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I like big books.

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick This book was an interesting one and really difficult for me to write about because I'm still not sure really what I think. I might come back and revisit my rating and review after I've thought about it some more, but I wanted to write down some of my initial thoughts.

The Man in the High Castle deals with an alternative history in which the Axis powers defeated the Allies and the US is basically split between German and Japanese occupation. What I did like about the book was the way Dick focused on the characters themselves throughout the novel and the different ways they dealt with the clash of cultures, the rigors of occupation and, on the Japanese side, finding place in society, the struggle of individuals living in a totalitarian state and how they try to keep both their sanity and individuality while being pressured in various ways, violent or subtle, to change and conform - are all very well done and sets the novel apart from other types of geopolitical intrigue books that say the Ender's Game series kind of encapsulates. The characters are all well developed and dynamic, coming to life-altering realizations throughout the course of the book that give hope to an optimistic view of humanity in the face of unspeakable horrors (German development of the H-Bomb, the completion of the Jewish Holocaust and the carrying out of an African Holocaust).

There was little tension in the book however and for sections it was given over to lengthy philosophizing that, while enlightening, was also often tedious. Philip K. Dick has a great respect for the I Ching and it shows as he uses it as the basic plot device throughout the novel. All of the major characters consult the oracle to gain insight into their lives and choices, which could be commentary on man's inability to take responsibility for personal action, a theme which appears in many scenes related to the Japanese occupation and social structure in the Pacific States of America. To be nitpicky, that's where things get dicey for me. The I Ching is a book of Chinese philosophy, which according to the story the Japanese adopt and spread to all the occupied areas and which occupied people adopt as part of their culture. Gone are all traces of the Christian religion or Western philosophy and rationality, in the space of about 20 years of the war's conclusion. This stretches believability even for a sci-fi-ish novel for me as it is supposed to be grounded in the realm of the plausible, and to my knowledge the Japanese have never been great followers of the 5,000 year old Chinese oracular system.

The real tension in the story, the political intrigue and the possibility of nuclear holocaust and armageddon doesn't really pick up until the last 50 pages or so when you finally learn the connection between many of the characters. In my opinion, this tension should have been built slowly throughout. I kind of meandered through until about the last 50 pages when I finally started to focus with rapt attention.

Another annoying thing to me was the use of stuttered grammar, especially in the sections dealing with Robert Childan and his dealings with his various Japanese clients. It's like he purposely left out words to give the impression of haltingly spoken English - but he did it in the narration too! And when Childan, an American, spoke! I don't know why, it just bothered me.

That said, characters' reliance on the oracle also lends the story a sort of out-of-joint, other-worldly feel that was really cool. Even the characters reflect that the world is wrong somehow and that nature, mystical in some respects, is trying to tell them that this is not the way things should have unfolded, and it is The Man in the High Castle himself, the author of the enormously popular The Grasshopper Lies Heavy who serves as a catalyst for these ruminations and self-doubt on the part of the primary actors in the story.

This is much more than alternative history geopolitical drivel in that it is character driven and focuses on insight and self-actualization.