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.