Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Book Review: Philip K. Dick – Time Out of Joint (1959)

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Any Philip K. Dick book should be great, right? An honor and a delectation to read. Well, this one starts rather slow. It takes a good dozen of pages or more to stop and wonder what is going on, is there anything going on, and where is this all going? This should be a good point to stop, go back to the front cover and realize that the book was actually written in 1959 when everything moved to a much slower pace and we didn’t get shootings from the first page or even the prologue.

Still, the monotony of the life in the suburbs is maddening, just like it’s alienating our hero, Ragle Gumm. He is a middle age man, a former military, who passes his time solving newspaper games and guessing where the little green man will be the next day. He’s become sort of a national hero after having come up with valid solutions day after day for years in a row. It’s become his job, keeping him at the desk for six hours a day while working on the solution as he lives with his sister and her family, having no time and will for a real life.

Until he starts noticing little things, things that are out of the ordinary like disappearing stands, pieces of paper with words written on them, people or events that might or might not exist in his world. With too much time on his hands paranoia sets in. He shares his observations with his friend and together they start on a journey that is literally going to change their life. It’s here that the real adventure, and the book too, begins. Once you get to this part it’s almost impossible to put it down.

Things aren’t as simple as they seem once we realize that the civilization is ahead with about 40 years, a present in which the inhabitants of Earth are at war with the Moon colonists. In this setting, our hero is the only human being capable of predicting the exact location of the colonists’ attack. In order to keep the stress to a minimum an entire city has been built, a quiet place with reminders from the hero’s childhood, filled with dummies and actors with their memory wiped off just like his is, people he’d known in real life and whose role is to maintain a balance in this illusory world.

With a new conscience and perspective over the situation, Ragle Gumm is given the chance to change sides during his escape from the city. What happens next, read and find out. The ending is predictable, but satisfying from a narrative and imagistic point of view.

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