Text World Theory: Martian Time-Slip

I am continuing my exploration of text world theory as described in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice that I began with an analysis of Sozaboy. Here I analyze the first few paragraphs of Martian Time-Slip and consider the implications of text world theory on my own writing.

The discourse world of Martian Time-Slip is no less complex than that of Sozaboy which I considered in my previous text world analysis. Philip K. Dick (PKD) is best known as the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was made into an acclaimed movie. I came across PKD the way I imagine many readers do: through Bladerunner and other films. Dozens of PKD novels and stories have been made into films, including: Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers, and A Scanner Darkly. These films and the stories they are based on shared themes that question our perception of reality and pit the individual against corporate and government agencies. Parts of PKD’s life mirrored these themes. His struggles with mental health and drug use are public knowledge and formed the basis for A Scanner Darkly, published in the late seventies. These themes inform the Common Ground of the discourse world.

Martian Time-Slip was first published in 1963 as a serial in three issues of the SF magazine Worlds of Tomorrow. It was not uncommon for novels to begin as serials before being published in books. Charles Dickens found success publishing in periodicals early in the 19th century. In the 20th century, when paperbacks made books more affordable, magazines continued to be a way for publishers to generate a buzz among devout SF readers before releasing novels to a larger market. The modernization of printing a couple of decades earlier had resulted in the rise of the paperback as a popular medium. Innovative publishers, such as Ballentine, had taken advantage of this new, inexpensive medium to produce science fiction stories published first as magazine serials and then as novel length books. The story of these influential changes in the publishing industry are outlined in a couple of articles at Kirkus Reviews. And it is also described in the novel Trouble on Triton, where Sam Delany writes:

The technological innovations in printing at the beginning of the Sixties, which produced the present “paperback revolution,” are probably the single most important factor contouring the modern science-fiction text. But the name “science fiction” in its various avatars—s-f, speculative fiction, sci-fi, scientifiction—goes back to those earlier technological advances in printing that resulted in the proliferation of “pulp magazines” during the Teens and Twenties.

As a reader in the 21st century, I can’t help but think of all the film adaptations when I read a book by PKD. And to further complicate the issue of discourse participants for the novel, I did not read Martian Time-Slip as a book but listened to an audio version published by Brilliance Audio. I did have a paper copy of the book to use as reference for writing this text world analysis, but I do much of my reading now in audio. With so many discourse participants, the weighty concept of a “capital A-Author” loses some of its substance. Yet, I knew I was reading a PKD novel and that informed my expectations of what I would find.

Expectations are the beginnings of the Common Ground, elements of the discourse world that participants tacitly agree are relevant to the reading. Although the Common Ground shifts and changes as the novel is read, it is fundamentally driven by the text itself. Martian Time-Slip begins by establishing the Common Ground with a title that suggests conventional tropes popular in 1960s science-fiction, such as martians, advanced technology, and impossible physics. The first paragraphs continue to build the text world with World Building Elements (WBEs) that satisfy the expectations of an SF novel.

From the depths of phenobarbital slumber, Silvia Bohlen heard something that called. Sharp, it broke the layers into which she had sunk, damaging her perfect state of nonself.

“Mom,” her son called again, from outdoors.

Sitting up, she took a swallow of water from the glass by the bed; she put her bare feet on the floor and rose with difficulty. Time by the clock: nine-thirty. She found her robe, walked to the window.

I must not take any more of that, she thought. Better to succumb to the schizophrenic process, join the rest of the world. She raised the window shade; the sunlight, with its familiar reddish, dusty tinge, filled her sight and made it impossible to see. She put up her hand, calling, “What is it, David?”

“Mom, the ditch rider’s here!”

Then this must be Wednesday. She nodded, turned and walked unsteadily from the bedroom to the kitchen, where she managed to put on the good, solid, Earth-made coffee-pot.

In Trouble on Triton, Sam Delany wrote that landscape is the primary hero of an SF novel and the episteme is the secondary hero. The SF genre is defined in terms of landscape, in terms of the time, location, and objects in the story. The episteme is realized in the way characters interact with the landscape. In other words, the most important slots in the SF literary schema will be filled by the WBEs related to time, location, objects, and characters. These are the most salient parts of the story and the parts most readily employed to describe the story.

