I’ve been thinking about rereading a lot. In a very ‘ship of Theseus’ sense, I have always been fascinated by the notion that we are fundamentally very different people as times goes by. More or less, after a decade passes there are almost no cells in your body that were around a decade earlier. But from our point of view as a collection of experiences, we don’t really notice that in the journey of our lives. But I am willing to bet that we shouldn’t be all that much like the person we were ten years ago. Or at the very least, we should strive not to be.
So what happens then when you think back to a book you loved almost twenty years ago? Should you still love them now?
No idea. Then two things happened. One, I found a copy of The Martian Time Slip while I was going through some things at my job. The second, a blogger whose blog name is a thousand time better than mine (WEIGHING A PIG DOESN’T FATTEN IT) wrote a very enjoyable review of Ubik. It made me thing about a few things, and I decided to give Philip K Dick (PkD) another read. Dick was a childhood favourite author, so much so that well into the early years of university I had a pretty strong obsession with him.
Here is the real question: can this be read without really reading who I was when I first read it? No, I don’t think I can entirely. In this particular case, I have a slight advantage with this particular book: namely, I cannot remember a single detail about this book to save my life. I remember reading it, but no specific details stand out. Not even a vague outline of the plot.
The Martian Time-Slip is a strange slice of life novel that takes place on the planet Mars. The people who live there live seemingly bleak frontier-ish lives of struggle, many of which revolve around water scarcity. But this frontier-ish aspect to it is sort of blended with a 1950’s suburban aesthetic (an interesting mix, for sure). The denizens living there prospect for a better life by whatever way they can, and the story largely follows Arnie Knott’s attempt to invest in some worthless land that he finds will be the site of a government construction project. He comes to learn of this through the prophecy of his schizophrenic, because in this book the neuro-atypical have the gift of soothsaying.
I’ll give up there. I normally try to keep my summaries as concise as possible. I don’t think that will be the case with this book. It has a lot of plot to it, but much of it feels pretty damn shoestring if you ask me.
So how do I answer the questions that I started with at the beginning of the post? I don’t think I like the version of myself that lived way back when, at least how that person is in my mind. Largely, I think he was a dumb fuck, who used his ignorance to believe in things that he had no right to. He wanted to believe in a more magical world than the one we live in now, and was thus willing to take into consideration things that just aren’t really the case. Shame on him. Reality is not up for sale. It isn’t up for debate either. It doesn’t bend or mold much either, and these are all the hallmarks of Philip K Dick. I do not know to what level of sophistication we understand schizophrenia these days, but I am reasonably sure PkD’s ideas about it are bunk.
This isn’t a criticism of PkD, by the way. I don’t oblige science-fiction writers to uphold reality as a standard. They can be as fanciful as they like. But at some point aspects of this stopped working for me. There are several other works that fall into this category, including Samuel R Delany’s (who is otherwise my favourite author) Babel-17, which hinges on the discredited Sapir-Wharf hypothesis to drive its plot.
Here are the criticism of PkD. The characters in this novel did nothing for me, and I struggled to ever care about them. It was very hard for me follow the book, because the characters and their struggles just were not all that compelling. But then again, I didn’t remember this book. Even this time around, I seemed to forget what I read shortly after I read it. What would happen should I read a PkD book that I remember now only fondly, but well? It is worth revisiting this question again.