Schweda, Analysis: Martian Time-Slip

Small disclaimer: I’ll be the first to admit that sci-fi is not my favorite genre.  That being said, this week’s reading was a bit of a struggle for me so I relied heavily on the analyses that I found in my research of this novel.

Arguably, I think one of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the intricate way the authors weaves in and out of different narratives.  While this isn’t the first novel I’ve read with this type of point of view, I think it might be one of the best.  He has an incredible talent for showing how characters come in contact with each other through different contexts and has a unique way of almost pitting them against each other through their intentions. I found an apologetically lengthy quote that I think explains his characterizations well:

“PKD had a particular talent to imagine the inner lives of other people. Throughout his career, he created a series of ambivalent antagonists, and none are better realized than Arnie Kott. Kott is not an evil man. He is sexist, racist and exploitative, but he is also generous, cultured and adaptable. He is a gentle tyrant, a small-time crook with a soft underbelly. Kott is the Supreme Goodmember of the Water Workers’ Local union. In other words, he’s a big fish in a small pond. And it’s not long before he has drawn Jack Bohlen, who might in theory be regarded as this novel’s protagonist, into his sphere of influence.”

Through the use of this characterization, the author creates this completely unreal setting with the most real characters and I think that’s a very noteworthy quality of the novel.  Especially when you take into account the amount of nuero-divergent characters and how they’re involved.

The basic idea behind these complex characters is that mental illness such as schizophrenia is actually some sort of “derangement of time” (From the same source). As much as I love the interactions between the characters in this novel, I think there are a lot of issues with this idea of the story.  We’ve spent a lot of time in class talking about how neuro-divergents are portrayed in media and I think this is another example of how characterization can create false beliefs and stereotypes.  This is another case where a neuro-divergent is portrayed as having a special power but is also pretty different than the autistic savant that we covered earlier in the semester. Part of me wonders why there aren’t more novels with a neuro-divergent character without these special powers but I think that a lot of it is just a way to thicken the plot, which is sad and potentially harming the neuro-divergent and ASD communities.  I don’t think that authors necessary plan for these things to occur or even realize what they’re doing but I hope that in the future we have more neuro-divergent authors and less neuro-divergent “super powers”.

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2 thoughts on “Schweda, Analysis: Martian Time-Slip

  1. katieebuugg

    I honestly couldn’t agree more with every aspect of your analysis. I am not a huge sci-fi fan whether it’s novels, movies, tv, etc. This book was also difficult for me to read. Like you, I also spent quite some time researching other people’s reviews of the story to see if I was taking away the same message as other people, and based on your analysis and a couple of others it seems like I am. Also like you, I was sad to see another neurodivergent character being taken advantage of. I am not saying that I was sad to see a neurodivergent character possess a special trait, I just wish that it would have been in a different way. Too often in books and different types of media I feel that the neurodivergent characters are falsely portrayed. It would be nice to read or see something that has a neurodivergent character in a more realistic context instead of having them possess what seems to be some sort of out of the ordinary “super power”. I felt sympathetic while reading this book because I put myself in the character’s shoes. What if I was autistic and could “see the future” but knew that people only gave me the time of day because my “power” benefited them and only them? The thought of this really bothered me. Like you also stated, I wish there were more neurodivergent characters in different works that illustrated them as unique individuals but in a more realistic, positive way.

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  2. danielbowengv

    I’ll agree that one of the greatest things that this novel did was interweaving the stories of all the relevant characters together in ways that progressed the larger plot and was engaging. While occasionally disorienting when reading, for the most part, the perspective changes occurred in an intelligible manner that wasn’t jarring. Having read the sci-fi novel “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury some years ago this was a welcome change, as the aforementioned text placed my mind into the proverbial blender.

    I think that you are correct in saying that this novel really is divorced from reality especially when it comes to neurodivergent and mentally ill characters. As you correctly point out it seems to be the case in this novel that mental instability and divergence is connected to the time phenomenon that is taking place on the martian surface. When he wrote the book I think that Philip K. Dick was economizing and messing with the fact that mental health care was poorly understood.

    Earlier in the novel, for instance, we get the oft-noted passage by Steiner about his wife, painting her a refrigerator mother “…She had an intellectual, matter of fact attitude, inappropriate in a mother” (Dick 37). In my understanding, it seems that Dick wasn’t playing into the stereotypes of the past but instead using them as devices to put forth his own explanation: that mental instability was a result of the time anomaly on Mars. Obviously doing this was nothing but a plot device for the novel and not a serious explanation of how neurodivergence occurs within populations and I don’t believe anyone would take it as such.

    Perpetuating the “Refrigerator Mom” myth is perhaps the most disagreeable thing in this novel but given the times and the understanding of ASD and other mental diseases at the time it seems an unwarranted criticism. So while I agree that ASD is used as a device to put forward the plot in the novel I don’t see it as having potential harms to the ASD community borne from the text itself but rather from the ASD research and Culture at the time. Harms that I’d argue are reduced to zero in modern times with our current understanding.

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