Sunday, December 13, 2009

Alternative Reality

One had to blame the Germans for the situation. Tendency to bite off more than they could chew. After all, they had barely managed to win the war, and at once they had gone off to conquer the solar system, while at home they had passed edicts which . . .
- The Man in the High Castle, p. 24

I have enjoyed reading novels of ideas immensely over the years and The Man in the High Castle is one of the best I have read in a long time. My favorites include works by Mann, Musil, Dostoevsky and Orwell and among others -- now Philip K. Dick.

In his novel the author, Philip K. Dick, has created an alternative world and then tops that by having his title character author a book within the novel that imagines the world as it really is. What if the allies had lost World War II? That is the premise, and Dick's ability to build a believable alternative reality based on that premise is the foundation of this exciting, suspenseful and enjoyable book.
The characters, German spy, Jewish businessman, Japanese trade representative, Italian war veteran, and others, are each given individual fates that, woven together through a plot that creates suspense and wonder, inhabit a world that is scarily believable. Beyond them all lives "the man in the high castle" -- the author of the book about an alternative reality, a book that is banned throughout most of the world, inspiring even greater readership and fear. Honestly, I had previously viewed alternate reality fiction as more "gimmickry" than literature. Philip K. Dick, however, has written a novel that truly makes you think about the nature of fate (the I Ching is also an important element in the plot) and the small changes that could change history. An award-winning work of literature, it is a book that recreates the universe.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. Vintage Books, New York. 1992 (1962).

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