Through the generosity of one of my friends, I received the Library of America edition of Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960’s. I tend to avoid non-traditional novelists like Dick, but his The Man in the High Castle struck me as a well written book. It deals with an alternate history where the Axis won WWII, which vexed me at first. I suppose what vexed me most was the good treatment the Japanese got at Philip K. Dick’s hands. In history, the only way the Japanese fell short of the Germans’ brutality was their decision not to participate in the Holocaust. (I read a book which claimed the Japanese were even more cruel to the Jews than the Nazis, but further research proved this statement false.) So, I was surprised to see the Japanese treating Americans so well and being shown as having such a civilized deportment. Yes, the Japanese were civilized in the 30’s and 40’s but still acted as monsters toward conquered people in Asia. Why should they have treated defeated American civilians any better? Indeed, they treated American POWs to beatings, torture, death through starvation, death through overwork, and even slaughtered prisoners outright.
Still, I’d say that few Western authors can describe the Japanese mindset or culture as well as Dick. It felt fun reading about them. At the same time, I can’t say that I cared too much for the other characters –I grew to like Childan by the end of the book. The notable female character was plainly nuts, and the book, seen through her eyes, offers the notion of a dangerous, uncomfortable, and confused relationship between men and women–possibly worse than the divide George Bernard Shaw describes in his Man and Superman. The plot struck me as pretty intriguing, and Dick intersperses many surprises throughout the novel which would be a shame to reveal here. I also liked the setting of San Francisco and Colorado, as not too many of the books I read are set there.
So, should you read it? There exist better books out there (including by the author in question), but Philip K. Dick does many things well in this novel–especially, as I mentioned, his portrayal of the Japanese. It’s a worthwhile book to be sure.
Having just finished G. K. Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils, I wished to write some thoughts of mine in response to his ideas while I am yet chewing on them. Call this article the Bordeaux I’m using to wash them down. (At least, I hope it comes off as having such quality and not that of Budweiser.) Chesterton wrote this work in response to the craze for Nietzschean ideas he saw prior to the First World War. Many people wished to produce a society of Übermenschen through the use of Eugenics. Chesterton starts with talking about the Feeble-Minded Act of 1913, which targeted people who lacked mental vigor, i.e. not being able to competently look after their own interests, for removal to mental asylums. Chesterton linked this into one of his favorite themes: how easy it might be to declare anyone insane. Within the U.S.S.R., a certain Russian poet was sent to Siberia for insanity because he believed in God.
In response to people who believed that less competent persons ought to be sent to asylums, he juxtaposes feeble-mindedness against real insanity. Real insanity is simply refusing to adhere to the facts. He states that five different poets might see a tree five different ways–including the melancholic poet who sees it as a good place to hang himself. However, all five see a tree. The lunatic will see a lamp-post or something else. The reason we so worry about the lunatic hurting himself or others lies in him having superimposed his fantasies over true reality. A feeble-minded person sees reality, but is merely not able to profit himself or society as much as the strong-minded fellow, who might even be more of a pain to others than the poor feeble-minded fellow, as Chesterton amusingly points out.
Those of you who remember my article on French detective fiction know that I was greatly impressed by the short story on Maurice Leblanc’s famed master thief, Arsene Lupin. This novel, 813, has great pacing and offers a sweeping adventure of crime and international intrigue. The action and intrigue keep one immersed in the work.
However, this novel would rate as ephemeral literature were it not for its treatment of our hero Arsene Lupin. Lupin is essentially an Übermench or superman figure. What he wants done gets done. Anyone standing in his way is dealt with. Even if Lupin must suffer ignominies and endure reverses, his final victory is always gained through his tenacity and resourcefulness. The end of the novel, however, deconstructs the whole idea of a person being complete master of his own destiny and the desirability of being a superman like Lupin. I encourage all my dear readers to pick up this work, especially if they have not read an Arsene Lupin fiction before–and no, the anime Lupin III isn’t a valid substitute. 🙂