Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip brings up many ideas that challenge the modern-day stereotypes of autistic, schizophrenic or otherwise neurodivergent people in society. Jack Bohlen was suffering from bouts of schizophrenia and fled to Mars in order to escape his bouts. Married with a son and a business mogul of a father on Earth, Jack works as a repair technician. This position is very critical and extremely imperative to everyday life on the newly-colonized Mars. Also on Mars we find Manfred Steiner, an autistic boy that is believed to be able to predict the future or alter time and enter through time portals.
The main plot aside, Jack and Manfred pose a very interesting topic as far as Dick’s representation of the two characters and having neurodivergence be a focal point of his novel in a time (published 1964) where autism and neurodivergence were still misunderstood, and the treatments for mental illness lacking research and scientific backing. Having a the “good” guys of the story both be neurodivergent is fascinating, as is the idea that Jack is married throughout the novel, and despite both Jack and his wife Silvia having had affairs and Jack’s schizophrenia, they choose to remain together, something that even neurotypical couples struggle with.
Another main focus of the novel is Manfred’s savant-like abilities, something seen in other, typically fictional novels, and movies like Rain Man. This can be a double-edged sword, as these characters can set extremely high bars for the neurodivergent that may never be possible to reach, while also raising awareness and empowering neurodivergent to an extent. Also seen in other plots with a savant character, Kott attempts to abuse the gift that Manfred has been given to alter time in order to stake his claim in the land that Jack’s father had already purchased so that the United Nations can install apartment complexes. Just like in Rain Man, the neurotypical antagonist is attempting to wreak havoc through the companionship of a neurodivergent protagonist or main character.
Another point of emphasis is the idea that is presented in the book, that both schizophrenic and autistic people have a different sense of time, having time pass them by extremely fast and much faster than a neurotypical person or at a snail’s pace. The main point brought into play is that these people are essentially trapped in their own brains, which could lead to why Jack originally attempted to “flee” from his condition by moving to an entirely new planet. Manfred’s ability can also be explained by this theory for the book’s sake, with an older Manfred coming back thankful to all of those whom helped him as a boy.
In summary, these two characters represent the challenges as well as the positive characteristics of neurodivergent people. Jack being married, staying married through tough times and assisting Manfred through his journey to Manfred himself coming back in time, in a wheelchair with breathing devices hanging on him just to say thank you to those of whom helped him in his journey show that Dick was writing ahead of his times as far as neurodivergence and that some of these topics are still extremely relevant to this day.