The Man in the High Castle is the first alternate history book and the second Philip K. Dick book I’ve ever read and it is fantastic. The Axis powers won WWII and partitioned the world between them. Genocide is rampant in the German half of the world while the Japanese half of the world is in an uneasy and complicit relationship with the Nazis.
A book-within-the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, posits a world in which the Allies won and has taken the public by storm. Several characters in the Japanese territory of the Pacific States of America and the neutral and independent Rocky Mountain States navigate caste, race, duty, and reality itself in a world gone rotten.
High Castle is in a lot of ways a slice-of-life character study in almost a proto-Robert Altman mode, where characters enter and exit each others lives in a storyline that slowly builds together. I mean this is as a compliment.
Dick’s worldbuilding here is terrific with changes massive and minor dropped expertly into the background and the social stratisfication of this horrible new world explored in minute detail.
The moments of climatic violence are sudden, brutal, and almost beautiful in how they affect the characters involved in very real emotional and spiritual ways. These characters live, breathe and think. The secret sauce of truly great speculative fiction.
There is a preoccupation with position, status, and place in society that as is fascinating as the emphasis on Eastern philosophy, specifically the I Ching.
Gnawing at the edges of the Japanese-dominated setting is the fascist sickness of Nazi Germany.
Racism is explored in all its insidious triviality through a handful of characters, who, true to life and rarely to fiction, are more than just racist strawmen. The evil of evil is that evil is not entirely evil. That line’s probably stupid but it feels right.
The Man in the High Castle has instantly jumped to one of my favorite science fiction novels. In the past, I’ve enjoyed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and a handful of Dick’s short stories, but now I’m really excited to read more of his work.
Maybe I should finally try some Harry Turtledove, too, see if I’ve grown a taste for the alternate history subgenre.
Should probably check out the show, too.