Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Man In The High Castle (Philip K Dick)

--The blurb--
"It is 1962 and the Second World War has been over for seventeen years: people have now had a chance to adjust to the new order. But it's not been easy. The Mediterranean has been drained to make farmland, the population of Africa has virtually been wiped out and America has been divided between the Nazis and the Japanese. In the neutral buffer zone that divides the two superpowers lives the man in the high castle, the author of an underground bestseller, a work of fiction that offers an alternative theory of world history in which the Axis powers didn't win the war. The novel is a rallying cry for all those who dream of overthrowing the occupiers. But could it be more than that? Subtle, complex and beautifully characterized, The Man in the High Castle remains the finest alternative world novel ever written, and a work of profundity and significance."

--The review--
Supposedly a revolutionary novel for the world of science fiction (in terms of taking it away from spaceships and so forth) when it was first published, The Man In The High Castle is considered by many of the late novelist's fans to be among his finest work, even if he is most famous today for the intriguingly titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. However, while The Man In The High Castle may well have its legions of loyal Philip K Dick fans behind it, the novel cannot claim the accolade of being the most accessible dystopian novel to grace the bookshelves. While this opinion is possibly attributable to my own stupidity, I found that upon reading the introductory notes after finishing reading the novel, some points had gone completely over my head.

While the novel picked up pace in the second half, it was slow to gather momentum and the characters and situations seemed two-dimensional, despite their basis on previous world history. Equally, the author alternated frequently between settings and relationships, which didn't always make the novel the easiest to follow. On the up side, it was well-written even if it didn't always prove itself to be lucid, one found oneself caring more about what would happen and actually meeting the legendary man in the high castle towards the end, and the ending was more than satisfactory. It is clearly a multi-layered and complex work, which causes it to merit further readings. It is also a clever novel that is ambitious in its scope, though the various criminal activities and gory details that are also elaborated upon within its pages perhaps detract from its dystopian background.

Even though Dick's works deserve further investigation, this novel probably isn't the best one to start with if you're unfamiliar with his output. It's easy to see how his following has been more underground, and how this isn't his most popular or famed novel, losing that accolade to the one about the androids and the sheep. Empathy with the characters was difficult to achieve, but despite this being a common feature of dystopian novels, it may also partly be a reason why readers may ditch this and turn to (say) an Orwell, Huxley or Atwood novel. However, don't give up on it (or on Philip K Dick's work) completely: I suspect that it's the multiple layers that provide long-term rewards rather than instant gratification.

Other works by Philip K Dick
See here

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