Sunday, November 2, 2014

Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Man in the High Castle" is the kind of book that when you finish it, you get angry. "Is that it?" I asked aloud as I turned it over and read the back again to see if I was missing anything. I then sat and thought about it. What does a novel about the Japanese and the Germans winning WWII have to do with antique dealers and the I Ching? I left it on my table and walked away from it, very upset that out of all the great Philip K. Dick novels I've read, THIS is the one that won him the Hugo award and is possibly considered his masterpiece.

What was I missing?

Well, like a movie that is critically acclaimed that I just didn't get (Like Lost Highway, by David Lynch, for instance), I decided to read what others thought, and I found that I wasn't alone with my confusion. There were many who "didn't get it," and very few who actually did. But reading the summaries from those who did made me have a new liking for the book. It also made me see that it really does fit snuggly in with the theme of "What is real?" that Philip K. Dick liked to play with in his books. It's just much more subversive here, and even more cynical.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a book about an alternate reality in which the Allies lost WWII and the Axis of Evil won. What would the world be like if that actually happened? There are ideas scattered throughout--The Germans would be tyrannical, and the Japanese would be internal and reflective--but the book is more than just that. It's the idea that even if that reality WERE to have happened, what makes it actually real? For that matter, what makes the world we're living in now real? What is money? Well, that's easy. Money is paper and coins, but what else? What is success? What is tyranny? All of these questions are left open-ended to the extent that even the ending feels like there are pages still missing. This is a book that is not meant to be read for enjoyment, but rather, to make you think, which makes it one of the least concerned about the reader's feelings that I've ever read.

That said, PKD was such a master that I was still strung along for the ride, even though I didn't know where I was being strung along to, or what for. In the end, this is essential reading if you love science fiction or what if? novels. It is a landmark work by one of the masters of the craft. Give it a read. Just don't think you will be satisfied by the end. You will have more questions than answers.

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