Thursday, March 14, 2013

Time Out Of Joint For Philip K. Dick

Joint Out Of Time
The title of his 1959 novel Time Out Of Joint not only described the plight of protagonist Ragle Gumm, but maybe the author as well. Philip K. Dick was always writing beyond the imagination of his era.

Nowadays, his book might almost feel like a commonplace exploration of living in a simulated reality when set next to films like They Live, The Truman Show or Matrix. But in 1959, the concept was fresh, asking a philosopher's question within the context of the science fiction setting.

What if the world you lived in was mere illusion for a somewhat sinister purpose? 

For drifter Roddy Piper, it was aliens. For Truman, it was television viewers. For Neo, it was machines. And for Ragle Gumm? That is what Dick uncovers with his classic tale of perception and reality.

All Gumm knows is something doesn't feel right with the world. But it's hardly worth noticing on most days. He lives in a quiet American suburb. The year is 1959. And he has an odd but interesting occupation as a professional contest winner — the longest-running winner in local newspaper history.

There is only one problem or perhaps several. Nobody has ever heard of Marilyn Monroe. Nobody seems to own an AM/FM radio. And the Tucker automobile is in full production. If that wasn't enough, Gumm and his neighbors are confronted with another absurdity. Sometimes things just disappear.

It might even be explainable if it weren't so obvious; momentary bouts of absentmindedness or deja vu don't usually come with notes describing whatever thing somebody left behind. But then again, messages intercepted by a crystal radio set don't usually mention contest winners by name either.

Gumm isn't the only one to raise an eyebrow. His brother-in-law Victor "Vic" Nielson believes him. So does his sister and nephew. His neighbor, Bob Black, would rather not. And Junie Black doesn't have time to understand it all. All she wants is for Gumm to tell her to leave Bob once and for all.

This is how the novel starts and it begins especially strong, capturing the character of the era when it was written. It makes sense it would. Dick was writing about his time or at least the illusion of it. As the plot develops, the stylish and slick setting of an ultra hip 1950s begins to fade away for a bleak future.

The real-life author who started to question consciousness. 

For Dick, Joint Out Of Time helped him find some mainstream success, which might have been the beginning of his end. The story itself came to life when he reached for a light cord that wasn't there, much like Gumm's brother-in-law does in the book.

Phillip K. Dick
The unsettling experience, especially after Dick learned that a light cord was never there, convinced him that he might be subconsciously aware that there are alternative worlds. But like Nielson, there could have been other explanations as well. It could have been a hallucination. It could be a breakdown.

Not everyone is a fan of the story because it has some classic elements. But where it shines, despite its slow middle, is in delivering authentically believable charm, several ethical dilemmas, and an early attempt to let science fiction creep into the story instead of forcing itself on the suspecting reader.

Dick's work didn't attain true mainstream success until after he was gone. Since then, however, his stories have become film favorites. As more attention was given to the man behind so many great stories, his children have endeavored to create a permanent resource for loyal fans.

Time Out Of Joint By Philip K. Dick Ticks 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Time Out Of Joint may not be one of the most memorable novels, but it remains an important early work. It explores themes that continue to appear in other shorts and novels. If you can forgive the middle and focus on the soft science fiction start and harder science fiction finish with a few Twilight Zone like twists, Time Out Of Joint is a quick read, easily finished in an afternoon.

The latest reprint of Time Out Of Joint by Philip K. Dick is available from Amazon. You can also order the novel from Barner & Noble. The book can be downloaded from iBooks or as an audiobook read by Jeff Cummings from iTunes. His ability to foreshadow post-modernity has also been noted by several philosophers, including Jean Baudrillard, who claimed our current society has replaced reality with symbols and signs, which casts the human experience as nothing more than a simulation of reality.
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