The Man in the High Castle turned out to be one of those highly acclaimed books that do not impress. I am familiar with Philip K Dick through the movie adaptations of his works like Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly. Let me not kid, he lays out an appetizing premise in this book: the Axis powers Germany and Japan have won and divvied up the world between themselves. USA has been split into three: the East Coast controlled by Germany, the West (Pacific States of America) by Japan, leaving the middle (Rocky Mountain States) is free. Hitler’s rule is over, but his other Nazi lackeys are running an efficient, technologically advanced but totalitarian state. Jews are still being hounded, whites are second class citizens to the Japanese in USA and blacks and Chinese are slaves.
In this compelling alternative history, we meet a puzzling choice of story arcs and characters. The PSA arc is beautifully written and somewhat interesting: the interplay between Childan, a white guy who deals in American artifacts and Tagomi, a high ranking official who is one of his unhappy customers. We slowly discover there is a plan by the Germans to create a disturbance in PSA and use that to defeat Japan and takeover the entire world. In addition to this weak arc, there is a further more boring arc happening in RMS, where folks are ga-ga-ing over an alternate history book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, in which the Allied powers have won the war. The female protagonist here is out to meet and save that book’s author, this is the dude in the high castle, from assassination.
The world Dick creates is amazing and his writing skills are top notch. However, I found it very hard to like most of his characters or empathize with their stories. The characters of the book are all devout users of a Chinese divining tool called the I Ching and use it excessively to guide them through the day. Too many pages are used in characters discussing the Grasshopper book and describing the details of how Allied powers lost the war. It all feels a bit heavy handed and forced. I guess that fans of the book will claim that I cannot yet see the “alternate history within an alternate history” that Dick creates or his hints that this Nazi world is not the reality, but maybe the hallucination of one mind. All very handy and dandy, but sadly not convincing. While its compelling setting will no doubt lead to many TV and movie adaptations, as a book it is a bit underwhelming.