Philip K. Dick
Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane.
It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war–and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan. this harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.
Alternative history stories are an interesting breed of science fiction; they tell a kind of “what if?” tale, speculating what the world might be like if key moments in time zigged instead of zagged, changing the present considerably from the one that we’re experiencing now. It can be a mind-blowing thing. Especially when you factor in questions like, “what if [B] won [specific war] instead of [A]?” Such is the topic of Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel, The Man in the High Castle.
It’s post-World War II America, a world where the Axis won the war instead of the Allied forces, when Franklin D. Roosevelt is assassinated in 1933 and America maintained its isolationist policy. Thus, America is divided into three sections: the Nazi powerers controlling the East section, the Japanese controling the West section, with a kind of neutral zone in the middle area. And although they won, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are embroiled in a cold war that makes the one America and the USSR had seem like a stare-down in a Junior High lunch cafeteria.
The core story itself focuses on a handful of individuals that, for all intents and purposes, are merely trying to live their lives in this reality that is all they’ve known: Frank Frink, who fought in the Pacific War, beginning a startup business with a former colleague making unique jewelry that oddly moves the Americans and Japanese who see them; Frank’s estranged wife Juliana, who finds herself part of a mission to assassinate the author of the popular subversive novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; Nobusuke Tagomi, a high-ranking trade businessman who finds himself unwillingly being dragged into conflicts involving a Nazi plot to take down the Japanese regime, all this before catching a glimpse of an alternate reality that is closer to our post-war reality; Robert Childan, the curator of an Americana antiques business who discovers that his ability to determine between genuine articles and counterfeit ones isn’t as good as he thought; and Rudolf Wegener, a counter-spy trying to prevent the Nazi strike on Japanese America.
The main point of interest tying all of these things together, really, is the novel-with-the-novel, the afore-mentioned The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; in it, we have a kind of alternate history novel to the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle, which speculates a world where the Allies won World War II, but then Britain becomes the tyrannical nation, spreading its kingdom (instead of dismantling it, like in the real reality…if we can figure out what reality really is by this point).
Philip K. Dick had this immense talent for bringing the whole Inception thing into the waking world, and The Man in the High Castle is yet another example of this talent of his. It’s hard to really explain the book in a linear fashion, without diverting on the many bunny trails this book brings up. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with the standard “I can’t describe it and do it justice, you’re just going to have to read it.” And read it you must, as this is recommended Sci-Fi reading.
Also, just for the record, I read this some time before there was talk of making this into a miniseries. And as of this writing, I still have yet to watch that. I would suspect, though, if you have seen the show, you would want to read this book anyway. Tell me how it compares.