Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Narrative of the Cover Art for Time Out of Joint: Part 1



1958 marked a turning point in Dick’s career. He swore off mainstream fiction and instead decided to incorporate highbrow literary elements into his science fiction. Sutin writes, “And in 1958, [Dick] decided, without in the least forsaking his mainstream ambitions” to write a stylistic science fiction novel. Dick wrote Biography in Time (later renamed Time Out of Joint). The release (pictured above) was his first hardcover release in the United States, published by Lippincott in 1959 as a “novel of menace.” He was paid $750. According to Sutin, Dick “kept watch in Time and The New York Times Book Review, hoping for the first serious reviews of his career. They didn’t happen. Sales were poor.”

This cover was Dick's first taste of life outside the literary ghetto of science fiction. Absent are the cheesy blurbs like "He was a victim of the future's wolves" (Quiz time: On what PKD cover did that blurb appear?) and the requisite rocket ships and tentacled aliens. Time Out of Joint is one of Dick's most underrated novels and one of my favorites. I wrote my masters thesis on this novel and I appreciated the craftsmanship of the book on another level after spending a month or two going through it with a fine tooth comb.

In the essay "Philip K Dick and Human Kindness" J. Blumen writes:

"Time Out of Joint is an early and inferior novel, ringing some interesting changes on a traditional science fiction theme: Everything You Think You Know is False. Dick would tell this story again, with increased certainty and poignancy."

Why does every critic writing about PKD need to make some judgmental comment about his oeuvre: he wrote too fast, some novels suck, or the worst: Dick somehow fell ass-backwards into literary greatness as some kind of idiot savant who didn't know what he was doing?

Blumen again:

"Opposed to this is the natural [novelist], the idiot savant, the desperate man who has no idea that he is writing anything memorable, the madman whose pulp fiction is half garbage and half genius. This was Philip K. Dick, who started and ended his career writing cheap Ace paperbacks, who did too many drugs and left too many marriages and died at age 53, but whose writing has a quality of unexpected wild insight that guarantees he will be remembered."

4 comments:

Nicholas said...

Sure. All great novelists marry for life, drink in moderation, and live otherwise exemplary lives.

John said...

I just finished Time Out of Joint and I wasn't impressed. I love Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Man in the High Castle, and Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (which are all of the other PKD books I've read). But Time Out of Joint just didn't connect with me. I'm reading A Scanner Darkly and so far it's great.

Gabriel said...

Quiz answer: The "future's wolves" line was on the cover of Dr. Futurity, unless I'm mistaken.

TOJ is one of my favorite PKD novels, mostly on the strength of the "paper slips" scene, which remains one of the creepiest things in any novel ever.

As for Blumen, I have to wonder: if he likes PKD, why does he hate him so much?

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