Sunday, January 25, 2009

The New York Times newspaper in Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip

I’m about half-way through reading Martian Time-Slip (1964), a novel written by author Philip K. Dick. On the surface, the plot is about the scarcity of water on Mars and the power of the planet’s plumbing union, but underneath are stronger currents, including the role of technology and disadvantaged individuals in society. Among the handful of major characters is Arnie Kott, king of the plumbing union, who enjoys reading The New York Times:
When he had been dressed by the attendant, in his gray flannel trousers and T-shirt, soft leather boots, and nautical cap, he left the steam bath and crossed the corridor of the Union Hall to his dining room, where Helio, his Bleekman cook, had his breakfast waiting. Shortly, he sat before a stack of hotcakes and bacon, coffee and a glass of orange juice, and the previous week’s New York Times, the Sunday edition.

“Good morning, Mr. Kott.” In answer to his button-pressing, a secretary from the pool had appeared, a girl he had never seen before. Not too good-looking, he decided after a brief glance; he returned to reading the newspaper. And calling him Mr. Kott, too. He sipped his orange juice and read about a ship that had perished in space with all three hundred aboard killed. It was a Japanese merchantman carrying bicycles. That made him laugh. Bicycles in space, and all gone, now; too bad, because on a planet with little mass like Mars, where there was virtually no power source -- except the sluggish canal system -- and where even kerosene cost a fortune, bicycles were of great economic value. A man could pedal free of cost for hundreds of miles, right over the sand, too. ...

Reading the New York
Times made him feel for a little while as if he were back Home again, in South Pasadena; his family had subscribed to the West Coast edition of the Times, and as a boy he remembered bringing it in from the mailbox, in from the street lined with apricot trees, the warm, smoggy little street of neat one-story houses and parked cars and lawns tended from one weekend to the next without fail. It was the lawn, with all its equipment and medicines, that he missed most -- the wheelbarrow of fertilizer, the new grass seed, the snippers, the poultry-netting fence in the early spring ... and always the sprinklers at work throughout the long summer, whenever the law allowed. Water shortage there, too. Once his Uncle Paul had been arrested for washing his car on a water-ration day.

Reading further in the paper he came upon an article about a reception at the White House for a Mrs. Lizner who, as an official of the Birth Control Agency, had performed eight thousand therapeutic abortions and had thereby set an example for American womanhood. Kind of like a nurse, Arnie Kott decided. Noble occupation for females. He turned the page.

There, in big type, was a quarter-page ad which he himself had helped compose, a glowing come-on to get people to emigrate. Arnie sat back in his chair, folded the paper, felt deep pride as he studied the ad; it looked good, he decided. It would surely attract people, if they had any guts at all and a sincere desire for adventure, as the ad said.

The ad listed all the skills in demand on Mars, and it was a long list ...
Pictured above: Cover of the 1964 Ballantine paperback.

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