In her paper on Text Structure: Movie Scripts, Nelly Tincheva states that the text world structure is what most people recall when they describe a movie. But for SF movies in particular, I think the text world structure, which Tincheva argues is often based on the SOURCE-PATH-GOAL metaphor, is less likely to be recalled than are the WBEs. For example, when I tell a friend about Bladerunner or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I would say something like: “A post-apocalyptic story set a few decades in the future on an urbanized planet Earth that has completely destroyed the natural environment. Humans have expanded to colonies in outer space using the labor of androids called replicants. When replicants become sentient and try to pass as human, they are hunted by the police using a device that measures emotional response.” The elements I would first related are time (a few decades in the future), location (post-apocalyptic Earth and outer space colonies), objects (androids and device to test for androids), and characters (replicants and police). Of course, there is more to say about the story, but these elements of time, location, objects, and characters are the defining slots in the SF literary schema.

The WBEs in the first few paragraphs of Martian Time-Slip satisfy the expectations of a SF novel. The sun is reddish, as expected on Mars. Someone called a “ditch rider” arrives. The word “ditch rider” is a metonymic device that also meets the stylistic expectations of a SF novel: two common words joined together to evoke a fantastical object, for example “lightsaber” or “starship”.

The opening paragraphs also include WBEs that are completely mundane: alarm clocks, window shades, a glass of water, and a coffee pot. The adjective “Earth-made” applied to the coffee pot is another marker of the SF novel, but the effect of applying this metonymic device as an adjective instead of noun is to make an ordinary object uncanny instead of fantastic. This stylistic nuance is suggestive of another theme of the novel, mental health. The drug phenobarbital introduces this theme more explicitly, which satisfies another expectation of a PKD novel.

The Function Advancing Propositions (FAPs) in these first few paragraphs are both character advancing, “Sharp, it broke the layers into which she had sunk, damaging her perfect state of nonself.” and plot advancing, “Sitting up she took a swallow of water from the glass by the bed.” The character advancing propositions are frequently related to her use of the drug and its effect on her. The plot is simply to get out of bed and make coffee, a plot made interesting by the complications of her being under the influence of the drug. The balance of character advancing and plot advancing FAPs is a good example of building character through action, demonstrating the writerly technique of “show don’t tell”.
Sub-worlds are introduced as Silvia’s thoughts and goals. These sub-worlds also serve to introduce one of the central themes of the novel: mental health. Her thoughts and goals construct a modal sub-world. She must not take any more of the drug. She waivers between her and the ditch riders obligations to drain the water tank. Later in the text, it will be established that the elements of this sub-world, specifically the schizophrenic process are actually part of the text world.

If I were to tell a friend about Martian Time-Slip, I would say something like: “Corporations are moving in to transform a Martian colony from a small settlement into a major urban center. Schizophrenia and autism have become a wide-spread epidemic. But schizophrenia is a disjointed form of time travel, which the native Martians have a way of controlling.” My emphasis would be on the WBEs and the themes of urbanization and mental health which are addressed in the sub-worlds generated by the FAPs. For SF stories, the structure of the text world is shaped by the WBEs and themes suggested by sub-worlds.
Although I have found the insights provided by this analysis to enhance my reading of both texts, especially Sozaboy, my purpose in analyzing these two texts using text world theory is to support my growth and development as a writer. Text world theory allows for a close examination at the level of sentences and clauses of an entire text, such as a novel, that lead to broad conclusions about the text. The analysis looks for patterns in the WBEs and FAPs.

One thing I noticed in my analysis of both these novels is the use of consistent types of FAPs for rhetorical effect. Saro-Wiwa uses argument advancing propositions in the first few paragraphs of Sozaboy to create anxiety. PKD uses modal sub-worlds to introduce his novel’s theme of mental health. The consistency in types of FAPs and sub-worlds contribute to the narrator’s “voice”.

My text world analysis of Sozaboy was helpful in allowing me to engage deeply with the text. On my first reading of the novel, I had not noticed the argumentative structure of the opening. Surely, I had felt it, but it hadn’t stood out to me as a stylistic attribute. The process of doing a text world analysis drew my attention to that attribute, enhancing my appreciation of the novel. Although my text world analysis of Martian Time-Slip did not provide a similar dramatic insight, it did lead to a deeper reading. The connection between the sub-worlds and the themes of the novel were not obvious to me as a stylistic feature of the text at first.

I can see two beneficial uses for text world analysis as a writer. First, as I become more familiar with text world theory I am learning new ways of using FAPs for rhetorical effect. I am becoming a better reader, and that will make me a better writer. Second, I can directly apply text world theory to my own drafts to better control the narrator’s “voice”.

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