the Little Red Reviewer

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

Posted on: January 15, 2015

Martian Time-Slip (1981)Martian Time-Slip, by Philip K Dick

published in 1964

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve never had much luck reading Philip K. Dick.  I enjoyed reading The Penultimate Truth, and got through Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but other than that, I was rarely able to get more than 20 pages into one of his books. I assumed I didn’t like his writing style, and I gave up.  On a lark, I picked up a used copy of Martian Time-Slip.  It looked short, and thus easily survivable even if I ended up not caring for it.

 

What a happy surprise, to find myself really enjoying it! The beginning of the story follows Jack Bohlen, a highly skilled mechanic at a Mars colony.  He’s able to provide quite well for his family, as it’s nearly impossible to import spare parts, so anyone skilled with fixing machinery is in high demand on Mars.  From Jack’s observations, we get some information on the different colonies his employer sends him to. We also learn about the indigenous Martians, who are still alive. Sometimes hired as cheap labor, the Martians, known as Bleekmen (also known as an offensive term that I can’t bring myself to use), know how to survive away from the canals their ancestors cultivated.  The colonists generally treat the natives like shit, but it’s the law of the air that if you are piloting a flyer, and you see Bleekmen (or anyone) stranded in the desert, you are required the land and provide help as you are able. I’m not sure if it was Dick’s intention, but I saw the colonists treatment of the natives as a commentary on casual racism and post colonialism.

The story then shifts to Arnie Kott, who is the union boss of the colony. While Jack is working for him, they get talking about schizophrenia, which Jack had suffered from as a young man. Kott learns of a ten year old autistic boy who lives in a Martian institution (any child who doesn’t meet certain qualifications of “normal” is institutionalized), and becomes privy to the theory that this child, Manfred, has a completely different sense of time than we do. If we could only communicate with the boy, he’d be able to tell us the future.  At Kott’s insistence, Jack works on developing a machine that will help them communicate with Manfred.  Kott will then know exactly how to manipulate markets and businesses to as to rule over the other Martian colonies.  It was darkly funny that Kott never once questions that just maybe this theory about Manfred is complete crap. Is Kott desperate? is he gullible?

 

Jack was a great character to follow, and even through it’s Arnie Kott who pushes the story along, the entire story is really all about Jack.  Humiliated about his youthful diagnosis, Jack begins to lose trust in the system that diagnosed him, and question if anything was ever wrong with him in the first place.  There’s a great scene where Jack is visiting his son’s school, and all the teachers are actually androids who have been programmed with specific personalities so the students can learn history, art, rhetoric, respect, etc.  And it’s these androids who decide if a student is normal, or defective. In a later scene at the school, the “teachers” are made very uncomfortable by their attempts to communicate successfully with Manfred.

 

Dr. Milton Glaub, the psychiatrist, was also an interesting character to watch. He makes his income on a per-patient basis, so the more people he can diagnose as psychotic or otherwise mentally ill, the higher his paycheck.  He reminded me of all the prescription drug ads I see on tv and see in magazines. Should you talk to your doctor about SuchandSuchitis because you might have it? or because someone will make money off you thinking or assuming that you have it because you answered yes to three out of five questions?  I imagine Dick’s future Earth and the Martian colonies have those same adverts, as characters casually (and legally) take high quantities of drugs so they won’t have to worry about what’s going on around them.

 

Just as I was really getting into the book, it got weird on me. We get some scenes from Manfred’s point of view, and while he can, in a way, see the future, he doesn’t understand what anything he sees means, nor does he know how best to communicate what he sees. One scene in particular happens over and over again, with Jack sometimes trying to change the outcome. And I was never really sure what going on with that.  Has Jack gotten stuck in a time loop, perhaps through Manfred? Is Jack seeing possible futures, with the opportunity to choose his fate? Is he simply hallucinating and falling into an uncontrolled state of psychosis?

 

At the close of the book, Kott gets what he deserves, and Jack’s life sort of goes back to normal. Well, as normal as possible, now that Jack has had another brush with what he’s been trained to believe is mental illness.

 

I don’t know that I will ever “get” Philip K. Dick. But I did good enough with Martian Time-Slip that I’m willing to give his other, more famous books another chance.

24 Responses to "Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick"

Its a strange, but solid Dick novel. SFFaudio and I talked about it on their podcast recently

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I haven’t read this PKD book, but it sounds excellent. Now I’m going to have to get a copy ASAP.

