and the distortion and disorientating effects of time and space in one particular section are without question haunting. Our relationship between time and space, our very perception of reality, is at stake here. The struggle between conforming to society's idea of reality or falling forever inward into a vacuous psychotic black hole:

"Now I can see what psychosis is: the utter alienation of perception from the objects of the outside world, especially the objects which matter: the warmhearted people there. And what takes their place? A dreadful preoccupation with- the endless ebb and flow of one's own self. The changes emanating from within which affect only the inside world. It is a splitting apart of the two worlds, the inner and outer, so that neither registers on the other. Both still exist, but each goes its own way. It is the stopping of time. The end of experience, of anything new. Once the person becomes psychotic, nothing ever happens to him again." (170)

It is a frightening struggle, but one that all but disappears as the book reaches its sort-of disappointing conclusion. Or I should say the struggle is transformed, hidden but still frightening, subtle and at last confronted. Maybe I'm being too vague, but I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say all the weirdness falls back and at last the book offers the redemptive powers of returning to the fold, a reward that does not entirely seem genuine.

There's nothing quite like a Philip K Dick character. Alienating and unlikable, they are more than mere cardboard characters but rather seem to be extensions of Dick's own mind, pros and cons of various inner arguments. That is why, perhaps, his female characters always seem a little too feminine, a little too superficially presented. One can almost imagine Dick in drag, a la Being John Malckovitch, acting out the part of a tired housewife. The proletariats and small-minded American cons go about their business as a never-objective but still distant narrator discerns their fate, and guides them to some inner revelation they always feared and never wanted to face, while all the while we are trapped with them in their minds, experiencing all their anxiety, paranoia, fears, claustrophobia.

As far as Dick novels go (and keeping in mind I am reading them in order of publication) this one is remarkably stylized, with some great phrases (the sinister nonsense of gubble gubble, the "hypochondria of the machine," and it wouldn't be a Philip Dick novel if simulacra didn't get a mention) and that terrific Sound-And-Fury moment late in the novel in which one event is told multiple times from various distorted perspectives. Dick's unintentional (?) goofiness and sometimes over-the-top surrealism is probably off-putting and confusing to the uninitiated, but once you start reading more of him you come to appreciate what an amazing mind and imagination he had, even if it is perhaps a very bleak, depressing mind, and one too sure of itself and all too willing to believe its own paranoid "madness." But then again, that's part of his charm.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Jayaprakash Satyamurthy Interesting insight about Dick's female characters. Add to that the fact that he had a girl twin who died. Interesting place, the mind of PKD...


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Top 5 PKD for me. Good review, too.


Patrick It's unfair to call PKD sexist because I think all his characters are fundamentally perspectives and personal opinions of his own consciousness rather than attempts at fleshed-out beings- which is true and obvious of most authors, I guess, but with PKD it's crucial to the subject he is trying to expose (namely, the complexities of reality).

My favorite PKD books so far (of the ones I can remember pretty well) have been this and Time Out of Joint. Man in the High Castle was good but wasn't as interesting to me. I think I remember liking Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Dr. Bloodmoney but I read them a long time ago.


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