Customer Reviews: Time Out of Joint
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on July 17, 2002
Somewhere I read Philip K. Dick say that the one most important piece of knowledge he had picked up from philosophy is that, "The nature of reality is to disguise its true nature" (which he claimed to have read in Heraclitus, though it's difficult to be sure if Heraclitus actually said that).
TIME OUT OF JOINT is one of Dick's earlier novels that treats the theme of "The World Is Not What We Think It Is" explicitly. It's a novel about knowledge and recognition. The characters play parts in a detective story where the mystery involves piecing together missing parts of the world. Some of the clues include finding light switches on the wrong side of the door, finding a note where a lemonade stand used to be, finding pictures of some actress nobody's ever heard of, and seeing visions.
A number of PKD's later books involved more significant permutations of this theme of Nature-In-Disguise. This story is like a one-trick pony in comparison to books like PALMER ELDRITCH, NOW WAIT FOR LAST YEAR, UBIK, MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, MAZE OF DEATH, or VALIS. But the gradual accumulation of evidence, the dawning of recognition in the main characters, makes for pretty fascinating reading.
For good or ill, several modern film makers have really taken this motif to heart (e.g., Dark City, The Matrix, The 13th Floor, The 6th Sense, etc.).
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on January 22, 2001
As a former reviewer has pointed it out, Philip K. Dick's TIME OUT OF JOINT has greatly inspired the authors of the screenplay of Peter Weir's THE TRUMAN SHOW. Ragle Gumm, the hero of TIME OUT OF JOINT, is questioning the reality he is living in, like in fact the majority of the characters created by Philip K. Dick during his literary career.
Ragle Gumm's efforts to discover the "hidden" side of the world he has been thrown into is, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect of the novel. The science-fictional explanation of the reasons why Ragle Gumm has to play everyday is not very convincing and the analysis of the origin of the war between Lunatics and Terrians way too simple for an author such as PKD.
However, TIME OUT OF JOINT provides the kind of pleasure the Philip K. Dick fan searches in vain in today sci-fi production. So don't hesitate to add this book to your collection if you are already familiar with the world of this writer.
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on June 8, 2002
I suppose I should begin this review by stating that I did genuinely enjoy reading this book. I felt it had highly readable prose and a gentle narrative style that eased you into some of the more bizarre happenings which occur later in the story. My one gripe, and I suppose this is just as much my fault as the publisher's, is the summary on the back of the book. Let me explain.
Usually when I read a novel, I do my best to avoid reading the notes on the flap of a hardcover or on the back of a paperback. The reason is simple, I don't want the story to be spolied. Now with this particular novel, I am reading at work during my lunch break, revelling in the peculiarities that befall poor Ragle Gumm (the protagonist) when I realize that lunch is almost over and I have to stop reading. I place the book down on my desk face down and while glancing down simply to pick up a pen I inadvertently read two short sentences on the back of the book which ruined all of the suspense and mystery of the story. (They were the second and third sentences of the summary, which is the same as the summary here at, if you are interested.)
I still enjoyed the book, although the last couple of chapters seemed very rushed to me. Yet, now whenever I think about "Time Out of Joint" all I can think of is the gradual dawning of understanding that might have been. The sublime joy of slowly, over time, figuring out what is going on... just as Ragle Gumm does. All spoiled by a poorly written summary on the back of the book.
If you are the kind of person who hates when movie trailers give away the entire story of a film, avoid reading this summary before reading the book itself.
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on October 9, 2008
Anyone who lived next door to Philip K. Dick in 1958 might have regarded him with a sense of mild suspicion. He hung around the house most of the day, probably, or he'd go to the library for long periods. He'd spend a lot of time reading books and making notes, and otherwise doing little or nothing that seemed like any kind of paid employment. Then for a week or ten days he'd type nonstop for hours, drop a big package at the post office and gradually sink back into apparent non-activity. You'd have to wonder what he did for food money.

At least, that's what PKD must have looked like on the outside. On the inside - that's another story. In fact, it's Time Out of Joint. (Like how I came full circle on that one? It's a cheap copy of something PKD did all the time.)

Now, before I go any further, I must apologize for rehashing that tired old assertion that any novel is to be read as a thinly-disguised autobiography of the writer who produced it. Interpretations of that kind leave no room for the imagination, ours or the author's, and we've had quite enough of that, thank you very much. PKD of all people was far too original in his thinking to rely on such hackery. Unfortunately, Time Out of Joint reads uncomfortably like thinly-disguised autobiography - it's about a man named Ragle Gumm, a figure of some suspicion, who spends his tense days at home reading books, making notes and sending mysterious packages through the mail. Sorry, kids, thinly-disguised autobiography it is. (Well, maybe a little thicker than that, but you get the idea.)

