"Death upsets everyone, makes them do peculiar things; it sets a radiating process of action and emotion going that works its way out, farther and farther, to embrace more people and things."
- Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip
Dickheads of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your minds! Go ahead, read Martian Time-Slip and push yourself to the limit - you are on Mars in the near future among colonies under the umbrella of the United Nations, colonies formed by citizens from such countries as Russia, Israel and the United States.
This framework is all the author needs to explore an entire range of very human topics, from the impact of technology on education to the consequences of limited water supply. Since the story is too vintage PKD over-the-top crazy and convoluted for any simple overview or synopsis, allow me instead to highlight a number of the many colorful characters and themes:
Jack Bohlen – An electronics machine repairman living with his wife and son out in the Martian desert, living very much like thousands of middle class suburban families back on earth. All the way to Mars for this? But the real action for Jack is on the inside – he has to deal with his past schizophrenia. While on a job at his son’s public school he has a flashback of a hallucination when he was in an interview with a personnel manager in California: he could see through the man’s skin to his skeleton where the bones were all connected by copper wire and all his internal organs were plastic and stainless steel. And this only for starters. Jack’s visions and hallucinations become more disturbing - his schizophrenia resurfaces and threatens to destroy his Martian life.
Arnie Kott –Blustering, self-absorbed business leader; it's as if PKD had a flash of insight into the future and anticipated a well known current-day president with the initials DT from the constant gush of harsh words issuing from his big mouth down to his fat white toes. Dickheads and Dickhead wannabes should most definitely put Martian Time-Slip at the top of their list for this reason alone. As anybody with a shred of aesthetic sense will undoubtedly realize, having someone like Arnie on Mars quickly turns the red planet into a red hell realm. And what ultimately happens to Arnie? PKD couldn’t hold back.
Doreen Anderton – Girlfriend of Arnie who comes to love Jack, a stunningly beautiful redhead who also is the novel’s most intelligent, perceptive, sensitive earthling on Mars. Doreen is particularly attuned to the dynamics of schizophrenia since she had a brother back on earth who suffered from the disorder and subsequently committed suicide. At one point, Doreen draws on her past observations of her schizophrenic brother to warn Jack of his possible psychic collapse unless he takes the necessary steps to stop work on his current project. A lovely young lady with wisdom and compassion - a fabulous combination. Thanks, Phil.
Bleakmen – The tribespeople living as hunter-gatherers on Mars for thousands of years prior to the arrival of anyone from earth. Their lands are stolen, their mystic beliefs ridiculed and their dignity denied. Some are taken on as slavelike cheap labor in homes, others to work deep underground in mines. Enough to send a few shivers up an anthropologist’s spine. However, the more we read, the more we come to appreciate the power and special insights of these Bleakmen.
Manfred Steiner - A ten-year-old autistic boy living at Camp Ben-Gurion along with other "anomalous children." Manfred neither speaks nor interacts with others; rather, he lives in his own world of highly accelerated time which enables him to see the future, an ability that makes him a valuable commodity for an enterprising land speculator like Arnie Kott. But how to communicate with Manfred? The more central Manfred becomes to the story, the more the plot warps in dark, eerie and even sinister ways.
Teaching Machines – Kids are taught at public school not by real teachers but teaching machines, lifelike copies, mental capacity included, of the likes of Aristotle, Lincoln, Edison and Twain. There’s even one of “Kindly Dad.” Jack resents these machines forcing sheeplike conformity on the children and tells “Kindly Dad” as much. One of the more hilarious sections; I reread several times.
Camp Ben-Gurion - A special school for "anomalous children," that is, children judged to have physical or mental or antisocial defects. All these defectives on Mars are a major drawback to marketing efforts to get more people to move to the red planet. One of the proposed solutions – kill off the defectives. Remind you of Nazi Germany? It should.
Time Chamber – A psychotherapist at Camp B-G by the name of Dr. Glaub explains a new Swiss theory about autistic children like Manfred, how such children experience time speeded up and how a chamber is being constructed to slow sights and sounds down for them. Remember this is science fiction and PKD squeezes the possibility of such a chamber for all its worth.
More Schizophrenic Visions – Distortions twist space and time, occasionally replaying time, and we glimpse schizophrenia from the inside with terrifying images of things like huge meat-eating birds in a decaying, rotting, death-filled world. Curiously, such apparitions and phantasms touch on the mystic rituals of the Bleakmen.
Highly recommended. After all, you have nothing to lose but your mind.
“I'm not much but I'm all I have.”
― Philip K. Dick, Martian Time-Slip