Review by Jason Koornick: Martian Time-Slip (1964)


Martian Time-Slipis truly an anomaly in the science fiction genre. While it has many elements of a typical sci-fi novel, including a title highly suggestive of the genre, the main focus of Martian Time-Slipis on the intracies of the human mind with a heavy focus on the introverted world view of the schizophrenic.

The story takes place on the fledling Martian colonies in 1994 and its main character is Jack Bohlen, a skilled repairmen and recovering schizophrenic who still suffers flashbacks. The colonies on the planet are in a period of transition as the fate of the planet is decided by the UN. Jack gets caught up in the frantic business affairs of Arnie Kott, head of the powerful Plumbers Union who isn’t afraid to use his power & money to further his goals, often at the expense of others.

Much of the novels psychological (and classic Dick) elements lie with an autistic boy named Manfred Steiner. The son of Jack’s neighbor, Manfred boards in a clinic for autistic children who can’t communicate with the people around them. Kott discovers that this boy has psychic powers and hires Jack to develop a system to communicate with the boy. Kott’s motivations are to foresee the UN’s use of Martian land so he can buy and resell the vast desert wasteland for a profit.

Jack’s schizophrenic tendencies are exaggerated around the boy with whom he is hired to communicate. Manfred projects his world view to those around him and has a profound influence on the realities of the other characters. Philip Dick creates an incredible and thought-provoking explanation for the way that the schizophrenics experience time in Martian Time-Slip. By offering the readers glimpses into Manfred’s and Jack’s schizophrenic episodes, one is able to view their situation from a different viewpoint, one that sees time as relative and can foresee the decay of modern society.

There are many classic Dick episodes in Martian Time-Slip. Among them are Dick’s fascination with decay and the long-term triumph of chaos over order (of which only Manfred is able to prophecize), the use of a business deal gone bad as a major element of the plot and the outward projection of personal realities onto the shared world. The main character is a normal person who gets caught up in the twisted schemes of a selfish businessman, only to find his own perceptions of reality crumbling.

Written in 1962 and published in 1964, Martian Time-Slip is an important novel in Dick’s career and according to some, one of his best. The science fiction aspects of this novel are secondary in importance to the questions Dick is raising about the human mind. The stark Martian landscapes provide the setting but the situations and the characters have little to do with space travel or futuristic science commonly seen in the genre. Instead Martian Time-Slip focuses of the problems of human existence and personal psychological issues in the face of common and shared realities.



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

Martian Time-Slip was written during an interesting period of Philip Dick’s career. In 1962, he had already been accepted into the science fiction community and was trying to hit it big with a mainstream novel. Written in the same period as The Man In The High Castle, Dick was working with ideas that would bring him mainstream acceptance. Both The Man In The High Castle and Martian Time-Slip deal less with the fantastic elements of science fiction and more with the internal struggles of the individual and how they relate to their world. With Martian Time-Slip, Dick was hoping to reach a much broader audience than those used to seeing his stories in pulp magazines and Ace Doubles.

Unfortunetly for him and in our favor, Phil was always able to make more money writing science fiction and after these novels, he would give up his hope for mainstream success and stick to the genre that he had the most success – science fiction. Of course one of Phil’s greatest contributions to the genre is that he was able to use the freedom of science fiction to express ideas of philosophy, religion and psychology that were normally found in literature and other “mainstream” writing.

Some have called Martian Time-Slipone of PKD’s greatest novels. In this reviewer’s opinion, the strongest elements of this novel are (especially compared to his other works):

1. A consistent flow from beginning to end. The novel progresses at a slow pace at first but rises to the climax, keeping the reader’s attention to the finish.
2. Less reliance on weird hallucinations and nightmarish delusions. While these elements are definitely present in Martian Time-Slip, they generally occur in a context which makes their effect stronger and meaningful.
3. The use of Mars as a backdrop and setting for the story is tasteful and relevant. As in many PKD stories, the threat of inevitable settlement (in this case, it could be war, collapse of government or extinction) looming in the background plays a major role in the actions of the characters and their psychological profile.
4. A fascinating look into the mind of the schizophrenic. Dick’s fascination with the way that a schizophrenic views the external world is very apparent in Martian Time-Slip. His attempt to scientifically explain this psychological phenomenon is clever and an expression of PKD’s doubts about his own reality.

What this reviewer found difficult about Martian Time-Slipis the sluggish pace of the first half. Instead of the book grabbing the reader’s attention from the beginning, it slowly builds and finally rewards the reader with a glimpse at Jack Bohlen’s and Manfred Steiner’s schizophrenia. The initial part of the book introduces the main characters and sets up the situations that develop later in the novel. We meet typical Dick characters like Jack Bohlem, Mr. Yee and Arnie Kott who are involved in rather ordinary jobs and lives. The only exception is the older Mr. Steiner who is faced with a severe case of depression.

The events surrounding Steiner’s suicide are rather irrelevant to the story of Martian Time-Slip. This novel is like other PKD novels in that it incorporates a few unrelated elements into a single story . This book is able to hold its own however and doesn’t wander nearly as much as some of his other lesser works.

All in all, this reviewer was most impressed with the subtleties of Martian Time-Slip. It’s avoidance of unbelievable and fantastic futuristic adventures works in its favor. The characters are faced with very recognizable and realistic dilemmas. The reactions of characters like Jack Bohlen to circumstances beyond his control are heartfelt and lend more credibility to the characters in this novel than some of PKD’s other novels. This reader is able to sympathize with the trappings of Manfred Steiner who is forced to live in a world which he could see decaying. His psychic gifts of telepathy and foresight are a curse when his version of reality is so far removed from the world he lives in. The sense of alienation is expressed eloquently in Martian Time-Slipand Dick is playing with a powerful emotion to which everyone can relate in some way.

Martian Time-Slipis a novel which does not try to be more than a sum of its parts. It is an enjoyable and quick read that is not as bizarre and twisted as some of PKD’s other novels but manages to incorporate these elements in an effective manner. This book would be recommended to a more seasoned reader of PKD, rather than as an introduction to the author. Among the reasons are a rather slow-paced first half and a story which doesn’t represent the author at his best. Instead it is a novel which would be most appreciated by a reader who has tasted PKD’s best flavors and is ready to sample the subtler aspects of his style.

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