“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.
This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.
The world created by Philip K. Dick in The Man in the High Castle is fascinating, horrible, and mundane all at the same time. A lot of people just go about their daily lives, accepting the fact that the war has been won by the Axis powers and that the United States is now under Japanese and Nazi control.
I was inspired to read this book after watching the Amazon series. Call me shallow, but I enjoyed the series much more. Maybe I just didn’t get the book. There’s also the letdown factor, as the plotlines are dramatically different than what I’d already seen (for example, New York isn’t ever shown here and there’s no John Smith). Also, it’s quite a different thing to have a bootleg novel in circulation speculating on a different outcome from the war, as happens in the book, versus newsreel footage on film showing an Allied victory, as in the TV show.
There are some thought-provoking elements here, mainly about how easily people adapt to going along with whatever the governing principles say they need to do. The average people in San Francisco aren’t in active rebellion; they accept their world and focus on functioning within it. Another concept is the factor of “historicity” — does an object have value in and of itself, or does value come from knowing the history of it? Intriguing subplots revolve around the Japanese fascination with American historical artifacts and the odd way in which the Americans are complicit in cannibalizing their own pasts. Additionally, the speech of the characters is oddly choppy, with awkward vocabulary usage and phrasing, as if the Americans have become so deeply subserviant to Japanese rule that they’ve even adapted the Japanese style of speaking English.
I’ll be honest and say that I think a lot of the meaning of this book may have gone right over my head. Then again, the incessant references to the I Ching drove me a bit batty, and some of the ways in which the Nazis have changed and destroyed the world seem just too far-fetched. Not the atrocities which, tragically, are quite believable, but things like draining the Mediterranean and turning it into farmland.
I think I’d need to put a lot more thought and effort into puzzling out the layers of this book in order to fully appreciate it, and I’m afraid that I’m just not willing to put in the work to do so. This book isn’t dull, and parts are truly fascinating. It’s not a simple read, and not one that I’d likely recommend to anyone looking for casual entertainment, but for those who enjoy speculative fiction that requires effort on the part of the reader, it’s likely to be a rewarding read.
For my thoughts on the Amazon series of The Man in the High Castle, check out my post here.
Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publication date: 1962
Length: 259 pages
Genre: Speculative/science fiction