A complex, difficult exploration of the human condition
Mar 14, 2010
While dealing with the common, indeed one might even say overworked and mundane, concept of a human colony on Mars, "Martian Time-Slip" also delves into the realm of mental illness, including schizophrenia and autism. Philip K Dick raises the interesting speculation that mental illness may arise because those afflicted somehow interact (or, in the case of autism, are unable to interact) with the world through an entirely altered perception of the flow of time.
Many sci-fi readers (and this comment probably includes myself) are used to a somewhat more action-oriented story. From this rather limited perspective, one can say that "Martian Time-Slip" is built around an exceptionally imaginative and rather exciting plot idea.
Arnie Kott, one of the upper crust of the fairly recently established Martian colony, has heard a rumour that the United Nations is planning to build an enormous apartment complex in the hitherto worthless Franklin D Roosevelt mountain range on Mars. Part of the rumour is Kott's understanding that Leo Bohlen, a wealthy entrepreneur from earth, has already arrived on Mars and is well on his way to establishing a claim to the land in the mountain range that will supercede all others.
Other events in the story lead Kott to the belief that Manfred Steiner, a severely autistic child, suffers from this debilitating mental illness as a result of an altered perception of the flow of time. When he also learns that the Bleekmen, the local aboriginal population, believe that "Dirty Knobby", one of their holy places, may be a portal into time that is accessible to the likes of Manfred Steiner, Kott seeks to use Steiner to go back in time to ensure he places a claim on the contested land in the FDR Range before Bohlen arrives.
However, instead of focusing on this tremendously innovative plot-line as a story, Dick has used the plot merely as a background against which he has chosen to explore the themes of mental illness, loneliness, greed, isolation, lust, racism, hopelessness and prejudice. The same events are repeated in the story on several occasions but are shown as they might be observed through the perceptions of different participants in the story. I'm more than willing to admit that this may be my own shortcoming as a reader but, frankly, I found the multiple points of view exceedingly difficult to follow to the point where I was unable to determine exactly what was happening. Was I reading about events moving forward or was this a recapitulation of something that had already taken place but looked at through somebody else's eyes?
I was also dismayed by the fact that the science involved with life in a Martian colony seemed virtually non-existent. With very little alteration, Dick's story could have taken place in an arbitrary 1950's earth location that involved previously undeveloped land and a local aboriginal population. Mars, in effect, became entirely irrelevant!
Many readers might suggest that it is Dick's rather novel exploration of the human condition that makes "Martian Time-Slip" a revered classic of the genre. For my money, I just found it tedious and a difficult novel to finish. Not recommended.