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Time Out Of Joint
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz, 320 pages

Time Out Of Joint
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. He went on to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Game-Players of Titan
SF Site Review: Minority Report
SF Site Review: Now Wait For Last Year
SF Site Review: Dr. Bloodmoney
SF Site Review: Beyond Lies the Wub and The Father-Thing
SF Site Review: Second Variety
SF Site Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and A Scanner Darkly
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

Time Out Of Joint is the latest in a seemingly unending stream of Philip K. Dick reprints in the SF Masterworks series. It is an early Dick novel, probably his first important one and was written in 1958 during the period in which he attempted to break into the mainstream market. Though this attempt was unsuccessful and most of his mainstream novels were only published posthumously, it obviously informed Time Out Of Joint. It initially seems to be a novel of social manners set in 50s suburban America. In a leisurely opening that reflects the pace of the novel as a whole, we are introduced to grocer Vic, his wife Margo, her brother Ragle and their aspirational neighbours, the Blacks. All are sketched with impressive economy before the book settles in on its protagonist, Ragle Gumm.

Gumm is a bachelor in his mid-forties who lives with Vic and Margo and their son Sammy. He earns his living by winning the prize for a competition in his local newspaper, a game which consists of picking the right square from a grid of 1208. He plays every day and, in two and a half years, has been wrong only eight times. This has made him a local celebrity and provides him with an ample income, yet the stress of being constantly right is taking its toll on him.

This being Dick, it seems almost redundant to mention that all is not as it seems. He gradually clues us in to some differences between the 1950s we know. There are no radios, all of which seem to have disappeared with the advent of television. Cars exist that were never put into production in our world. Gumm finds a picture of a movie star called Marilyn Monroe but he has never heard of her and nor has anyone else in his household. More than this mild dissonance with our reality, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with Gumm's world. He believes he is having a nervous breakdown because objects vanish in front of his eyes. Increasingly however, it seems that his mental problems have some basis outside his head. We discover that somehow his neighbour Bill Black is involved, although we do not know in what. Things reach a pinnacle when Gumm is listening to his nephew's homemade crystal set and hears himself being discussed.

Basically, Time Out Of Joint is one long reveal, teasingly stretching the truth out for the reader. Only in the final quarter of the novel does everything start to cohere and the narrative takes on some sense of urgency. In such novels, everything relies on how convincing the payoff is and, in Time Out Of Joint, it works. The background texture might be a little hokey, grounded as it is in the viewpoint of 50s science fiction, but the central idea is strong.

Gumm is a perfectly realised example of the classic Dick protagonist; the paranoid man who discovers he has every reason to be paranoid because he inhabits a world where people know more about him than he does and reality itself is fluid. This is also the tragic aspect of the book. There is a sense of wish-fulfillment in the idea that an estrangement from the world around you can be attributed to external forces rather than internal ones. However Dick is conscious of this and does not shy away from directly commenting on mental illness. Needless to say these are subjects he returned to again and again.

Although Gumm is the central character (and literally the centre of the story), the supporting cast, even though they are on the margins of the novel, are equally convincing. Often Dick only needs a well formed sentence or two to draw out a sense of character. This is worth mentioning because traditionally Dick's technical skills are not considered to be his strong suit. Due to his extremely prolific output, he still has the reputation of something of hack whose work succeeds despite his writing, particularly in his early writing. In fact Dick's skill as a social observer and his strong ear for dialogue, especially in short, clipped exchanges, make it surprising that he did not have more success with his mainstream novels. There are even flashes of the deadpan wit that surfaces in his later books like A Scanner Darkly.

Despite all this, it cannot really be considered a major work in the Dick canon, its story is too slender regardless of its execution. Likewise it is not a science fiction master work, especially when judged against other works in the series. However it is a consistently interesting, well-made book that is of interest to more than simply Dick completists.

Copyright © 2003 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis reviews for The Telegraph And Argus, The Alien Online and Matrix, the newsletter of the British Science Fiction Association. He lives in North London.

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