Sunday, March 20, 2011

The man in the high castle

Philip K. Dick
Doubleday, 1962 (my copy is from Vintage Books, 1992)
Size: Short (my copy has 259 pages)
Theme: Alternate reality
Narrative: third-person
Main character: several (arguably Robert Childan)
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: NO

I started this book with relatively high expectations, on the one hand since I had read in several places that it was one of the author’s best works, and also that it was going to be made into a movie soon. Unfortunately, it did not meet those expectations.

The plot of the book is actually quite interesting: it presents an alternate reality society, where the Allies lost World War II, and the US has been divided among the German Nazis and Japan. We are shown how different relatively ordinary people from different ethnic groups behave under this totalitarian regime. A lot of the story is centered on Robert Childan, the owner of an antiques store, faced with the prospect of forgeries among his prized items, and trying to gain the favor of some important Japanese customers.

The story moves along quite well and the characters are well developed. The main problem with the book is that aside from a few individual story threads that are quite enticing, the book essentially leads nowhere. These could have been the first 260 pages of a 1000 page novel, and the non-conclusion provided at the end of the book only compounds this effect. It seems half finished and left me with a clear sense of wasted time.

I would not recommend this book actively, although it might be a good read for those who enjoy sociology and psychological dramas more than those who are looking for a good sci-fi novel. Unfortunately, this has been my fourth book by this author, and I have to conclude that despite having some very interesting thoughts for his time, he entirely fails to impress me as other authors from the same era have (e.g. Frank Herbert). I do not plan to pick up any other Philip K Dick’s books.