Time Out of Joint, which Dick wrote while he still had aspirations of being a literary novelist, is my favorite of his minor works. It has similarities with his mainstream books (all of which were still unpublished in the late 50s), but it introduces a page-turning story alongside the suburban malaise.
In the 1990s a civil war has broken out between colonists on the moon and Earth. Time magazine’s 1996 Man of the Year Ragle Gumm is the only one who can predict where the missiles fired from the moon will land, and he’s able to keep Earth safe, that is until he has a change of heart and begins to side with the lunatics, as those on the moon are called.
A psychotic break follows and he regresses in his mind to the 1950s America of his childhood. The military then carefully constructs a fake 1950s small town filled with a few handlers along with a majority who are brainwashed into also thinking it’s real. Ragle still makes his predictions, although now it’s under the guise of a newspaper contest where he earns a 1950s wage figuring out Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next?
It would be easy to pick apart the book’s logic (how exactly does Ragle’s gift of prediction work and what do the strips of paper that Ragle finds when he begins to see through the simulated reality really mean?) but I love how Dick anticipated a baby boomer nostalgia for the 50s as he watched the Eisenhower years come to an end.
Cast of characters
- Ragle Gumm – all-time winner in the newspaper’s Where Will the Little Green Man Be Next? contest. Lives with his sister’s family
- Margo Nielson – Ragle’s sister
- Vic Nielson – Ragle’s brother-in-law
- Sammy Nielson – Vic and Margo’s young son
- Bill and Junie Black – Vic and Margo’s neighbors
- Stuart Lowery – Gazette representative
- Kay Keitelbein – neighborhood volunteer for Civil Defense
- Walter Keitelbein – Kay’s son
- The Kesselmans – Ragle encounters them in their house on the outskirts of town when he first tries to escape