Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle
I'm at the beach house, and I read almost all of The Man in the High Castle in a little over 24 hours. One of the benefits of being on vacation at the beach is that there are not many obligations, beyond applying sunscreen evenly and eating too much. So it was quite easy, and perfectly acceptable, to commit myself almost exclusively to reading the novel.
And it's a good thing I had that luxury, because I got to a certain point where I could not stop reading it. I read a comment recently saying that Dick's genius was his ability to imagine worlds and reveal them in his novels, but that he was not a great writer. As I read through The Man in the High Castle, I kept thinking how much I disagree with that assessment. His brilliance is in the ideas that form the novels, but Dick also crafts compelling stories, and develops interesting characters.
This novel makes you think. The central premise is that the Germans and Japanese won World War II, and Dick offers a version of what the world they would have created might look like. It's hard not to think about the implications of that premise the entire time you're reading the novel. What would it mean if the United States had been split up in 1945, instead of Germany, and governed by different nations living in a tense, fragile peace? What would happen to "Americanness" in that version of the world? How long would it take for the "former" United States to lose that identity? What would happen to the history of the United States? Where and how would it be preserved, if at all? And those kinds of questions inevitably lead to questions about the actual post-War world the Germans and the Japanese experienced in the 1950s and 60s. Dick makes us think, in other words, about life as the conquered, not the victors, and it's an uncomfortable, disconcerting experience.