I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick and while this novel is supposedly his breakthrough work, The Man in the High Castle is my least favorite of his works. The basic premise is that the United States of America and Britain lost World War II and now the USA is split between Imperial Japan and the Third Reich.
The book is sort of boring because it concerns itself so heavily with a rigid sense of “place.” On the West Coast, Japanese are high-place and white folk are second-hand to that. On the East Coast, white folk have it a bit better, but are still second-hand to Aryans. Africa has been totally razed, The Nazi economy is in shambles because they are focusing on their space program instead of creating stability on earth. The Japanese are stumbling along, decades behind German science, and although they are economically quite powerful, they don’t use their leverage for anything useful. Basically the whole world is going to hell, but do we read about that? No. Instead we get interminable conversations about people worrying about their petty problems and being quite self-conscious. All of these people have no real sense of control in their lives, so they use the I Ching to predict their futures.
Featured prominently in the book is another book, called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is a book whose basic premise is that Japan and Germany lost World War II and now Britain and the United States have split the world. In this book the USA has taken the best socialist ideas from the Third Reich and incorporated them worldwide, so for instance, Chinese peasants get televisions to assemble that then start teaching them how to read, write and other stuff.
So in this fictional book about losing the second World War to Germany and Japan, is a fictional book book about Japan and Germany losing the second World War to us. And then it turns out the man who wrote the book actually used the I Ching to write it. This is the same I Ching that controls the actions of every other character in the book.
I guess one reading of the novel is that the I Ching represents the author, Dick himself, which is all postmodern and meta and shit. Probably cool when it first came out, but sort of passé now. Plus, the book was boring. Reading about two guys taking out a loan or a chick doing laundry isn’t very exciting. All the good stuff happens behind the scenes, and I found that frustrating. I’d rather have seen a collection of his short stories on the Top 50 list than this book.