That question may now seem like a tired old trope. That’s because it all started with Philip K. Dick’s classic 1959 work, Time Out of Joint.
For some reason I had never read this dystopian novel before, even though it came out at the perfect age for reading science fiction: I was 12 years old when it was published. But I suspect it would have been just too weird for me at that time.
Although the novel is disquieting, it doesn’t read as being particular dystopian for most of its pages. Like many a Twilight Zone episode, or many a horror story, it starts out with the peaceful feel of the ’50s. Take a look at the cover image, for instance: a quiet though crowded suburb. That’s the initial feeling.
But, speaking of the Twilight Zone, it soon becomes clear that this is not the suburbs of the 1950s. In fact… well, I don’t want to commit any spoilers, even if we’re talking about a work from 63 years ago, so let’s just say that things are not what they seem. In fact, I am sure that several Twilight Zone episodes—not to mention The Truman Show, Ender’s Game, and The Matrix—were all directly inspired by Time Out of Joint.
By the way, I didn’t recognize the title of the novel as coming from Hamlet, despite my heavily traditional high-school education. That’s partly because my AP English teacher chose King Lear rather than Hamlet as our Shakespeare tragedy. So, although I did read Hamlet on my own, I’m sure I missed some of what PKD was trying to say.
If you didn’t read Time Out of Joint back when it came out, or in any of the subsequent decades, go read it now! It is well worth it.