Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Man in the High Castle: Review

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (synopsis):  It's 1962 in least what America has become, carved up into various sections by the victors in the last World War.  You know, the one where Hitler and the Nazis with the help of their Axis cronies ran roughshod over the Allies and moved on to world domination. Germany controls the eastern portion of the US, most of rest of North and South America as well as Europe and the Middle East and Africa. Japan gets the island nations and western America...and Italy?  I don't believe Italy got anything. Oh...and near everybody with dark skin has been obliterated, but those who remain find themselves back in slavery and what Jews have managed to escape the holocaust try to hide themselves behind plastic surgery and changed names.

PKD's novel is alternate history at its best--interesting themes about reality, brilliant world-building, and an all-too believable alternate timeline.  It doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to accept that given certain twists of fate the Allies may have fallen before the relentless force of the Nazi war machine and the Japanese sea superiority. It's scary to think that just a few changes here and there and this very possibly could have happened (or something much like it). He also makes the reader really think about the nature of reality and how fragile the reality we experience can be.

But I have to say that I didn't find myself very involved with the characters. I didn't much care what happened to them...and, really, they didn't seem to care much either. Even when they said they did. The individual lives seemed to want to weave together into a coherent story and yet they managed to avoid doing so. And I kept wondering about the Man in the High Castle...yes, there really is such a fellow.  He's a recluse who has barricaded himself behind charged barb wire and other fortifications...but although there are mentions of him sprinkled throughout, there really isn't any purpose to bringing him up--at least no purpose plot-wise.  I can definitely see him fitting into the themes of reality/unreality as someone who refuses to participate in the current reality.  But he does nothing to further the plot.

After reading this and Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?, I've come to the conclusion that PKD really isn't the science fiction author for me.  He has produced some interesting and somewhat thought-provoking themes in his novels, but as stories they just don't hold me the way Ellison and Zelazny do. They manage to build interesting worlds, throw thought-provoking ideas at you, and tell a spectacular story all at the same time.  PKD hasn't managed all three in one place in anything I've read yet.  Three stars for world-building and interesting themes only.


He glanced at the girl beside him. God, they read a book, he thought, and they spout on forever. (p. 66)

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I don't think this would be for me either. I like how diplomatic your negative reviews are though. Well done.