Thursday, November 13, 2014

Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick

Yes, he thought. I’m the man with the KICK ME sign pinned on him. No matter how hard he tries he can’t whirl around fast enough to see it. But his intuition tells him it’s there. He watches other people and gauges their actions. He infers from what they do. He infers the sign is there because he sees them lining up to kick him.

Belmont Science Fiction
First thing out of the way...this is the longest unintentional break I've taken from my postings here. I think my reasons are good though. First off, I attended NOIRCON 2014 in Philadelphia at the end of October. There I got to meet a lot of nice writers whose works I'm a huge fan of. Writers like Christa Faust, Vicki Hendricks, and Jonathan Woods to name a few. And yes, writers are kinda weird, but in a good way. Had lots of fun and am looking forward to reading all the recommendations I came home with. 

My second reason for the lapse in posts is...War and Peace. Yes, the International Heavyweight from Russia had me in a battle of wills from which I emerged triumphant! Just the thought of picking up another book seemed a betrayal of my mission which began sometime back in 1980 and as suffered through multiple failures since. This time, though, I started it and made it back alive. 

Anyway, on to the matter at hand, this nifty little pulp treasure from the mind of Philip K. Dick. This one I found used in a Zia Records of all places. Never know what treasure will turn up in the most unusual places.

Like most fans of the late writer’s work, I was introduced to Philip K. Dick’s novels via the movie Blade Runner. I remember plunking down my money to see Blade Runner back in 1982 when it was first released. My girlfriend at the time wasn't particularly jazzed about seeing it, and was audibly bored throughout the flick. I resisted her persistent urges to ditch the flick for some other movie like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or Grease 2 instead. I’d recently discovered the novels of Raymond Chandler and was completely immersed in the noirish, dystopian world that that Ridley Scott had created for the movie. Yes, the theater was more than half empty, and yes, my girlfriend thought the movie sucked, but I didn’t care. I was hooked. (For the record, this same girlfriend managed to force me into seeing Grease 2 that summer in payback, justifying my questioning her taste in everything but boyfriends!) Blade Runner seemed to provoke everything in me that first turned me on to Science Fiction as a kid. I had to find this guy Dick’s books and check them out for myself.

That year I consumed easily a half-dozen of PKD’s novels, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the inspiration for Blade Runner. I wish now I still had those paperback novels of his that I had then, seeing as how they’re practically impossible to find now in used bookstores without getting gouged. Back then, the unsettling nature of the novels, wrapped in pulpy trappings appealed to my own unsettled personality. I won’t admit that I actually “got” the paranoia soaked in the sometimes fevered prose offered in those paperbacks, but I wasn't exactly connecting with anything else offered back then either. But that’s another story.

This is a long way of getting around to my introducing you to wonderful yet paranoid weirdness that waits for anyone picking up Time out of Joint which was first serialized in New Worlds Science Fiction in 1959 to early 1960. It’s a deceptively simple set-up for what could easily be a “cold-war comes to Main Street” novel in the 1950s. We’re introduced to Vic Nielson, a grocery store manager, his lovely wife Margo, and their young son, Sammy. Also living with the Nielson’s is Margo’s brother, Ragle Gumm. Ragle Gumm is a bachelor and mathematical genius who earns his living winning a daily contest called “Where Will the Little Green Man be Next?” offered by the local newspaper. Gumm has been winning this contest each day for almost three years, and the strain of winning is beginning to take its toll on him.

The town is described in those fine details the best writers can seemingly capture without effort. Margo drives a Volkswagen, the family watches Sid Caesar on television, Sammy has a fort in the backyard, the neighbors Bill and June Black, share cocktails and bowling invitations with the Nielsons, and The Kinsey Report has exposed suburban fantasies. One of the neighbors also drives a luxurious Tucker automobile. An unearthed classic called Uncle Tom’s Cabin by an unknown writer named Harriet Beecher Stowe is a new book club selection. No one listens to radio. Better Homes and Gardens offers recipes for chicken and peanut butter casseroles. And the mothers in the neighborhood have filed a petition to have the city demolish the old house foundations at the edge of town.

Meanwhile, Vic Nielson reaches for light switches that don’t exist. Ragle Gumm sees a gas station disappear. Sammy’s radio retrieves voices from the sky. Ragle Gumm finds a phone book with unassigned numbers. And a magazine un-earthed from the ruins at the edge of town feature an unknown movie star named Marilyn Monroe. It’s all rather unsettling for Ragle Gumm.

We have a hodge-podge of leaks in our reality, he said to himself. A drop here, a couple of drops over in that corner. A moist spot forming on the ceiling. But where’s it getting in? What’s it mean?

As the uneasiness builds, Ragle Gumm becomes entwined in a potential love affair with his neighbor June Black. Mr. Lowery from the newspaper is pressuring him to keep winning the contest. Bill Black is more and more intrusive into the Nielson’s home, and Ragle Gumm is convinced that his life as a contest winner is an empty joke. An existential crisis looms before him. His urges to run away mount. And all the while, the hints keep dropping that things are not what they seem. 

And the paranoia ever tightens. He hears his name on Sammy’s radio. He sees his picture in magazines. And every attempt he makes at leaving town is a nightmarish experience in persecution. And when was the last time you saw anyone in a Tucker?

And there ya go...Next time, I promise (?) not to take so long between posts. Even if it's only a promise to myself. Unless I happen to meet this chick Anna Karenina I've heard talk of....