Sunday, November 13, 2005

40. The man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle book pictureI've always wanted to read this book and Buzby's recent review spurred me to action. I picked it up at the Library.

I love the idea of the alternate history where the Allies lost the Second World War. It would be fascinating to see how the Japanese and Nazi governments ran the world and Dick does a great job. What I found really interesting was the aesthetic and philosophical affects that Japanese occupation had on western North America. I don't know if he made it all up or if he studied the Japanese psyche, but it seemed pretty convincing. The upper class Japanese are very focused on the relationship of designed elements to existence and spend a lot of time philosophizing on them. There is no current abstract art. Everything is functional or carries some connection to the past. There is a great scene where a Japanese collector spends hours on a park bench trying to understand a piece of jewelry that has no purpose other than its design.

The Nazi leadership and how their internecine struggles play out are also really cool. I like that he put Bormann as the next leader of the Reich after Hitler. There are some very disturbing ideas here. The Nazis drain the mediterranean and make it farmland and they basically destroy Africa.

Ultimately, I'm not sure where the plot ends up. It pulls away from the various narratives, which are mostly fully grounded in the reality he creates and suddenly makes the reader self-aware and questioning of that reality. I'm not sure where to go with that. It definitely begs further analysis.

My only complaint is that the female character, though as interesting and complex as all of Dick's characters (he does a great job of writing peoples internal thought processes), kind of falls apart in a way that doesn't ring true. She suddenly becomes an unhinged female that really smelled of the way that women were perceived in the period when he wrote the novel. He may have had some greater purpose in portraying her in this way, where she almost becomes schizophrenic when confronted with the notion that her boyfriend is a Nazi spy. But it came off to this reader as not quite forward-looking as good sci-fi should be.

Still, Dick had an amazing mind and having read The Man in the High Castle has made me much more interested in the body of his work.

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