While I found Philip K. Dick’s work of post-war speculative fiction interesting, I can’t quite say that I enjoyed it. Set in 1962 (also its year of publication), the book examines a possible world and life in America if the Axis powers had won World War Two. In this alternate universe the United States has been divided by the new ruling powers of Germany and Japan. The action takes place primarily in San Francisco, which is under Japanese control, and Denver, largely under control of the Reich. We see the second-class status of the whites under the ruling Japanese and the far-reaching control of the Reich around the world, even as they demolish it physically. (In this universe the Mediterranean Sea has been drained and Africa is essentially a waste land. These seem to have surprisingly small affect on the larger world environmental systems.)
The book has a few characters that we follow. Robert Childan, an antiques collector, specializing in Americana, which the Japanese to love to collect. Frank Fink, secretly Jewish, who quits his job and begins manufacturing jewellery. And Frank’s ex-wife, Juliana, a judo instructor in Denver who gets caught up with a mysterious truck driver and begins a journey toward an elusive author, the man in the high castle. There’s also a Swedish business man who is more than he appears and a Japanese business man caught in the middle.
This author is the writer of a novel within a novel, a book banned by the Third Reich, which depicts a world where the Allies won the war. Not quite our world as we know it but yet another option. This is where some knowledge of early 20th century history and World War Two comes in handy. I thought I knew a decent amount but I did find myself googling names to find out who was real and who was fictional.
The book has a plot but it really felt secondary to Dick’s desire to expound on his theories of fate and control, of class and warfare. Much of it is thought-provoking but it also ends up feeling more like an essay than a novel. The characters are not deeply drawn and I didn’t really find myself caring about any of them. None of them seem to have real agency which, admittedly, is perhaps Dick’s point, but it also doesn’t make for gripping reading.
In the end, I’m glad to have crossed this book off my TBR and to have read a work I’ve heard referenced for years. If you’re interested in philosophy and the idea of how small actions can cause big changes, you might enjoy this one, but if you’re looking for action, this isn’t it.