I’m glad you were able to enjoy it even after it “got weird on you”. I think one of the reasons why I like PKD so much is because his stories are predictably unpredictable; if that makes sense. I have never successfully predicted the course and outcome of any PKD book I’ve read. His mind obviously worked in a much different way than my own. I wish I knew where all his ideas came from, that’s for sure.

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I actually really enjoy PKD, although I haven’t read (or even heard of!) this one. I like the way you end one of his books never really knowing if you understood everything, but I always felt that meant I could use my own interpretation. I’m glad you enjoyed this!

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I find that while I enjoy reading PKD books and short stories, that if I read them too close together, I start feeling his paranoia creep into my life.

I’d highly recommend Man in the High Castle if you haven’t read it yet . One of my favorite books.

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I’ve mostly read his short fiction, which I’ve enjoyed. I did like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, myself. I read one of his really old ones, The Cosmic Puppets, that was fun.

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I’m a big fan of PKD. Martian Time Slip is one of my favorites. The early novels published in the late 50’s in pretty weak. But the 60’s work is where he hit his stride. Highly recommend Man in the High Castle, Dr Bloodmoney , The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said and Ubik.

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I haven’t read much Philip K. Dick, though I did like the short story “The Minority Report.” Maybe I’ll give Martian Time Slip a try.

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My favorite philip k dick book is valis. I’d be interested to know what you think of it.

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It’s not just you. I’m finishing up A Scanner Darkly, and I don’t get it, either. I assume in order to get Dick’s point, one should be dropping enough acid to kill an elephant.

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The first episode of The Man in the High Castle is online at Amazon for free. Gonna check it out later.

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I’m pretty sure that this is up there with Ubik as my favorite PKD novel…

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“Ubik” is one of his best I suppose.It seems to go through some rigmarole earlier though to get to the excellent theme of what is life and what is death,which is treated with farcical brilliance though.

It seemed to short a novel though,having wasted time in the earlier chapters with I think unnecessary detail,and the rest was done hurriedly.I prefer “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”,and MTS is a fine novel also.

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That confusing part? That’s the actual “time slip” in action. I like this well enough, though MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and FLOW MY TEARS are probably my favorites. I need to read more of the short stories.

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I rather like rattling along, thinking I know how the story will roll, then getting tossed out on my bum and realizing I ‘m not as smart as I thought I was. (Also appreciate that you review with enough detail so we understand why you say what you say without providing so much that we feel we don’t need to read the book. Good on ya.)

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I have this sitting around, after finding it just sitting in an unused locker at school. Haven’t read much PKD myself, but will get to it eventually.

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There’s a scene in this novel that’s one of the most purely terrifying things I’ve ever read. PKD was very good when he was on his game – Ubik, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch are my favorites.

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which scene? I found the “Groundhog Day”-esque bit exquisitely terrifying.

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The one where “gubble gubble gubble” starts to creep in on reality. This was the very first PKD I’d read, and so the first time I experienced the kind of existential terror he was so good at.

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ah yup. that was pretty damn messed up.

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Have to agree with you re: PKD. I’ve read two books by him now (Man in the High Castle & Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), and at the end of both I was mostly “Huh?” and “Meh?” He’s a skilled writer, highly imaginative, but I don’t really “get” him or the way he structures (unstructures?) his worlds. I always feel like I’m reading a thought experiment rather than a novel.

Maybe this one will help me dive into him better. I’ve also never tried his short fic: I find there are a lot of authors I like better in short form than longer (such as Faulkner).

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I’ll seek out his shorter fiction, but yeah, the idea of reading 300+ pages of his writing style just does NOT overly thrill me.

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Philip K. Dick is a very uneven writer. He wrote some brilliant works. He wrote some unbelievably bad stuff. MARTIAN TIME-SLIP is on of PKD’s best books. I’m a fan of DR. BLOODMONEY, too. And his early short stories. Dick’s later work is unreadable to me.

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What I’ve always loved about Dick is that invariably the androids, or robotic mechanisms tend to be wiser or more stable than humans. In the ending pages of Now Wait for Last Year – not one of Dick’s best but a good story nonetheless – the cab driver (a robot) offers the most profound statement about life and why it’s worth sticking with the harder option. Dick wasn’t a great prose stylist, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve just found his books easy to read, but the depth of humanity is always there, sorely lacking in many other authors.

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Reblogged this on Paseos Intersticiales and commented:
P.K. Dick

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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