Martian Time-Slip Summary
by Philip K. Dick

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Introduction

(Novels for Students)

Written in 1962 and 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. Although not initially a commercial success, it came to be considered one of the best books of Philip Dick’s peak period in the 1960s when the author wrote sixteen novels. Martian Time-Slip was reprinted several times as Dick’s reputation grew and as hit movies were made from his stories, such as Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and Minority Report (2002).

Set on the deserts of Mars in 1994, the story is a satire of the business world and suburban life on Earth. In addition, Dick was fascinated with schizophrenia, and in this novel, he explored the nature of reality as a central theme. In Martian Time-Slip, Dick shows how what is real is determined by how it is perceived; the same scene is repeated from the points of view of three characters. Union leader Arnie Kott calls upon a repairman, Jack Bohlen, to develop a device for communicating with the nonverbal, autistic child, Manfred Steiner, who has precognition abilities. Kott wants to get the edge in a business deal, but the child projects schizophrenic vibes onto the two men that skew everyone’s reality. The “time-slip,” therefore, is the nonlinear timeframe. The native Martians, called Bleekmen, recognize the malleability of time and understand the value of Manfred’s gifts although the colonists debate the value of keeping “anomalous” children alive. These simple tribal people also serve as a contrast to the Teaching Machines that spout Establishment-approved information to school children on Mars. From intelligent machines to schizophrenic humans to psychic indigenous observers, this story has nothing to do with Mars, except as a backdrop, and everything to do with the vagaries of human nature on Earth.

Summary

(Novels for Students)

Chapter One
It is August 1994 in a United Nations colony on Mars where families get rations of water for their home use from a canal, including neighboring families the Bohlens and the Steiners. Jack Bohlen, a repairman, receives a call from his father in New York City saying that he wants to come to Mars to research a real estate deal. Jack copters out to a job and sees along the way Lewistown, the second most successful colony on Mars—the one for the Water Workers’ union people who control the canals. The most successful colony is New Israel.

Chapter Two
Arnie Kott, head of the Water Workers’ union, enjoys the luxury of a steam bath while discussing with his minions some land in the F.D.R. Mountains. He also complains about the UN demands that he improve the wages of the Bleekmen, the indigenous Martian tribe, who are used as laborers in the mines. Beside a New York Times newspaper ad for prospective colonists for Mars, touting the opportunities for those who have only a bachelor’s degree and thus cannot get a job on Earth, Arnie sees an article about the Colonial Safety Committee on Mars that irritates him, especially since his ex-wife is on the committee. On his way to see her, his helicopter pilot gets a message asking for aid for some stranded Bleekmen. Jack hears the same emergency call and is the first to arrive and give food and water to the Bleekmen who reward him with a water witch. Arnie’s pilot also provides water even though Arnie protests because he does not consider Bleekmen to be people.

Chapter Three
Norbert Steiner, who runs a black-market food operation, goes to Camp Ben-Gurion, a home for “anomalous children,” where his son Manfred is a resident. Having an autistic son is considered shameful, but he can talk to Anne Esterhazy, who also has a child at Camp B-G. She tells him about a bill under consideration at the UN that would kill the anomalous children in an effort “to keep the race pure.” Although at first horrified by the news, Norbert wonders if such action might be best for children like his son who cannot communicate. The institute’s...

(The entire section is 3,359 words.)