Time out of Joint

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Time Out of Joint

Philip K. Dick's novel Time Out of Joint was originally serialised in the British science fiction magazine New Worlds Science Fiction (December 1959 to February 1960).

The novel epitomises many of Dick's novels, with its concern about the nature of reality, and ordinary people in ordinary lives having the world unravel around them. The title is a reference to what Hamlet says to Horatio after being visited by his father's ghost, and learning that his uncle Claudius murdered his father; in short, a shocking supernatural event that fundamentally alters the way Hamlet perceives the state and the universe ("The time is out of joint; O cursed spite!/That I was ever born to set it right!" [I.V.211-2]).

The hero, named Ragle Gumm, lives in a quiet, early 1960s American suburb. His unusual occupation consists of repeatedly winning the cash prize in a local newspaper competition called 'Where will the little green man be next?' However, he has a problem: every now and then, some object around him, like a hot dog stand in the local park, fades away into nothingness, leaving behind only a small slip of paper with the name of the object printed on it. There are other mysterious aspects: children exploring the basement of an old, ruined house nearby find a pile of magazines. One features an actress, apparently well-known, who Gumm has never heard of, named Marilyn Monroe.

Confusion gradually mounts for Gumm, and the plot then moves to one of his neighbours observing this, who starts worrying 'What if Gumm were becoming sane?' In fact, Gumm does become sane, and the deception around him (erected to both protect and exploit him) is unravelled.

Gumm eventually learns that the idylic neighborhood he lives in is a construct designed to protect him from the terrible fact that he lives on a future Earth embroiled in an extended nuclear war with the colonized Moon. Amazingly Gumm is the only consistently accurate method for predicting where nuclear strikes will be aimed at, and his newspaper puzzle solving skills has saved untold thousands of lives over the years. The town provides a psychological safety blanket that allows him to perform this task without understanding his dire responsibility (similar to Ender Wiggin in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game). Gumm's circumstances bear a striking resemblance to those depicted in later movies such as The Truman Show and A Beautiful aus den Fugen


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