“If you are looking for meaning in this story, mental dysfunction is the place to start.” says John Lents on his blog devoted to Phillip K Dick’s work.
After reading Martian Time-Slip, I, of course, had to research more about the book itself. It lead me to Lents’ blog which analyzes both the schizophrenic and autistic mind as it is depicting in PKD’s book. In my own reading of Time-Slip, I became unnerved when I realized that children like Manfred, the autistic character of the story, are being “euthanized” in a way to procure a more stable population on Mars. Perhaps a “better” population. Perhaps trying to induce “natural selection”. Perhaps, trying to be like a Martian Hitler. I’ll go with the latter.
First of all, the very fact that there is a lot of German subtext in the story should tell you one thing about the portrayal of neurodivergent individuals. This affected me initially because of the manner in which PKD writes the overarching plot. The UN is coming to “relieve” Mars of their neurodivergent population. Nazis are coming to procure the master race of blondes and blue eyed boys with no crazy in them at all.
Which, is problematic at best because it merely is targeting those who have a more visible “disability”. Yet, the book is a product of PKD’s 1962 publishing date for the book. Autism is not yet its own jurisdiction. Autism and schizophrenia still have some kind of connection. Insane asylums. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest nurses with large needled syringes.
“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 … so naturally he became autistic.” (37).
PKD is merely using the 1962 view of autism to create Manfred. Manfred is autistic because his mother is a refrigerator mother, and that’s how autism came into being, back then (not to mention the inherently sexist quip that having a matter-of-fact attitude is inappropriate as a mother). Yet, children who have autism have no representation at this point. There’s no Rain Man to point a finger at and say, “Yeah, my kid most like that”, and there’s no deeply analytical view of Sherlock Holmes as an autistic savant to read about, and there’s merely no mention of Asperger’s or of a “spectrum”.
Do I blame PKD for writing Manfred in this way? No. It is a product of the time; it is a product of his perceptions. Just like how Martian-Time Slip becomes a product of the characters’ perceptions. Manfred is given special abilities to “see the future” to make him a utility in the novel. He merely doesn’t exist as himself. He adds to the motives and desires that other character’s want in the story. Plot device.
Do I blame this John Lentz man for saying that the only meaning in the story comes on account of taking advantage of these plot devices? No. But, it’s honestly just another rung for the neurodivergent of authors continuously failing them in the past. If Martian Time-Slip was published in 2015, we’d have a different situation on our hands.
This all makes me think about myself as a writer, and about my brother. Yes, I would love to write a piece of fiction that revolves around a character with autism, but how the hell do I do it without being problematic at best? These are things I think I will come to learn as a writer, eventually, but not right now.
Lentz, John. “Cracks in the Reality of Martian Time-Slip”. Phillip K Dick: A Voice of Existential Uncertainty. 2012. http://quovadisfuture.blogspot.com/2012/04/cracks-in-reality-of-martian-time-slip.html