The Man in the High Castle
Probably one of the best books about the I Ching and Nazism ever written. Probably.
Well, everyone who is anyone knows that Philip K. Dick is one of those writers whose books have at least two levels to them- batshit crazy and profoundly moving. Much like Vonnegut, in Mr. Dick I found an author whose books I devoured when I was a wee lad, and am now reading them again and find myself (gasp!) getting a lot more out of them as I get older and wrinklier. He is a challenging dude to read, for sure, but man, such good stuff.
I remember when I first read this book- I had a really hard time getting into it. It might have been all the hexagram talk, or the weird "what is actually happening here?" vibe, or the stilted Japanese thought patterns used by everyone on the west coast in the story. Or it could have been the fact that I was 12, and the only fantasy I had read at that point consisted of the Xanth trilogy.
Hint- the difference is not in the size of the posters.
So what would I call this book? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Speculative Fiction? I think it can be given any of those labels, but it doesn't fit neatly into any of them. This is the type of novel, dear readers, that transcends those kind of boundaries and became something bigger, something much more than the sum of its parts. To judge a book like this using those shallow genre criteria would be akin to analyzing Hulk Hogan's wrestling career simply in terms of how realistic his leg drop looked.
Leg Drop from the High Castle.
On the surface it seems a pretty standard, albeit very well written, "What If?" story, positing a world where Germany and Japan (and Italy, sort of) win WWII and split the world up into two zones. They then immediately vie for domination. There is also some space travel thrown in. It follows a few weeks in the lives of various characters who are loosely connected to each other and scattered throughout what is left of the United States after the war, the country having been split into three different areas: one run by the Japanese, one by the Germans, and a bit in the middle, around the Rocky Mountains, which has been left alone, at least for now. Everyone in the book is painted with varying shades of miserable, even the "victors". Not a happy world, for sure. Mostly, they are trying to get by, and do the best they can in a world they clearly don't belong in.
So, nothing too interesting, right? Throw in some sparkly douchebags, and it could be Twilight. Been there, done that. Well, except . . . the characters don't seem to fit into their own narratives. There is a sense of wrongness which pervades the book. Not just in what the characters say, or do, but in how the very book is written. Nothing really seems to belong, and what the hell does the I Ching have to do with anything?
As always with his books, there is much more to say. This is much more a meditation on perception and reality, on what we choose to believe, to compromise every moment of the day just to get through life relatively unscathed. This book has been very influential on me as a writer, and in fact was one of the main inspirations for my own novel, Endtyme (cheapest of cheap plugs!). The way that Mr. Dick plays with reality and narratives was groundbreaking at the time, and you can see the influence everywhere (Inception comes immediately to mind, as does Mayhem's Order Ad Chao album).
Our High Castle goes to the 11th floor. Eh? Eh?
Regarded as a classic, and for good reason. If you have read it already, awesome. I will buy you three "literati" beers. If you haven't- c'mon, bro. Be cool. Read it- trust me.