Friday, March 05, 2010

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick
Awards: Hugo
★ ★ ★ ★ -


I am a big Philip K. Dick fan anyway but this book is a particularly good one of his.

It is an alternate history set in 1962 in which the Axis won World War II. The western states of the U.S. have become the Pacific States of America (PSA), which are run by Japan, and the east coast and Midwest states are run by Germany.

In between, the Rocky Mountain States (RMS) are a tenuous neutral zone that neither Germany nor Japan has yet moved to take over, but relations between the two powers are strained because each suspects the other of wanting to do so. (Italy has been relegated to a second-class power.)

In the RMS lives an author who has written a novel that is an alternate history in which Germany and Japan lost the war. The novel is wildly popular because it makes the former Americans think about What Might Have Been. It has been banned by Germany but is, for the time being, tolerated by Japan.

Dick’s book has several separate story lines that sometimes intertwine - American artisans in the PSA trying to introduce a new line of jewelry that does not appeal to the dominant Japanese aesthetic; spies playing on the hostility between Germany and Japan; and a woman who accidentally gets involved with an assassin bent on killing the author of the alternate history novel. My favorite character was Mr. Tagomi, a well-meaning businessman in the PSA who unknowingly coordinates a meeting between a German double-agent and a Japanese general and gets involved in foreign intrigue way over his head.

I enjoyed all the stories in this book but the best parts, for me, were the little details of life in the occupied USA. The takeover by the Axis powers affects everything in the occupied regions of America including speech patterns, religion, style, and sometimes even thought.


Lord John Whorfin said...

Yes! I love this book, too -- my favorite of his. Or at least a tie with Valis.

I loved the whole theme of historicity, and my favorite part is that what freaks out the Axis powers is the danger that people are actually starting to believe the book is the true history.

Also love that the alternate reality in Grasshopper has Tugwell becoming president -- it isn't just our own timeline.

Great review!

Jake Miller said...

All that is nice, Cthulhu, but what your readers really want to know is, "Did this book make your hair stand on end?" (I guess that presupposes that you were SHOCKED by Fail Safe and Seven Days in May.

In related news, I much prefer the olde school book cover depicted in the topmost illustration to the one which appears in the Amazon widget window at the bottom of the post.

Jake Miller said...

I mean, SHOCKED by Fail Safe and Seven Days in May.

Lord John Whorfin said...

Dude, I know we are co-contributors here, so I don't want to go overboard -- but those are some kicking italics.

Jake Miller said...

Thanks, LJW!

Lord John Whorfin said...

Your welc... WHOA! Where did that come from? Guess I have to hit the books some more.

I'd italicize that but I don't think it properly signifies how strongly I feel about it.

C - Log said...

Well how about this?

Jake Miller said...

Harumph. Was going to show off more mad skillz, but "font tag not allowed."

BTW, Cthulhu, sorry for the threadjack.

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