Monday, January 23, 2017

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleEveryone is talking about the new season of The Man in the High Castle that recently came out on Amazon.  I am not one of those people.  I've seen a handful of episodes from the first season, but the show requires more attention that I typically have to give TV shows and so I haven't made it much farther, despite liking what I did see.  But, of course, there's a book!  How convenient!

Well, for those looking to the book from the show, I think I can safely say this: they're not very similar at all.  So you can just put that aside.  The structure of the world--an alternate reality in which Germany and Japan won World War II and essentially divided up the rest of the world between them, with Africa being destroyed and the free United States relegated to a strip of land called the Rocky Mountain States--is the same between the show and book, but that seems to be about it.  The plot revolves around a few characters.  Nobusuke Tagomi is a Japanese trade minister working in San Francisco (under Japanese control).  Frank Frink is a Jewish American also living in San Fran.  Juliana Frink, his estranged wife, is living in the Rocky Mountain states teaching judo.  Robert Childan is in San Fran, too, and sells American cultural artifacts to the Japanese, who are apparently crazy for them.  The one thread running through all of these is the I Ching, a sort of oracle book, and a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which depicts another alternative reality in which the US and Great Britain won the war and took over the world.

Over the course of the book, Tagomi tries to attain new technology for Japan but finds himself instead embroiled in a conversation about a plot against the Home Islands by Germany, the leader of which has recently died and the position is which is in a state of flux.  Frink tries to set up his own business.  Childan finds out that some of the artifacts he has are fakes and tries to re-establish his position.  And Juliana, all the way in Canon City, Colorado, finds herself mixed up with an Italian truck driver who introduces her to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and eventually sets off with him to meet the mysterious author, Hawthorne Abendsen, also known as the Man in the High Castle due to a fortress he purportedly built to protect himself against his detractors--his book is banned in all German-controlled territories.

While alternative histories typically have fascinating premises, I didn't find myself enjoying this very much.  It was mostly the writing; it's very abrupt and choppy, and I couldn't find myself engrossed in it at all.  It almost reads like a bad translation of a book written in another language.  Granted, some of the main characters are speaking English but it's presumably not their first language--but even the characters whose first language is English speak in such an abrupt and choppy manner, and all of the characters' internal dialogue, which one would assume would be smoother, is the same.  All of the people start to blur together and while some of the events were interesting, I couldn't seem to care about any of the characters as individuals.

The end of the book is thought-worthy.  Juliana's discovery regarding The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is definitely the thing that leaves an impact, rather than any of the other story lines.  It's very meta and did appeal to me, even though the rest of the book did not.  I think this is probably what will ultimately tie into the Amazon series the strongest--this ultimate end concept, even though so much seems to be different.

Overall, an interesting world and end concept, but not a book I enjoyed very much.

2.5 stars out of 5.

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