Category Archives: Martian Time-Slip

Week 10 Review

Time is flying.  Week 10 is in the books.  Time is also a major concern of Philip K. Dick’s 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip, the earliest work of fiction to include an explicitly autistic character.  So, we started a strange but related place: with science, not science fiction.  Working in small groups, we read a 2009 study (published in JADD) on the way autistic individuals perceive time.  The study concluded that adults with ASD have a slightly more difficult time reproducing lengths of time accurately.  I thought this was a pretty interesting connection to the characters of Manfred Steiner, the autistic boy, and Jack Bohlen, the schizophrenic repairman.  Here are a few connections we saw:

  • We noted that while the neurocognitive research on temporal perception and ASD has happened in the last ten years, Dick created an autistic character with time-bending abilities way back in 1964.
  • This led us to speculate whether Philip K. Dick himself was schizophrenic, given his use of a schizophrenic perspective (Jack Bohlen).  To understate things, his was certainly an unstable and short life, though he managed to write absolutely prolifically nonetheless.
  • We also noted how the narrative reflects a distortion of temporal perspective, as Jack and Manfred loop four times through the “evening at Arnie’s” sequence.
  •  We wondered if this post-modern, non-linear approach to narrative was more reflective of a neurodiverse mindset than the linear approach in Cuckoo’s Nest.  It forces the NT reader into a ND space, as Skye put it.

After the break, we watched a short clip from Blade Runner, the most famous of the films based on Dick’s novels and short stories.   Many of Dick’s novels are concerned with simulacra
(machines that replicate humans), so this was a good place to start.  Some even think that the replicants in the film represent autistic individuals (see this Wrong Planet discussion).  We talked at length about the teaching machines in the public school, noting that they likely stand for the factory model of education, where students are trained to conform rather than to think individually.  This is what Jack believes, and we can see Dick again as fairly prophetic here, given the way teachers are increasingly automated in our day and age.  There is also something fundamentally creepy about simulacra–they invoke in us a kind of existential horror.

We expanded our discussion of autism/schizophrenia, observing that many of the characters repeat psychoanalytical theories that were popular during Dick’s time.  So, are these characters mouthpieces for what Dick himself believes about autism?  Probably not:  none of the characters in the book really understand what autism is–it transcends their understanding, as Dan put it.  The possible exception is the Bleekmen, who seem to have a mystical connection to Manfred and a similar ability to see through time.  Is this a stereotypical treatment of an aboriginal culture?  Maybe–but as Skye pointed out, at least the Bleekmen (especially Helio) treat Manfred with respect.

We talked briefly about the mental institution, Camp B-G, again recognizing the thin line between those who belong in society and those who do not.  This led us to consider the history of Israel and the Zionist themes in the novel: is Camp B-G a kind of Jewish ghetto?  John asked. Interesting speculation, especially given that the residents in the camp are destined for extermination.

This the power that science fiction–a lowly “genre” fiction–has to raise ideas.  In depicting the intertwining lives of several neurodiverse characters, it has a freedom that more “realistic’ fiction does not have.  See you next time.




Thaxton Analysis 8, Blog 5

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.

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”.

Wagner, Martian Time Slip Analysis

This book made me think again about the glorification of characters with autism. It seems that everything we see and read, mostly, is this preconceived notion that people with ASD must be useful to be interesting. As if they have to be treated like capital, or have some useful ability, in order to be a redeeming character. I find it hard to believe that being cast as the hero time and time again is something that  is good for the community of people with ASD, and how unrealistically society expects them to behave. So, naturally, I looked into it.

One person wrote:

“In kid lit, autistic characters often exist to affect other characters, for example to show what having an autistic sibling is like, to let characters “earn goodness pointsby being kind to us, or to educate the (assumed non-autistic) reader. We are also sometimes used to provide entertainment via amusing social misunderstandings.  ”


It seems to me that Dick used mental illness and Autism  to try and highlight this idea about mental disability being affected by a fast moving, unforgiving society. I am not sure where I rest my case with this, but I can see where this piece is also a product of its time and also more sympathetic to those with mental illness. I read an interesting piece that talked about whether pr not Dick had done his research before the book was written and it seems that the way he writes would indicate at least some basic research in psychological diagnosing and methods. But I also think we can look at Manfred as someone who is meant to carry plot and teach lessons, which can be both good and bad, as we have seen before.

Someone also said:

“There’s a second way we’re shown as making up for autism: having a mystical disability or special talent to entertain the reader or to serve as a plot device.  This sends the message that we can’t just be people, like non-autistic characters can; we have to compensate for disability by providing value.

But in real life, we have no psychic powers.”

I look and Manfred and I think capital. He becomes used. He has this special power and if it wasn’t for that special power, he would not have been necessary to the plot at all. However, his ability also speaks to Dick’s idea that the “time-slip” is that feeling of disconnect from reality, or something. I haven’t quite latched onto that idea either, but I am thinking it through.

Overall though, I guess it boils down into this question of was this piece good for the time period it was presented in? Probably. I think Dick was onto something. Is it perfect? Far from it, as are most things.

Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find a single web page devoted to people with autism talking about the novel at all, and I am not sure what that might mean, or not mean, for this novel and what it represents.




Autistic Representation and Real-Life Consequences: An In-Depth Look