Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick

Plot Synopsis

Mars is a desolate world. Largely forgotten by Earth, the planet remains helpless in the stranglehold of Arnie Kott, who as boss of the plumber's union has a monopoly over the vital water supply. Arnie Kott is obsessed by the past; the native Bleekmen, poverty-stricken wanderers, can see into the future; while to Manfred, an autistic boy, time apparently stops. When one of the colonists, Norbert Steiner, commits suicide, the repercussions are startling and bizarre.

What Did We Think?

Philip K. Dick is always good for interesting discussions, if not only because he can so split his readers but because everyone tends to take different things from his work. Found to be both compelling and 'disturbing in parts', Martian Time-Slip was written in 1964 and touches on some typical Dick themes such as questions of reality.

A lot of attention was given to the characters in the novel. Praise was lavished on their flawed natures, the fact that the "villains" have redeeming features and the "heroes" have severe flaws, that everyone has neuroses of some description from Dr. Milton Glaub's extreme feelings of inadequacy to the schizophrenia of our prime protagonist Jack Bohlen. A major message of the novel seems to be that everyone is abnormal and thus abnormal is normal. In this way the book was very non-judgemental of humanity's foibles.

Interestingly, the subject of the novel's female characters came up and they were revealed as being more two-dimensional than many of the male characters, not necessarily negative stereotypes but certainly drawn from stock female tropes (the widow, the wife, the mistress, and so on). This was, however, recognised not as a sign of Dick's chauvanims, but rather a sign that feminism wasn't on his list of issues, he was writing for and about very different things.

Taking the novel as metaphor it is at once the Wild West, with remote homesteads, limited resources, prospectors, and peculiar natives; whilst at the same time it's also 1960s LA with sordid backroom dealings, power struggles and a dog-eat-dog race for superiority.

However, whether mirroring Wild West, or contemporary LA society, the novel ultimately shows that society, like sanity may appear superficially functional but is at heart completely dysfunctional.

As ever, the novel's ending was found to be perplexing. Dick has always taken a different approach to endings, refusing to tie things up neatly into conclusive packages and is perfectly content to leave questions hanging and loose ends blowing in the narrative wind (it's something Stanislaw Lem praised him for). This lends an unsatisfactory aftertaste to the novel for readers who either dislike Dick's trippy style or the manner in which he chooses to conclude his adventures.

In summary, the novel was largely (but not exclusively) enjoyed, it generated some interesting discussions on time, place and perception (which I cannot hope to do full credit to here - so please continue the discussions in the comments section below), whilst stylistically awkward, and for some perplexing, the relationships and the manner in which Dick draws his characters was enough of an anchor that many of the readers left the novel feeling satisfied.

The average score given to Martian Time-Slip was 7

The votes fell as follows: 4, 5, 6, 6, 8, 8, 8, 8, 8


  1. not one of dick's better novels, though i notice the high portion of 8's. the characters where indeed flawed, but this is better than being one dimensional, and allows for change of direction when required. the female characters, two dimensional? the wife i could see no apparent reason for her being there apart from a side story; and the smuggler also, are used as a story filler. the mistress could have been more involved but her character is one of resignation rather than two dimensional, she had the scope to be more but never did. story filler 2, the school robots, a good idea but in this context no reason for being there, apart from a comedic approach as he gave them more character than the humans. the setting, think i had missed this one, as thought it would have fitted very nicely into outback australia with the fdr mountains a referal to eyers rock, and the aboriginies the natural inhabitants, bleekmen, with the use of myth and mystique, the ending enjoyed it though he does contradict himself,if manfred never escaped his destiny of being bedbound, a lot of purple prose in this story, hence scored it a 5

  2. The more I think about it the more it does seem a bit like a frayed rope. A central core story with several other pieces fraying away from it, the smuggling operation/ wheeler dealer womaniser as you Anthony points out. I suppose most of those threads could have been cut without affecting the main story in any real way. To extend the metaphor, I found the body of the rope still able to hold the weight of the narrative, but can certainly understand other people's frustrations with the sub-plots. If it's any explanation it might interest you to know that Martian Time-Slip is actually an expanded version of a novella "All We Marsmen" and so many of those subplots were probably added purely to bulk up what is otherwise a very slim volume. What would you suggest he do instead? Characterise secondary, or even tertiary, characters?! That's not the Dick way! :-P

  3. i do agree that the main segment of the story was substantial enough to carry it, and that the overall effect was quite good, needing more interest from the main characters and the realtionship between them. the lack of anything from the bleekmen could have been utilised better to explain their own background thus filling out the story on more related ground, in this i do belive that dick could have used the manfred aspect more to emphasise that which he hinted at, the earthmen would all leave, the bleekmen needed manfred, for what i can not put my finger on, but they did in effect allow the rest of humanity to develop there aware of their eventual failure on mars