This book was another book club book chosen because of the TV series of the same name that has recently been released. I have to say, I hadn’t read any Philip K. Dick before and while I’d heard of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and “A Scanner Darkly”, my only experience of his work was watching the film adaptation of the latter.
“The Man in the High Castle” is an alternative history, depicting a post-WWII America where the Axis won and the Allies lost. The world has essentially been divided up between Germany, Japan and Italy. The east coast of the USA has become a new country called the Pacific States of America, which is occupied by the Japanese and has experienced a wave of Japanese civilian immigration. Some people, such as Bob Childan, eke out a living by selling pre-war Americana artifacts to Japanese collectors. Many have taken to consulting the ancient Chinese divination text the I Ching to make decisions. Many have also been reading a banned book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which itself is an alternate history – one where the Allies actually won. Although allies, with shifting power structures taking place in Germany, the relationship between the the Germans and the Japanese is not as harmonious as it first appears.
This book really stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Orwell’s “1984” and “A Clockwork Orange”. It’s gritty, it’s sophisticated and it’s very very clever. Dick’s use of the I Ching throughout the novel is inspired and his treatment of race relations between the Americans and the Japanese is brilliant. As a reader, you’re really forced to think about things like the day-to-day applications of things like power-balances, what reality means and how we make our decisions. It’s not a very long book, but there is so much complexity packed into those 250-odd pages. There are quite a few characters, and while none of them really get much airtime, they all feel like real people. No stereotypes, no Mary Sues, just your average, everyday person who somehow found themselves part of this story.
This is a very clever, interesting book that doesn’t take very long to read. Even though it was published over 50 years ago, while it’s maybe not particularly topical, I still think that it is still very readable. If you’re into WWII history, dystopian fiction or simply books that make you think, I’d definitely recommend it. Based on the trailers, though, I’m not sure I’ll bother with the TV adaptation.