First, let me confess something. When it comes to science fiction, I am a total neophyte, I’ve read a decent amount but not enough to be familiar with all of the patterns of the genre but I think I have an ok sense of good sci-fi vs. bad sci-fi.
My Dad is a huge sci-fi nut, so I grew up in a house full of Asimov, Dick and Bradbury. I’ve read sample of each but never really took advantage of the mother lode in our basement. So, I’m starting to play catch up, and it has been enjoyable.
The Man in the High Castle is probably the 4th or 5th Philip K. Dick book I’ve read, and I must admit that it has made quite an impression. I’ve just finished this book, and I must say that my head is still spinning a little bit so this post may not be 100% coherent.
There are a few topics I was hoping to discuss with those who have contemplated this book, and who may have an idea of where Dick was going with some of the concepts and themes.
SPOILER ALERT !!!
For those who haven’t read the book – My questions and the discussion flowing from those questions will likely contain details that may hinder your enjoyment of the book.
Ok – so this sets up like a decent What If?/Elseworlds situation where the Allies have lost the war and life under the victors sucks. It’s well played out, especially the tension between the Japanese and the Germans. At the end of the novel, we learn that the characters may not be living in the ‘true’ reality. We see this after Juliana consults the Oracle with Abensen, although that topic ends abruptly with the end of the book. We also get a glimpse of this when Mr. Tagomi seems to be lost in a different San Francisco, where people do not defer to the Japanese.
This topic isn’t explored by Dick (I imagine that was intentional), and I am left wondering – are the folks in ‘The Man’ living in a fictional world, or are they simply made aware of a parallel reality? Has anyone given this issue much thought?
I find it interesting that in the early 60s, Dick envisioned a future where so much value was placed in the trinkets of the past. The Japanese seem obsessed with American Culture, and yet I wouldn’t say that, throughout world history, conquerors have taken a great deal of interest in the culture of the conquered. The whole notion of counterfeit goods and authenticity never really plays out. In the middle of the book, it seemed like a major plot development would have been the revelation that most of the ‘antiques’ are fake and that the market would crash, but that never materialized. I am left to wonder what Dick is getting at. Was he making a statement about how we place value on things in an irrational manner or was this industry simply a way of bringing some of the central characters together.
The divide between American, German and Japanese seems to be enormous and the characters appear to be constantly struggling to determine how best to act in the presence of someone from a different background. From dinner parties to official diplomatic communications, each character is conscious of every move that they make, so as to appease the other party.
Is Dick making a statement that cultural assimilation is impossible, or is the cultural divide simply the design of the Japanese and Germans? At one point, Mr. Childan gains a degree of confidence by acting more “American” – why do you think Dick chose to showcase that transformation? Was that another possible peek into the window of the alternate world?
This is probably what I struggled with the most. I don’t really understand the mysticism around the jewelry. It seems that this jewelry possessed some sort of soul, or at least created a connection to the soul, whereas the ‘historicity’ of the antiques really only had monetary value. I wasn’t so sure how this jewelry suddenly made otherwise rational men behave strangely, and it was the element of the book that sat the least well with me. What do others think? What did Dick mean by using this jewelry to have such impact?
Anyhow – those are just a few questions that popped into my mind today as I pondered the book. I’d be really interested in what people have to say about the book and any other ‘big ideas’ they saw emanating from the book.