What's more, like PKD, Ragle Gumm has a sneaking suspicion that all is not well, that there's a hidden world of paranoia and violence behind the tranquility of his surroundings. And like PKD, his suspicions shortly prove to be accurate.

He lives somewhere in small-town Eisenhower America, and those packages he mails every day consist of his solutions to a newspaper contest called "Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?" The thing is a joke, consisting of a grid of 1,028 squares and a small group of utterly useless "clues", and you're supposed to guess the correct square. Lo and behold, by spending some eight hours a day examining, researching and postulating, Ragle Gumm wins the dratted thing every single time. And naturally, every time he wins, the pressure on him increases to win again the next day.

So far, despite its original publication under an SF imprint, this is about as science fictional as "Wheel of Fortune". Granted, at one point Ragle Gumm has a vision in which a soft-drink stand dissolves out of sight, to be replaced with a slip of paper labeled "soft-drink stand". Well, that could be a mere hallucination, a sign of incipient psychosis. Then he picks up the piece of paper and puts it in a box he keeps filled with other such slips of paper, and you realize that something really is rotten in the state of Denmark.

In other words, we're in PKD Land, where nothing is what it seems to be and reality changes shape while you wait. This is plain enough when the author shows you a town where buildings turn to slips of paper and no one knows who Marilyn Monroe is. The true greatness of Time Out of Joint, however, lies in the fact that PKD somehow managed to convey, even before the façade cracks open, the tension of living in a lying world. This author wasn't really a great stylist, but only a great writer could use simple language to show the rotten underbelly of conformist postwar America just by describing how a man insists on crossing the street in the middle of the block because it's a "point of honor".

Speaking of points of honor, I will say no more about what's actually bothering Ragle Gumm. Of course, Time Out of Joint has been in circulation for going on fifty years, and the true nature of Ragle Gumm's world is no big mystery anymore, but on the chance that someone out there considers reading it and doesn't know what's up, let's keep it quiet, shall we? It would be nice if new readers learned Ragle Gumm's secrets along with Ragle himself. Suffice to say that those who declare this to be PKD's breakthrough work are quite right. After five years of publishing good but predictable pulp according to Ace Books' strict science fiction template and utterly failing to sell any of his mainstream work, here is where PKD scored his first major victory in combining his deep investigations of suburban ennui with his explosive SF imagination.

The style rides rough and unpolished at times, some of the characters behave in the most cardboard fashion, there's at least one major crevasse in the plot, and I'm telling you, you won't be able to put it down. PKD knew what people's lives were like and what they dreamed about; if he wasn't always comfortable to read, he was always, always compelling.

I will conclude with a few words about this book's title. It's a quotation from Hamlet, of course - Ragle and Vic use the phrase to express their sense that things around them aren't quite right. They don't consider the entire quotation, but you should, because it provides a nifty clue as to who Ragle Gumm really is:

"The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!"

Benshlomo says, Combining reality with imagination takes a real genius, or a real psycho, or maybe both.
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on February 16, 2015
I know I can only make enemies by expressing my opinion about this book, but, really, it's only an opinion, and I really do have the best interests of Philip K. Dick's legacy at heart. I don't want readers who might react to this book as I did, but who have not read his other stuff, to give up on him. I think PKD wrote some masterpieces; but despite the obvious popularity of this particular novel, I found it both boring (the first half) and ridiculous (the second half). The book takes forever to build any kind of tension or mystery, and the way there is sheer tedium. Then when we finally get to what it's all about, any pretense of dramatic narrative is given up and instead we are given a highly abbreviated and prosaic account of a hugely complex and utterly absurd situation. The End. Furthermore both the writing style and content of the novel bear out the caricature of Phoebus K. Dank in Christopher Miller's brilliant "Cardboard Universe."

So if you enjoy this book, great. But if you don't (or don't want to risk it), I just want to be sure you won't pass up the opportunity to read such fine works as Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", "The Man in the High Castle," "We Can Build You," and "Valis." What has always amazed me about Dick is the range of styles of his best books (all four aforementioned being utterly unlike one another). But he wrote a lot of books, and, speaking again from my purely personal experience, most of them are bad. Don't let these steer you away from coming to enjoy and appreciate a truly unique and impressive writer.
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on November 8, 2012
This book starts well enough, with a strong evocation of suburban 50's life. And it ends fairly well. But frankly it drags in the middle, and comes to resemble run-of-the-mill sci-fi. While it has its charms, it doesn't have the type of zing (i.e. ability to zig and zag continuously) present previously in "The World That Jones Made" or "Solar Lottery". It's too ... normal, in large part. Dick's other books riff on many of the same themes contained in this one, but in less pedestrian form.
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on July 16, 2015
"Squeezing his eyes together he tried to dislodge the presence of the bus and passengers. For ten minutes he tried. His mind fell into a stupor. The navel, he thought blearily. Concentration on one point. He picked out the buzzer on the side of the bus opposite him. The round, white buzzer. Go, he thought. Fade away. Fade away. Fade , F ..." ( Time Out of Joint, Kindle Locations 1249-1251).

