"A weird time in which we are alive. We can travel anywhere we want, even to other planets. And for what? To sit day after day, de...

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick

"A weird time in which we are alive. We can travel anywhere we want, even to other planets. And for what? To sit day after day, declining in morale and hope."

It's only when you cancel your Prime membership, because you don't think the quality of content on Amazon Video justifies the fee, that you realise just how evil Amazon have become. They now seem to charge for all deliveries to non-Prime members (or, at least, to me), and there are products that you can't buy at all if you're not on Prime. It'll say: This product is only available at this price for Prime members; but there's no non-Prime price. It doesn't exist. So they want you to pay to join their silly little club or go elsewhere.

Well, I'm fine with going elsewhere. I'm tired of receiving my paid-for "next day" deliveries two days later, just like I was tired of watching their cheap-looking shows on their awful apps.


What was I talking about again? Oh yeah. The Man in the High Castle. As a result of the above, I haven't watched any of the TV adaptation of this book, which is just about the only Amazon original that anyone is going to recommend to you.  And it's probably a good thing I haven't, because none of it was ruined for me in advance, aside from the basic premise.

Which is this: Germany and Japan won WW2, and now rule the east and west coasts of America, respectively, with a stripe of neutral territory down the middle. We follow the lives of several people living in this alternate history - an antiques dealer; a Japanese trade official; a secret Jew starting up a jewellery manufacturing company; his wife Juliana, who has run off with a moody young man whom she seems to find scary and sexy in equal measure; aaaaand a Swede visiting San Francisco on business.

There are two books that run through the story. The first is the I Ching, an ancient real-world text that I hadn't heard of before this. When an author introduces you to something cool, and seems to know what they're talking about, it's impressive. If, as an author, you can introduce something well-researched and well thought out into your writing without making a big deal of it, without really hammering home to the reader that you really know your stuff and they should be impressed with your efforts, then it's even more impressive. I like that. The trouble is, I'm often too lazy to research things enough. But if it's the difference between good and bad writing, I suppose I'll have to.

The second book is a novel written in this fictional world in which the allies won the war, and which has caused much controversy and sparked much interest. The novel-within-a-novel concept is great, imaginative and well used. The book is mostly only alluded to or quoted briefly, obviously; but we learn enough to know that Dick must have thought long and hard about it, come up with a full plot just to flesh out his fiction. Another cool point.

The characters were rarely dull. Tagomi, the trade official, is entertaining and convincing, Juliana is intriguing and deep, and the Swede has an interesting twist. The metalworking Frink is probably the most boring, and even he isn't a drag. They're all well balanced, too, none of them getting too much or too little time in the spotlight. Something you have to keep an eye on, if you're trying to split the story among four or five stars.

The only criticism I have, in fact, is that it takes a bit too long to get going. When I got to about a hundred pages from the end, I was still wondering when it was going to come to a head, when the Man in the High Castle was going to turn up and change everything. It does ramp up at about that point, but by then you've had two thirds of the book go by already, so there isn't much time for any great upheaval to happen, or whatever else you imagine might have gone on. But on the other hand, that might be a good thing, because protagonists that single-handedly turn whole societies upside down are ten a penny, and would have cheapened a book like this.

And the ending, when it does come, is a bit of a mindfuck. I think I've grasped it, but I imagine if you ask two different people they'll tell you two different things about what it meant. Which, again, might just be a compliment to the book, if it does indeed mean different things to different people. I have a certain fondness for ambiguous endings anyway.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book so much that I felt the need to write a rather messy review telling you why I liked it. But not enough to redraft that review, so it was more readable and less shit.


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