The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is complicated for me. I only cared about Juliana's story as an actual story. There were times where I was invested with Frank's tale, too, and Tagomi had his moments, but as a complete and cohesive novel, the overt tale wasn't anything special. Nothing much happened except the hint of an attempted coup, the beginnings of an attempted assassination of an author, and the near-tragedy of a jewelry maker.
So what's all the fuss about? Why do people think this PKD is the bomb? Why did it earn a Hugo back in '62?
It's complicated. Just like my relationship with the novel.
Let's get the heavy out of the way. The whole damn thing was written with the extensive use of the I Ching. Hell, I learned the I Ching and used it extensively after reading this novel, just to get a deeper feel. This is a practical crash-course in PKD's fascination with all things mystical and religious, focused on a tight beam of almost pink light and driven right into the heart of every character's life. It's easy to extrapolate into all his other works from here, or backtrack to this instant. Everything is connected.
I loved this part of it. The twists and the turns, the inexplicable and the merely odd things that happen to the people, all of it could be blamed on the I Ching, and by extension, the vagaries of real life. Truth is hereby written.
I just don't think it made for a particularly exciting tale... just a pretty profound one.
And then there's the other part of this book which generally captures most people's attention. It's an alternate history where the Germans and the Japanese won WWII and split up the USA into occupied territories. We spend most of our time in the Japanese sector of California, where Frank is relatively free of the threat of being thrown into a gas chamber for being of Jewish ancestry.
Nice set-up? You bet. PKD's details are vast and deep, too, throwing us into an immersion both amazing and scary as hell. It's a crash course in cultural mindsets, too, although I cannot be any kind of expert on how the Japanese really think. I cannot tell anyone how accurate it is. BUT, I can say it was a huge eye-opener the first time I read this.
As a novel of worldbuilding, what PKD accomplished here is beyond excellent. Perhaps it only seems so this far down the timestream from when it was written, and perhaps it is a genuine masterpiece regardless of when we read it, but a great working knowledge of all the historical players is almost a must before dipping your toes in this water. I think I'm not too bad at history, having read a great number of non-fiction books, but since I wasn't living through the events, I felt lost a great deal of the time.
It was almost as if PKD almost refuses to divulge the hidden treasures in the events without our active and fairly intense participation, but it wasn't so much the name dropping that I had troubles with. It was the importance of the events that happened to each of the characters that stymied me. So, again, we had to return to the I Ching and divine the deeper reasons.
Themes can and will be untangled with enough effort, and they're pretty cool, but this novel is by no means a simple and straightforward read.
And then there's the third awesome aspect of the novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a prophetic and I Ching written novel that's hugely popular in this alternate world. It depicts a world where Germany and Japan lost the war. An additional I Ching reading about the veracity of this novel tells us that it is a hidden truth. It's real. And people all across the nation seem to realize it, talk about it, and generally obsess over it.
How cool. Right? A mirror of the universe *mostly* reflecting our own and driving its inhabitants a little bonkers in exactly the way that PKD's novel did for us in this universe!
Well, it wouldn't be PKD without at least TWO world-shattering shenanigans, right?
So, I've got all these high props of the novel and a teeth-grinding annoyance held out for it for the SAME REASON. Am I and this book in a relationship? Yes. But it's complicated. ;)
Very cool stuff, but it requires a lot of effort to really enjoy. It's high maintenance. :)
View all my reviews