Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Man in the High Castle

by Philip K. Dick

I've read several of Philip K. Dick's shorter stories and I think I've seen most of the movies that were based on his writings. So I was pretty sure I'd be reading another science fiction story when I picked up The Man in the High Castle. I was wrong . . . but I wasn't disappointed. The others of his I'd read were all SF stories in nature, but with an underlying philosophical question; and it was that philosophical aspect of his stories that I think made them appeal to me. There's very little that I would characterize as science fiction in this one, but it definitely raises some philosophical questions.

The Man in the High Castle is an alternative history story. The book was written and takes place in the mid 1960s in a world in which the Axis powers won World War II twenty years earlier. The United States was divided into three parts when the Allied forces surrendered: the eastern portion is controlled by the Reich, the western portion by the Japanese, and they're separated by the independent Rocky Mountain States which serves as a buffer zone between the two super powers which are in the middle of a cold war.

The book will get you to think. The story itself is not what I'd consider captivating, in fact, it's rather tedious at times. But there are several glimpses of PKD's genius as he uses the lives of four very different main characters and their various struggles to depict life in a new and significantly altered reality.

The most intriguing aspect of the book is the book within the book. Many of the characters are reading a book that's the latest craze and which has been banned by the Reich. It's likewise an alternative reality book and it describes the world that might have been if the Allied forces had won the war. The story it tells mirrors the real world, but it's noticeably different. As its story is revealed piece by piece within the book, PKD gets you to ponder the question of what is real and how do you know it?

I don't know that I'd necessarily recommend this book. Like I said, the plot is tedious at times and there's a reason it was never turned into an action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The ending is ambiguous and a little frustrating. But if you want a book that will stick in your mind when you're done and get you to think about things for a while, this one will do it.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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