His books aren’t sc-fi in the traditional sense and this is one of the appeals for me. Instead, he jumps forward a few years and asks ‘what if….’ this were to happen. In some of his other books he looks at how society would change if we had 24 hour TV pumped at us at all times, freely available drugs, and humans that were almost but not quite robots. There’s no gremlins, goblins, or lords of thrones.
Themes in Time out of Joint
The title of the novel comes from a line in Hamlet. After seeing the ghost of his father, the disturbed young Prince says that: The time is out of joint; O cursed spite!/That ever I was born to set it right!”
This sets the tone for the book. What is reality? How do we understand what is true or false? Can we believe things simply because we can see them.
Self-deception is one of the undercurrents in the novel. No one is quite sure, even on a domestic level, where thy stand with each other.
Background to Time out of Joint
Written in the US in the 1950s, a time of paranoia. And this is reflected in the story where the protagonist, is later revealed to be much more than he or we expected.
It’s 1959 and Ragle Gumm spends his days repeatedly entering and winning the “Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?” competition. Then things go strange. For example, a drink stand disappears – think of the Truman Show for parallels – and he finds a piece of paper that says “SOFT-DRINK STAND” printed on it in block letters.
- Is he going mad?
- Is he a computer simulation?
- Why is he winning the competition every day? And
- Who is worried if he stops playing the quiz?
This book has shades of The Truman Show and Brazil, the movie made by one of Monty Python, in that society is portrayed as a sinister force, people may (or may not) be fronts for dark forces, and there is no simple way to find out. Actually, there is an escape scene in this book, but I won’t spoil it for you as it sums up the dilemma that Gumm faces.
It soon emerges that Ragle Gumm has the ability to see back and forwards in time but – and here’s the twist – he himself is not sure this is what’s going on. It feels like he’s having a nervous breakdown, which is probably what would happen if you had this ‘gift’.
Of course, other characters come into the mix, mostly government agents though they’re not referred to in these terms. But you suspect they’re monitoring him or at least Ragle does. And because of this he tries to escape…
Summary: Time out of Joint
Like most of Philip K Dick’s book the premise – the central idea around which the novel is structured – is excellent. Where it falls down, and this is common to most of his books is that the characters never really develop, sub-plots remain unopened, and it tends to fizzle out at the end. The reason I suspect is that the book tries to serve two masters: general fiction and science fiction.
One suggestion if you like sic-fi is to try his shorter novels, such as Minority Report, which are condensed and work better for me.
PS – let me know what other ‘soft’ sci-fi books you like and we’ll review them here.