Publication year: 1964
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1993
Page count: 277
Translator: Matti Rosvall
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY
I’ve only read one Dick book before, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but I’ve watched several movies based on his short stories, such as Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and of course Blade Runner. My expectations of the book were very different from the actual book. In-stead of fast-paced SF adventure, Martian Time-Slip is a study of mental illness, treatment of native people, cheating in marriage, and real estate scam.
Even though the book’s set in Mars, it’s not our Mars. That is, apparently this Mars is perfectly habitable for humans without any terraforming. The only thing different from Earth is Mars’ dryness. In fact, the UN distributes water to the settlers through the famous Marsian canals. Another thing is the relative isolation; the family houses aren’t very close to each other and the bored housewives have to desperately find something to do by themselves all day. My problem was that I’m not interested in the petty jealousies and cheating; I was rolling my eyes and thinking “You get to live on Mars and the only thing you come up with to do with your life is to be a housewife????” Of course, it’s not the women’s fault if the society doesn’t allow them to do anything else. Oh, yes there’s also the option of becoming a mistress, if you’re born with enough good looks. So yeah, in some respects this book hasn’t aged well. But the women aren’t the main characters.
The Finnish cover.
Another strange thing about this Mars is that some of the children born there are strange: some are autistic, some schizophrenic, and some deformed. These children are reared in separate camps with healthcare professionals. The native marsians are called Bleekmen (translated as “Greys”) and they don’t really mesh with the humans. Apparently, the natives had once a great civilization but now they’re degenerated to hunter-gatherers who wander around begging for food and water from humans. Many humans despise them and call them the N-word.
The book has several male point-of-view characters: Jack Bohlen is a repairman who travels around in his helicopter. He’s only home at weekends and his wife Silvia is one the bored housewives in question. Jack has suffered from schizophrenia but hasn’t had an episode in years until he comes into contact with an autistic boy. Another POV is Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Worker’s union who is struggling to maintain his power and his union’s power. He hits on the idea that he can use an autistic child to predict the future if only he could communicate with the boy. He enlists Jack’s help in that. The boy is 10 years old Manfred Steiner, and his family lives next door to Jack’s family. Then there’s Manfred’s father Norbert who’s a door-to-door salesman. He travels in his own helicopter and sells health foods and smuggled luxury foods. His partner in crime is Otto Zitte, a former repairman who has slept with a lot of bored housewives and wants that lifestyle back.
The schizophrenic POV characters experience vivid and horrible hallucinations.
Dick also tells us about the schooling system which doesn’t have human teachers but lifelike robots, males from Western history (alright, there was one female robot but we see it only briefly and whose name the POV character doesn’t know). The whole system causes anxiety to the POV character there, because of his mental illness but also because “For the entire Public School was geared to a task which went contrary to his grain: the school was there not to inform or educate, but to mold, and along severely limited lines. It was the link to their inherited culture, and it peddled that culture, in its entirety, to the young. It bent its pupils to it; perpetuation of the culture was the goal, and any special quirks in the children which might lead them in another direction had to be ironed out.” And the children who couldn’t be molded ended up diagnosed as mentally ill.
On the whole, this was quite a depressing read for me and I fully admit that I had different expectations of it. I have another Dick book in my TBR, Valis, which seems to be more of the depressing SF coupled with drugs so I think I’ll pass on that one. Maybe a short story collection is more to my taste.