The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleConfession time: I watched the first two episodes of the Amazon version of this book back when it first came out, and then a few months back I thought I would start it up again, since I’d be reading the book for book club. Ten minutes into the episode, I realized I had pulled up episode three of the second season instead of the first. Ten minutes of watching, just slightly baffled, not sure why the show seemed so off.

As you may guess, that’s kind of how I feel about this book. Part of this is because the book and the show are not the same at all, except for the very basic premise, and part of it is because the book does such weird things with that premise that I could barely keep up with what was going on.

The basic premise: that the Axis powers won World War II, and Germany and Japan have divided up the United States, east and west, respectively.

In the book, we stay on the Japanese side of the States, where lots of things are going on. There’s a guy who sells pre-war American merchandise to wealthy Japanese collectors, and who wants very badly to sell nice things to one couple, and also maybe sleep with the wife? Then there’s another dude who works in a factory that makes counterfeit collectible merchandise, and he leverages his knowledge of that illicit fact to start a business creating fancy post-war American jewelry, which is not in any sort of demand but he hopes it could be. Then there’s yet another dude who is some sort of German spy type fellow who wants to make a deal with some high-powered Japanese, but when his Japanese contact is held up he has to decide between making some potential waves or losing the deal entirely.

Also, meanwhile, in a DMZ area between the two halves of the States, there’s a chick who gets involved with a dude who is a little obsessed with this book that everyone else in this book is also obsessed with, in which that author posits what would have happened in a world where the Allied powers won the war, which is not what actually happened in our world but is not a terrible approximation of what could have happened, I guess? And so they go to meet the author, but weird things happen, and weirder things happen when the woman arrives, and this whole plotline is so strange, I can’t even.

This book, the one I read, is far more interesting academically than entertainingly. I like what Dick does with the ideas of class and race and what it’s like to live as a second-class citizen in what used to be your own dang country. I also like how he uses the I Ching to talk about ideas of destiny versus free will. There’s a lot of thinky thoughts to have while reading this book. But as a story, as something with a beginning and middle and an end and a plot and characters and all that? Eh. It’s all right. It kind of makes me want to go watch the show, which takes a much more story-focused tack from that basic premise, but then I remember those ten minutes and I’m like, eh.

Recommendation: Eh. Unless it’s for book club, in which case there’s a lot of good stuff to talk about and it gets a solid “Yeah.”

Minority Report, by Philip K. Dick (18 June)

I put this book on hold at the library a while ago when I realized I’d never actually read anything by Philip K. Dick. I figured a book of short stories would be a good start, but I managed to misread the record. (An aside: I would never do that now! My first library science class has taught me more than you ever wanted to know about every field in a catalog record, and I’ve only had eight hours of class so far.) I’m kind of glad I did — this may be just one story, but it’s presented as a top-bound notebook like those I used for reporting. I felt really cool sitting around flipping pages super-quickly for an hour, and you will, too!

Hanyway. I’ve not seen all of the movie version of this (just the beginning and the creepy part with the eyeball), but Scott says this book is nothing like it. John Anderton is the commissioner of the pre-crime unit, which, like other government departments, uses psychic “idiots” to see the future. People who are seen committing crimes — from felony to murder — are brought in and contained before they can do the deed. On the day when Anderton’s new assistant, whom Anderton is training to take over the department eventually, arrives, Anderton’s own name shows up on a punch card as the murderer of a guy he doesn’t even know. Anderton, thinking new guy is framing him, decides to undermine the system by running away and hiding for a week, but before he can he is kidnapped by the guy he’s meant to kill and has a reader-headache-inducing couple of days before figuring out the plot and making things right.

That’s right, headache-inducing. Dick doesn’t dick around (hah! I’m so witty) with much exposition past the idea of pre-crime; after spending a few pages on that suddenly Anderton is figuring out things left and right and is like, “This is the truth! No, this is, for some reason I may or may not tell you later!” and you’re like, “Buh?” and Dick’s like, “Hahahahaha.” Srsly. But in the end you sort of get it and then you write your congressperson a long letter against the use of mentally retarded people (no, really) as psychic crime-stoppers because it would confuse you. Or something.

Rating: 7/10