Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Before The Classics- Time Out Of Joint By Phillip K. Dick


Ragle Gumm had it easy, living with relatives and making enough money to get by on just doing newspaper puzzles
and winning all the time. He had to admit he was essentially a bum... But a happy one.

But then... A refreshment stand disappeared in front of his eyes and a slip of paper inscribed 
SOFT DRINK STAND fluttered down... Messages about him came in on his nephews crystal set... And a tattered old magazine he found featured things he knew never existed
such as a supposedly famous actress named Marilyn Monroe...

Ragle gumm knew that either he was going mad... Or the universe was.
”—The back cover

Dell Books $2.25 1979. I paid three bucks. Originally published 1959.

Philip K. Dick is probably better known now than at any time in his life- there are numerous biographies about the man, best of collections of his work, and even an award named after him. In 1959, when Time Out of Joint became his fifth (published) novel, Dick was a relative unknown to all but Sci-Fi die-hards, and would continue to be until The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962. 

Time Out of Joint begins at a slow burn, as not very much happens for the first forty-five pages other than the introduction of the cast of characters, until the aforementioned surreal 'SOFT DRINK STAND' incident, which kicks the story into a higher gear. Like most of Dick's work this novel focuses, on reality and our perceptions of it. However, Time Out of Joint makes a small spin on that by making it fairly obvious that this is a simulated reality executed by some outside force (if you have read Enders Game or even seen the terrible Truman Show movie, you will pick this up pretty quickly).
I liked Ragle Gumm as a protagonist, but I got the distinct feeling that Dick did not want us to. Looking through a 1950's lens, we were to believe that a man who made a large salary, had decent luck with women, and a good rapport with his family, could still be a 'loser' because he did all of these things outside of the norm. Ragle's family helps him in his quest to unravel the mystery of what is wrong with their reality- from his sister and nephew attempting to decipher radio signals on a homemade 'crystal set' to his brother in law Vic helping Ragle try and leave town and see what is going on outside of their little community. The results ha a strong 'Twilight Zone' feel.

The beginning of this book definitely had a frustrated artist feel to it, almost to the point of being 'angsty'. Boiled down, Time Out of Joint is a period piece about a time in Philip K. Dick’s life that I would assume he’d rather have forgotten. A story that could have easily laid the paranoia on real thick is deflated by tentative jabs directed at consumerism, conformity, and anti-communism.

This review is taking a turn toward the negative, which was not my intention, but the faults of this novel are many and fairly easy to point out.The illusion that is the backdrop of Gumm's reality is much more interesting than the secret its hiding, which is probably the most that I can state without venturing into 'spoiler' territory.

Time Out of Joint shows more promise than creativity or writing chops, and you can see Dick teetering towards the greatness that characterized the middle of his career. Although I enjoyed this novel, I wouldn’t say it’s a classic or even a must-read from Dick’s pantheon. The payoff just isn’t there at the end, but there are some cool moments leading towards the climax.    

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