Martian Time Slip – Philip K Dick (1964)
Written in 1962 during arguably during Dick’s most fruitful and inventive period, Martian Time-Slip was originally titled ‘Goodmember Arnie Kott of Mars’ then serialized in Worlds of Tomorrow as “All We Marsmen” in 1963, Martian Time-Slip was finally published as a paperback book in 1964.
Dick takes us to a near-future Mars where colonists are making the most of what they have. Dick was never a writer who let scientific verity get in the way of a good story, and the Mars here is one with a breathable atmosphere, canals and a slowly dying humanoid Martian Race, the Bleekmen. In essence, this is an allegorical view of Dick’s small town America, which has been displaced relatively untouched to the surface of Dick’s Mars.
It is interesting to note that this is Dick’s perception of American society since one of the core concepts of this book is how events are perceived differently by different people.
Arnie Kott, as leader of the Water Workers Union, is one of the most powerful men on Mars, but he is worried by rumours that Earth interests are buying up tracts of the Franklin D Roosevelt Mountains, a worthless Martian wasteland, but with sites sacred to the Martians.
Arnie, and one of his black market contacts, Norbert Steiner, have children being cared for in Camp Ben Gurion, a Jewish-run home for some of the ’special’ children born on Mars. Some are physically deformed. Others are autistic or schizophrenic.
When Steiner kills himself by walking into the path of a bus, Arnie takes over the care of Manfred, Steiner’s schizoid son, hoping that the child may have precog abilities and can see the future of the FDR mountain range.
Arnie meets a local repairman, Jack Bohlen, who himself suffers occasional schizoid episodes, and who thinks he can build a machine to communicate with Manfred, who exists at a varying time-rate to the rest of humanity.
The relationships between the characters are always of interest with Dick. His relationship with women no doubt fed into his depictions of his female characters who are less dark in nature here than in some of his other novels.
Arnie Kott maintains a good relationship with his ex-wife, Anne Esterhazy, a social campaigner who runs a shop and also produces a local magazine.
Jack Bohlen is happily married and yet is lured into an affair with Arnie’s mistress. His wife subsequently has a random sexual assignation with Otto Zitte, a black-market salesman, who was Norbert Steiner’s supplier before he died.
In fact, it is Norbert’s death that sets most of the narrative in motion, and Norbert, although dead, is the linking figure between all the other characters, since he knows them all.
He is Arnie’s contraband supplier, and knows Arnie’s ex-wife because they both have children in Camp BG. His black market contact is Otto Zitte who – following the Norbert’s death – sets out to make a business of his own and meets and seduces Jack’s wife.
She and her husband are neighbours of Norbert’s. Norbert also knows the Doctor at the hospital and the owner of the restaurant to which Arnie takes his wife for lunch. Thus, all the main characters are literally acquainted with Death.
Jack is presented to us as an altruistic figure, since he initially responds to a distress call from a family of Bleekmen, stranded in the desert. Arnie’s vehicle is also diverted to help the Martians but he resents it, seeing Martians as inferior and subhuman (although research has shown that the Bleekmen and humans are descended from a common ancestor.)
The Martian family give Jack a ‘water witch’ which is a good luck charm.
The novel takes a decided turn for the weird when Manfred enters the narrative. There is one pivotal scene in Arnie’s house where we see the same events through various character’s eyes, including Manfred’s.
Both Manfred and Jack are schizoid, and although Jack’s episodes are intermittent, Manfred lives in the death world and sees our world as a continual process of decay.
Jack has periods where he perceives people as being not real, with pistons and machines moving beneath their flesh.
Arnie – finally discovering that a large development is going to be built on the site in question – tries to employ Manfred in an effort to send himself back in time via one of the Bleekmen’s sacred sites, which is a temporal fissure.
Manfred, simultaneously, is attempting to change the future, since he sees himself as an old man in a home in the FDR mountains where the buildings are in a state of decay.
Arnie’s plan to change the past is futile, since he is constantly thwarted by events, but Manfred, at the finale returns in a vision, surrounded by the Bleekmen who save him, to thank Jack for his help.
It has to be one of Dick’s most satisfying novels, and one of his best, typifying what Dick does best, which is to effortlessly subvert the pulp fiction SF genre to produce a work of depth and sophistication and examine the human condition from a perspective no one has matched before or since.