Thursday, 3 January 2013

Martian Time-Slip

Philip K. Dick Martian Time-Slip (1962)

At the risk of writing the same Philip K. Dick review over and over, and further to the general theme of the disparity between that which Dick wrote and that which everyone seems to think he wrote, we come to Martian Time-Slip, a novel which so impressed me first time around that I actually got my mother to read it, no mean feat given how she seems to regard everything written, painted and performed since about 1400 as probably crap.

Aside from Martian Time-Slip being conspicuously lacking in android bounty-hunters screaming but am I even real? as they fall to their knees, arms cinematically outstretched to the heavens just as it starts to piss down; and aside from the complete absence of hard boiled action heroes - a quality shared with every single story Dick ever wrote - like We Can Build You from the same year, this would be a mainstream novel but for a few scenic details, at least in so much as any of Dick's writing can be considered mainstream. The story revolves around the desperate lives of Martian colonists scratching out a living in a hostile environment which harks back to the old west, or even to the Australian outback; water is scarce, and autism may turn out to be the condition of those with an unorthodox relationship to the passage of time. Of course, such elements constitute narrative language, the means by which the story is told rather than its subject.

Philip K. Dick's novels examine the nature of reality, often from the schizophrenic perspective of there being a different world hidden behind that which all but a few supposedly perceptive individuals can see. This, I would argue, is a structural aspect of Dick's perception rather than its central theme, said theme being truth itself: that which should be rather than that which is, the pure forms of being unsullied by entropic forces, or gubbish as they are rendered in Martian Time-Slip. I could be getting carried away here, but what I take from this, Dick's central idea, is a desire for progression or forward motion which relates to the notion of God equating to change - as I think Octavia Butler put it - change as differentiated from stasis, Dick's nightmare:

It is the stopping of time. The end of experience, of anything new. Once the person becomes psychotic, nothing ever happens to him again.

This passage is quoted in the foreword by Brian Aldiss - which I feel I should probably mention in case it appears that I'm trying to pass this off as some devastatingly original of my own - but it expresses a sentiment with which Dick remained preoccupied throughout his life, one which is restated a decade later in A Scanner Darkly:

That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected.

So, to get to the point - that's what the guy was on about, not all those Blade Runnerisms which are in any case thematically closer to the novels of William Gibson than anything Dick ever wrote.

Just sayin'.

Martian Time-Slip ambles along nicely, chuckling to itself without really trying for comic effect, its characters more in the spirit of Bukowski than Asimov; and like the man's best, it builds up a tremendous head of sorrow without conspicuously rooting for sympathy - a sad and beautiful song where most writers just about manage tunes. Instead of waiting for this to be stripped of all point and character as a shit film with some blandly photogenic cock playing Jack Bohlen - casting with all the sensitivity of Sylvester Stallone as two-fisted Franz Kafka - just read the fucking book, okay. Sometimes the book is how the story was meant to be told all along.

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