Philip K. Dick is one of the great science fiction writers of the last century, and it is easy to see why. He created loads of different worlds, both futuristic and contemporary, for readers to enjoy, which (like all good science fiction) reflect back on our society. At least two of his books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Scanner Darkly have been made into films. Today’s review, The Man in the High Castle, won a Hugo award in 1963 for best novel. I want to stress from the outset that I admire Philip K. Dick and his work a great deal. But for some reason The Man in the High Castle just was not for me.
The premise of the novel is very interesting. It is set in an alternate universe in which the Axis powers won WWII. America has been divided between the Germans and the Japanese, with a small buffer zone in the mountains. There are several different plotlines going on: more political ones including a German man who is attempting to give German secrets to the Japanese, and very everyday ones such as an antiques dealer who realises that many of the antiques he has been sold are fakes. In addition, many of the characters refer to a book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen. This novel is supposed to be about an alternate reality to the one in the novel, in which the Allies won the war, but in a different way to that which actually happened. Meta.
I found a lot of things about the novel interesting. For one, the majority of the action happens in the Japanese section of America, rather than the nazi-occupied section. This was quite interesting to me partly because in the UK we tend to learn a lot more about the European aspects of the war and partly because it is a culture which I am just starting to learn things about, and would very much like to know more. Philip K. Dick also places a lot of emphasis on the I Ching’s ability to tell the future. In this universe, it works, and the characters who use it have absolute confidence in it.
However, I had some problems with the novel. It follows the tendency of some science fiction to make all reality quite bleak: none of the characters seem to have actual relationships with one another, instead using one another to obtain their own desires. I would suggest this is due to the cultural differences which are being imposed upon the characters, but it is no different with Julia Frink, a character set in the US zone, and it is a style which the author has also used in the other book of his I have read, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. This makes it quite hard for me to have empathy for the characters; they feel more like chess pieces than people.
The ending also felt very rushed and a little confusing. It is difficult to tell whether, by the end of the novel, anything is actually achieved, or whether the author merely intended to give his readers a glimpse into this world.