Top positive review
Great Humanistic Science Fiction
Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2016
Let's make a few things clear before we dive in: Martian Time-Slip (1964) is not an action-thriller like some of Philip K. Dick's more famous cosmic horror tales, it is not as overtly deranged as some of those stories either, and ultimately these qualities make it one of his best works. Just when the sci-fi New Wave was on the rise, giving us authors like J.G. Ballard and Chip Delany, Dick was showing everyone else in his own bizarrely modest way that he was the one who was truly ahead of the curve. Martian Time-Slip is one of his more humane and soft-spoken novels, preferring to look at its characters through sympathetic eyes rather than those of the paranoid; even the closest character we get to a villain is undeniably human in his motivations and desires, and ultimately we pity him.
As with Clans of the Alphane Moon (also published in '64), mental illness is the topic of the day, although it is handled with a level of maturity that was rarely seen in the genre at the time. The mentally ill are portrayed as deeply troubled people, rather than simply crazy, and the autistic child at the heart of Time-Slip's story remains one of Dick's strongest attempts to write a character who manages to convey so much pain with so few spoken words. Let's make another thing clear here: Martian Time-Slip, despite "time" being in the title, is not mainly a time-travel story. We do see a future, and it's a very bleak one, but it's shown mainly through drawings rather than characters experiencing it first-hand; it is a nightmarish place that we see only from a distance, but we feel the dread of its impending existence. The result is a book that—despite having a slower pace than much of Dick's other novels—possesses some truly haunting imagery and ideas that will most likely stick with the reader long after the last page is turned.
While it doesn't receive as much attention as Ubik or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip is certainly one of the strongest entries in Dick's expansive and endlessly fascinating body of work. One could make a good argument that it's even better than the books I just mentioned, and yes, it is actually that good. Dick was never known to be a master at prose (his novels were essentially first drafts), but Martian Time-Slip is consistently well-written, at least by the author's standards; the narrative structure is also well-formed, and experimental enough that attempts to lump Dick in with New Wave writers can come off as justified. For the lucky bunch that got through Dick's more well-known novels, be sure to give this one a try.