Beside this excerpt , I' am to just quote from David Pringle. Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels :

"Philip Kindred Dick (1928-1982), one of science fiction’s cult authors... is viewed by some [particularly in Europe] as the greatest American sf writer....
Time Out of Joint was his first hardcover book. For the first third of its length it scarcely reads like science fiction at all. It seems to be a pleasant, mildly witty novel of everyday life in the contemporary United States ... of 1959.
In reality it is the year 1998, and he is in the midst of a war of attrition between the ‘One Happy World’ dictatorship and rebels on the Moon. Ragle’s task, disguised as a Little-Green-Man contest, is to predict the pattern of incoming missiles ... the government has forced him into a ‘withdrawal psychosis’— a retreat to the world of his childhood, a make-believe small-town paradise of 1959."
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on April 6, 2010
Often called Philip K. Dick's breakthrough novel, Time Out of Joint is one of his best early works, essential for fans and a good place to start. Though not his most ambitious or meaningful opus, it is supremely entertaining and thought-provoking, tackling many themes later handled more complexly.

Time is greatly engrossing even on a very simple level. It draws us in quickly and does not let go until the very end; we truly never know what comes next and read feverishly to find out. It is virtually impossible to discuss the plot without giving away something essential, as many reviewers and even the description on the back of the book unfortunately have. Suffice it to say that there is a wealth of suspense and surprises and that anyone who knows nothing about the book is in for a true thrill. It is highly regrettable that other books - and especially films - have so often imitated and simply plagiarized Time, probably making it impossible to experience initial readers' shock. We can only envy them.

Of course, as nearly always with Dick, this is in many ways a vehicle for deeply philosophical themes. His signature question - "What is reality?" - is here in its then fullest expression, and it still stands as one of his most intriguing and thought-provoking explorations. Mental illness, another classic theme, also has a large presence, and Dick's signature dark humor is here in abundance. However, Time is in many ways unusual mostly in that it has virtually no science fiction content. It is quite far in before anything really out of the ordinary happens, and true SF elements do not come until the last few chapters. Initial readers must have been quite confused. We can easily think Dick wrote a mainstream novel and tacked SF elements on in order to fit a genre into which he had begun to make inroads, which is very likely true. He was one of the few major SF writers who wrote mainstream novels, though only one was published in his lifetime, and becoming a mainstream writer was his goal. Their recent publication demands nothing less than a full canon reevaluation; the mainstream books have always been seen as an SF writer stripping away SF trappings, but a close look at them and Time almost suggests the opposite. Seeing Time as a period piece is thus very legitimate - and extremely interesting. Published in 1959, the twilight of the Eisenhower years that have been widely idealized, Time is a fascinating glimpse into what it was like to live in this important era. We learn about everything from speech to pop culture to gender roles, and it soon becomes clear that the time was not so ideal. Cold War paranoia, female oppression, economic woes, and general ennui made life anything but pristine for the perceptive. One was of course not supposed to point such things out, and the subterfuge by which Dick manages to do so - even sneaking in significant political critique - is brilliant. It also cannot be discussed without giving too much away, but let it be known that he pulls off the seemingly impossible deftly and smoothly. Indeed, unlike virtually everything else he wrote, the ending actually ties everything together.

All told, Time epitomizes the best of early Dick and points to later work more than anything previous had done. It is important to know that this is not his most significant writing, and anyone who likes it should certainly read more, but this is essential for anyone alive to any aspect of his genius.
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on August 16, 2015
This is the third PKD book I've read, after Scanner Darkly and Ubik. This one has a similar style. There isn't really much action really, if you're looking for that. Much of the plot movement seems to happen with the dialogue among characters. Two characters talk about stuff. Then one of them goes to a place and talks some more with another character. Some stuff happens. A lot of inner dialogues. Personally, I love PKD's style and find it intriguing and thoughtful. I've been thinking about everything that happened for days after finishing.

The book is over 50 years old, and maybe by now you've seen some movies and read some other books that were inspired by Time Out of Joint. But even though the setup was familiar, I was still hooked. It didn't seem too dated and I really got into the plot and characters.
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on March 28, 2015
This is a really solid PKD novel. One of his better works, in my opinion. It has been a few days since I finished the book, and I have been thinking about it a good amount. The plot is interesting, I greatly enjoyed the characters' personalities, and as usual - the unique depictions of yet another possible underlying reality blew my mind.

I would probably recommend this as one of the top ten PKD novels. I still have a lot more to read, but this one sticks out to me as an easy introduction to PKD. There's not too much woo-woo science fiction in this book, but the way he describes the main characters paranoia and the unbelievability of his situation was nothing short of amazing.
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