Time Out Of Joint
By: Philip K. Dick
Written by Philip K. Dick, Time Out Of Joint was a science fiction novel from 1959 set in an ordinary American suburbia where a man with a rather repetitive, dull existence starts to notice some strange goings-on before paranoia fully sets in.
Some of the themes often explored by the legendary author can be found in this novel from the liquid nature of reality to the incongruous merging of past and future. The uncertainty of time is something the writer was always interested in people age backwards in Counter-Clock World, Ubik sees the past literally catch up to the present and in The World Jones Made, a man is able to see one year into the future, to name a few examples. Similarly, Time Out Of Joint also deals with the idea that time and space as we know it may not be what it seems.
The main character in the book is the oddly-named Ragle Gumm, an ordinary guy whose main concern in life is winning a particular newspaper competition over and over, which he always does. The goal of the “Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?” contest being to pinpoint where the “Little Green Man” character would pop-up in a large empty grid. This can be done by following the clues provided and by studying previous entries. Is Gumm’s winning streak due to pure luck, some unique talent he happens to possess or an infallible technique he’s developed? His family and neighbors are supportive, impressed and sometimes jealous but none of them really seems to understand how he does it.
Then Ragle Gumm begins to slowly notice some bizarre anomalies happening around him like soft-drink stands becoming transparent before his very eyes and people he’s never even met referring to him by name. This worries him to the point where he almost doubts his own sanity then starts to believe that a conspiracy is building around him. When he realises that he simply can’t trust anyone anymore, Gumm decides to escape the town but he finds that even this proves difficult before he finally comes face to face with the devastating truth.
The way that Philip K. Dick builds this character’s paranoia makes Time Out Of Joint a nail-biting read from start to finish. In its final third, the story’s tone shifts to something darker as the scale reveals itself to be far grander than you were originally led to believe. It’s another big twist handled expertly by the author and this is one of his most relentless, compelling novels so I would definitely recommend it. If you’re not familiar with the writer’s work, this is a straight-forward, yet still an enjoyable surreal sci-fi novel from one of the best in the genre and it’s a decent book to start with.
Philip K. Dick often throws a put-upon character in a Hitchcockian, larger-than-life situation as they attempt to figure a way out while the reader also tries to put together the whole picture. This leads to some genuinely suspenseful novels and it makes sense that Hollywood has often tried to adapt Dick’s stories into feature films. Those efforts have had both positive results (Blade Runner, Minority Report) and less stellar ones (Impostor, The Adjustment Bureau), with even the best adaptations hardly staying close to the source material.
Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, which was released in 1998 and starred Jim Carrey in the lead role, tells the story of a man who lives comfortably in a small, perfect little American town until he realises that his reality may be compromised. He starts to suspect everyone around him to be a fake and he ultimately tries to escape. If that sounds familiar then that’s because it’s essentially the same exact thing that happens in Time Out Of Joint. Of course, The Truman Show frames its character’s woes in a reality show setting but it deals with pretty much the same themes and it’s still surprising that more people haven’t noticed the similarities between both works.
There are many moments in the film that mirror the book closely like every time Truman notices the discrepancies in the show he’s unwittingly a part of. But it’s the scene where a stranger calls Truman by his name and the one where he runs out of his car then escapes into the woods as a group of faceless individuals try to catch him that are particularly obvious. I always felt the film should have acknowledged its resemblance to Philip K. Dick’s novel but it’s hard to really fault the film too much since it is very good in its own right and is an effective re-imagining of Time Out Of Joint whether it admits it or not.
When Ragle Gumm uncovers the truth about what’s been really happening around him, it’s a shock for both him and us but there’s something even more tragic about the Truman character whose entire life has been a joke to everyone except him. The Truman Show is a far more cynical story as Truman’s entire existence depends on a flimsy television show whereas in Time Out Of Joint there is a more legitimate reason for Ragle Gumm’s deception. I won’t say anything else about the novel, as I want you to discover it for yourself.
Like Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, The Truman Show and Time Out Of Joint tell the same story but with enough different ideas thrown in that both are well worth checking out and are equally enjoyable in their own unique way. Some of Philip K. Dick’s more serious, denser novels like The Man In The High Castle can take up to 30 pages until you really get into the spirit of things but Time Out Of Joint, like Ubik or Dr. Bloodmoney will have you hooked right away.