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Book 10: Martian Time Slip

December 7, 2009

Written in 1964, Martian Time Slip, by Phillip K Dick is about a colony on Mars, specifically the people caught up in a land grab for future profits.

Many readers are going to stop right there because they don’t get, like, take interest in science fiction but I have to say that this book is a bit different.

I will start though with how it fits into the genre.  The idea of space colonization is a prime example of science fiction story lines and has been done a million times.  Many ideas like helicopter flight, personal recorders, robots, etc. are utilized in the book, but it is not so outlandish seeing that the book was written 45 years ago.  In fact, many of the devices seem pretty dead on, and science in the novel is always believable to an extent.

The difference here is that Dick is not just any sci fi writer.  He does deal with a lot of futuristic science in his stories (Minority Report, Blade Runner), but he also focuses on belief in what is right and what is normal in a way that makes me ask questions.  The main focus of this novel is Psychoanalysis and specifically, Autism and Schizophrenia.

The story starts with a family living on Mars.  The father is named Jack and he is a repair man.  They live out in the desert near a canal because water is scarce.  Jack gets involved with a big shot water union guy named Arnie, who is interested in buying land in what is, at the time, considered to be a worthless mountain range on the knowledge that the UN, which controls the planet, is going to build a large new community there.

It comes to Arnie’s attention, while trying to figure out where in the mountain range to stake his claim, that some children and adults might have pre cognitive powers, specifically, a boy named Manfred who is severely autistic.  Arnie enlists Jack, who is a mild schizophrenic himself, but also a repair man, to make a machine that will allow normal conversation to be had with the boy.  The theory on this is that the reason Manfred cannot communicate is because his sense of time is different from ours and unless we slow down he cannot understand us.  Eventually the device is made but there are some breakdowns and the project is not fully developed.

Manfred does see the future though.  He sees the future UN development ending in destruction many years down the line.

OK OK OK OK OK.

I am going to stop here.  I have written synopses for this novel over and over again in this space and don’t like any of them. I just realized that this book is quite hard to describe because while I have mentioned that schizophrenia is a big part of the story and its characters, it is also part of the physicality of the writing itself.

Parts of the book are repeated by characters.  A character like Jack may go through a scene in its entirety, or certain parts 3 or 4 times.  You might think that it would be bullshit to read something over again but it is not.

This book made me think about what it is like to not grasp time, communication, or a sense of physical self.  It got me into the mind of a character in a way I have never experienced in a novel.  Sure, I have enjoyed reading the exploits of different characters from books past from their perspective but this form over theory idea to conveying a psychotic mind is crazy and sent me through a loop.

The novel tries to break ideas of normal and while many of the psychoanalytic theories posed in the novel might be outdated or unbelievable to some, the main point is to question what is normal.  There are a species that are native to Mars in the novel called “Bleekmen”.  They closely resemble Australian Aborigines in that they are a desert culture who have an old religion, a hunter gatherer history and a shrine in the mountains similar to Ayers Rock.  These people are who the autistic pre cognitive boy Manfred relates to the most because they don’t experience life linearly. Their ideas of progression in wealth and power which dominate the union man Arnie are radically different.

What doesn’t happen, which makes me happy, is some sort of ending where the Bleekmen rise due to their superior spirituality.  Or where the power hungry get stronger.  Or where the family man Jack solves all his problems and lives happily ever after.  The novel is bleak yet insightful.  It gives the impression that individuals play a small role as opposed to the common theme of one man changing the world which is so often found in sci fi.  I got the impression that nothing changed after all this speculation on how the future will be throughout the novel.  Progress will still be made, mistakes and setbacks will happen, people will die for good and bad reasons and that is it.

But what makes this novel great is that while those progressions are reality, it is how the individual perceives them, not changes them, that is important and should be questioned, altered, taken to task, because perception can be home to more boundaries than reality.

There are more alterable rules to how we see the world than to how the world really exists.

Does that make sense?  This novel did a number on me, but most of all it made me, like many of Phillip K Dick’s stories, want to learn about a million new things while questioning the existing ones.

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