On first impression Ragle Gumm is pretty much an ordinary man leading a fairly ordinary life - the only exception being that he makes his living by entering a newspaper contest every day - and winning every day, for the last 3 years. After a few strange occurances that break the otherwise relaxed monotony he begins to believe that his life, the world around him - his very existence is an illusion, constructed for the express purpose of keeping him content.
But if that is true, what is it like in the real world - and what is he actually doing every day when he thinks he is guessing "Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?"
When I first picked up this book (which I found in a second hand book shop by accident) and started reading I thought I'd found an original Truman Show story but the novel is far more complicated and has much more depth than that story ever had. The style of writing is just what you would expect from the master of science fiction - Philip K Dick, with the relaxed pace and concentration on characterisation in a very similar vein to The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears the Policeman said.
Time out of joint deals with the author's favourite subject, reality - or more accurately Ragle's personal reality in conflict with objective reality, a "conflicting reality" theme that is told with the authors usual mixture of everyday characters finding themselves having to deal with events that are far from ordinary.
I loved the way that PKD manages to play with the readers mind, never giving too much away and offering a number of ideas on the nature of Ragle's reality. The story is set in the oppressive and deeply paranoid world of 1950's America, the beginnings of the cold war with the constant fear of a nuclear war and deep suspicions of infiltration by Russian spies. The characters are fantastically mundane and expertly played, while the setting is wonderfully described - allowing the reader to visual the story with a great degree of clarity.
Ragle himself is a very strong character, often given to introspection and able to accept that it very well may be that he is going slowly insane, managing to stay objective about the whole situation. Nonetheless he still has the foresight to keep investigating just what's going on and I was reminded of the saying "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you" - which fit's in perfectly with the protagonists viewpoint. There are just enough doubts to make you wonder at times if it's the protagonists own sanity that is crumbling and not that of the reality around him.
If you have ever had strange things happen around you - reaching for a light switch that isn't there or seeing a doppleganger of someone in the street - this book will make you think about your own personal reality, is everything really as it seems? - Classic science fiction by one of the best authors of the 20th century.
Written on Wednesday 24th August 2011 by Antony.
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