Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

(pb; 1962)

From the back cover:

"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 twenty years earlier the United States lost a war -- and now is jointly occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan. This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. . ."


Dick's surreal swirl of a first novel is a stunner. In it, marijuana is packaged like cigarettes. The Nazis, still engaged in political internecenic warfare, keep things running, but only barely when the current head of government, Bormann (yes, that Bormann), dies. (Hitler, suffering from syphilis of the brrain, has been institutionalized.)

The Japanese, who hold sovereignty in other, more humane parts of the United States, are wary of their Teutonic counterparts, with good reason -- another war may be imminent, brought about by Nazi intrigue.

Not only that, there's a popular author, Hawthorne Abendsen, who's written a novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which imagines what might've happened, had the Allies won World War II: a call for revolution? Some of his readers think so.

The multi-viewpoint writing is straightforward, with little -- if any -- filler, each new sentence drawing responses that run the gamut of human emotion. (In particular, the sections about Abendsen's "imagined future" inspire disturbing and comforting bouts of laughter -- in this reader, at least.)

Satirical and unpredictable, this excellent first novel only hints at the genius of Dick's later novels.

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