The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

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.

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