Trisch, Martian Time-Slip analysis

As I read Martian Time-Slip, I was immediately struck by how different this book was in comparison to the other books we have been studying throughout this course. The science fiction aspect and the dystopian society that the plot follows made this book feel reminiscent to the many post-apocalyptic young adult novels and movies that are prevalent in pop culture today. However, there were a few aspects of this book that I felt clearly aligned with the other works we have studied.

In Martian Time Slip, we are introduced to a young boy named Manfred Steiner. Manfred is autistic, much to the disappointment of his father. His father blames his son’s condition on his wife, Manfred’s mother, stating, “When Manfred was a baby, she had never talked to him or shown him any affection. Having been trained as a chemist, she had an intellectual, matter-of-fact attitude, inappropriate in a mother. She had bathed and fed the baby as though he were a laboratory animal like a rat…so naturally he became autistic.” (Dick 37).

While this passage is describing a fictional character in a fictional community, the author is clearly describing a very real phenomenon that we have studied in this class: the refrigerator mother. As we saw in the documentary, in the 1950’s a theory coined by Leo Kanner and Bettelheim that blamed the mother as the cause of autism in children spread rampantly. They theorized that mothers who were cold and detached from their children caused emotional and bonding issues that would eventually result in autism. Through the documentary, we witnessed the damaging emotional repercussions that this false theory had upon these families. While the situation with Manfred that is described in this book is fictional, this particular attitude toward autism and its causes is not.

Another aspect of Martian Time Slip that connected to another topic was have studied in this class was the treatment of Manfred. Manfred is removed from Camp B-G and avoids his own potential death, due to the fact that his autism supposedly causes him to have super powers. This situation felt reminiscent to the events surrounding Hans Asperger discussed in our NeuroTribes book. During Holocaust, Asperger highlighted the savant abilities in his autistic patients to the Nazis in order to keep them from being sent to extermination camps. Because many people are still debating the issue of whether or not Asperger was actually a Nazi sympathizer, I did a bit more research on this topic and found an interesting article published by NPR, which states, “In order to retain his position at the university, the soft-spoken Asperger would have been required at the very least to take a loyalty oath to Hitler…Though nearly all of Asperger’s colleagues eventually joined the Nazi party, Asperger never did.” (Silberman)

The information surrounding Asperger seems to lead to the conclusion that he was a man who truly cared for the children, similar to the relationship Bohlen forms with Manfred throughout the story. This piece also connected to the mental condition Asperger himself. It is speculated that Asperger may have been somewhere on the spectrum, and was described as being “A lonely, remote child who had difficulty finding friends.” (Hans Asperger, Wikipedia) While Bohlen was not described as an autistic character, he is schizophrenic.


Dick, Philip K. Martian Time-Slip. Mariner Books, 2012.

Silberman, Steve. “Was Dr. Asperger A Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism.” National Public Radio20 Jan. 2016, Accessed 6 Nov. 2016.




2 thoughts on “Trisch, Martian Time-Slip analysis

  1. frickeh8

    Indeed, this novel was quite different than what we’ve been seeing! So far it has been the most interesting for me, genre-wise. I love books that force me to imagine complex ideas, such as Manfred’s apparent displacement from the normal flow of time.

    I was disappointed to see the standard “refrigerator mother” theme with Manfred’s mother. It is likely that Philip K. Dick’s use of this trope was a result of the times he was writing in, and yet the forward-thinking required to write science fiction would have hopefully resulted in a more progressive take on the disorder. I keep going back and forth on the obviously problematic parts of the book: refrigerator mother’s, special autistic abilities, the use of autism as a plot device, etc. The author uses these tropes, but were they tropes when he wrote it?

    I think your connection to Asperger is interesting. I hadn’t made such a connection when I was reading the novel. You compare Asperger to Bohlen, and I can see that, but I find it easier to compare to Glaub, the psychiatrist at Camp B-G. He seems caught between wanting to help the children but also needing to please those like Arnie Kott who control the system.


  2. emimarr

    Martian Time-Slip really did read like an off-beat young adult dystopia; I can imagine it gaining a cult following if it were published today. What captured my interest the most was how Philip K. Dick used the popular trope of a colony on Mars, but gave it a unique twist by having the story focus on neurodivergency.

    As you mentioned, the link to Leo Kanner and Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘refrigerator mother’ theory is clear in Manfred’s relationship to his mother. I noticed that this theory lingered into the 1990s, and was also present in Chris Crutcher’s Telephone Man. It’s disturbing to think of the amount of influence that authority figures such as Kanner and Bettelheim have in determining the lives of neurodivergent people and their families. In Martian Time-Slip, this authority manifests itself through Arnie Kott and – to a lesser extent – Jack Bohlen. Manfred’s fate rests in the hands of these men, and while Bohlen is sympathetic towards him, it is evident that Kott simply views Manfred as a tool to further his own agenda. Manfred’s autism affords him incredible abilities, but nevertheless renders him powerless to resist Kott’s manipulation. Like the children and parents in the Refrigerator Mothers documentary, Manfred is deprived of his agency and controlled by an unsympathetic authority.

    Manfred joins a long list of autistic characters who are ‘saved’ or ‘redeemed’ due to their special abilities. Asperger’s patients escaped the extermination camps due to his actions in highlighting their savant capabilities. While this was necessary under dire circumstances, it’s troubling that this trend continues today in fictional portrayals of autistic people. Charlie Babbitt views Raymond as a nuisance until his ‘superpower’ proves to be profitable; Sherlock Holmes’ ‘eccentric’ personality is tolerated by others only because of his extraordinary powers of deduction; most tragic of all, Bartleby is discarded once he ceases to be useful to his employer. These depictions convey that people with autism should only be valued in regards to their usefulness to neurotypical people.

    While Martian Time-Slip had an intriguing premise, the novel ultimately reinforced popular myths and representations of ASD, as you pointed out. The prominence of authority figures and the focus on Manfred’s abilities evidence a need for change in how autistic people are portrayed, and how society itself views those who are neurodivergent.



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