Review: The Man In The High Castle

I really haven’t read very much Philip K. Dick.  I did read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep a few years ago, and was a little dazed by the thing.  I’ve also read some of his short stories, which I found less impressive.  My recent 3 for 2 run at Barnes and Noble gave me a good excuse to try another Dick work, The Man in the High Castle.

Castle is both an enjoyable yarn, and a really effective piece of writing.  It’s an alternate history in which the US lost WWII and is under joint occupation by Germany and Japan. Unlike many of the alternate histories, the focus here isn’t on the details of how such a loss came to be, but more about the emotional and cultural impacts.  It’s simple premise is remarkably well executed, despite the many times I’ve seen it done.

Dick’s America is eerie, filled with the logical changes brought about by such an occupation, without overstating details.  I understand Dick is not widely praised for his memorable characters, and I think that criticism is well founded in the sense that none of these characters transcend the story as a Falstaff or even a James Bond.  However as entities in service to the overall story, they are simple and effective, advancing plot and underlining themes without shouting out each other or the overall narrative.  They’re believable but never outsized.

If the well-crafted alternative history were not enough Castle also presents us with the problem of the mysterious author and his strangely powerful and perceptive book about what might be the real history of the war.  It keeps everything that little bit more off kilter to have this almost mystical entity out there, as well as being something of a plot mover in itself.

Overall the book is a masterpiece of tone and implication, rather than of straightforward plot and character.  The plot and character are not neglected, but the small doubts and allusions to the world we know from the world we don’t add to the disorientation and paranoia of the work.

Strongly recommended.

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