Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.
Philip K. Dick just couldn’t be bothered by some of the standard verities of science fiction. He knew SF should often take place in outer space, but whereas other novelists placed their narratives in the 2200’s, 2300’s, or some unimaginable distant future, in the novels Dick wrote in the 1950′s and 1960′s, he thought that 40 or so years was plenty of time for man to start populating the universe. He also didn’t pay much attention to the news coming out from astrophysicists that the weather on other planets seemed to be uniformly bad. Martian Time-Slip takes place in 1994. Mars has scattered settlements and townships, mostly sponsored by national groups from Earth. The exception, and the most powerful group of all, is a Plumbers Union. I assume Dick had had some unpleasantness involving plumbers when he sat down to write this book.
But plumbers are essential to the workings of the settlements. The weather is bearable if a little dry. One good trade-off is that you only weigh about fifty pounds, and housewives slip into halter-tops and Capri pants to visit neighbors. But water is in short supply and closely rationed. Arnie Kott, the vulgarian union boss, is one of the richest and most powerful men on the planet, although that may change. Rumor has it that the U.N. is planning to develop the FDR Mountains, drilling deep water wells and creating self-sustaining luxury living complexes. The land grab is on.
Wikipedia has a coherent synopsis of the book, and I congratulate whoever wrote it. Topics touched on include: schizophrenia (which is almost epidemic), black marketing, adultery, extensive drinking and drug ingestion, pesky neighbors — in other words, it is Dick’s Northern California neighborhood transfered to Mars. Much of the plot hinges on Manfred, an autistic child who becomes a test subject for the main character’s experiments with extrasensory communication and ultimately time travel.
And let’s not forget the Beakmen, the remnants of the Martian race who are now reduced to wandering the deserts or working in the homes of wealthy earthlings. Dick always presents himself as progressive in terms of race and social policies in general, but his portrait of the Beakmen is among his strangest concoctions. Just as he didn’t care much for astrophysics, Dick also didn’t seem to keep up with physical anthropology. The Beakmen are described as "Negroid" and descended from the same source as earthly Africans. (Phil, all homo sapiens come from common stock, long predating any division into races. And so unless you are saying some Central African natives somehow found their way to Mars 30,000 years ago, you are really off on this one.) Also, this is a novel written in the early sixties, and Dick was certainly aware of the Civil Rights movement. So what does it mean that Mars has a society somewhat reflecting the Antebellum South? The word slave is never used, but wealthy settlers have "tame" Beakmen working for them, refer to them as niggers, and enjoy giving them such high-falutin’ names as Heliogabalus. But of course, the Beakmen have deep, secret knowledge. Where was Dick going with this?
This is one of Dick’s enjoyable train wrecks of a novel. I don’t want to slip into biographical criticism, but it reads like a combination of Dick’s marital problems, his extensive experience with psychiatrists, a general dislike of land speculators and plumbers, and some cock-eyed ideas about autism. And as nutty as the whole thing is, the conclusion is not only satisfying on many levels but genuinely strange as well.