Argobot

The Idle Book Club 15: The Man in the High Castle

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A book was released this year that is talked about as a sequel to Man in the high castle called the United States of Japan. It is set in the 1980's and follows a Japanese censor hunting an underground group that uses a video-game which is set in a world where history turned out differently.

Two of his other best regarded books - 'Flow my tears the policeman said' is about a famous actor who ends up in a world where he never existed. 'Ubik' is about a character who along with his team end up in world where time is flowing backwards.

Yer talk about this being an ideas book compared to previous ones reminded me of a couple of sci-fi/ fantasy (Samuel R Delany and Steven Erikson most readily come to mind) have written about their dislike of the heavy emphasis so much 'literary' fiction places on character as opposed to ideas, place and plot. Delany called it the 'tyranny of the subject' which the more well regarded 'literary' fiction I read the more I agree with them.

Also if you want more alternate history in the vein of Dick there is Laive Tidhar Osama which as this review point out is very influenced by Dick. Very simply it is an alt history where bin laden is a fictional character and the war on terror never happened. Titles of the books featuring bin Laden include Assignment : Africa and world trade centre.

Dave Hutchison's Fractured Europe books also bear a heavy Dick influence mixed with some La Carre and Python the crying of lot 49. Alt near future with a Europe that is breaking apart with new states rising left, right and centre.

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Nappi   
I agree that ideas are Philip K. Dick's strong suit. The prose is "nothing too special", many of the characters are quite thin, and the plots are often somewhat ridiculous or half-full of holes. Even so, Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors simply because his books give me so much food for thought.
 
I read Man in the High Castle about four years ago, and the main thing I remember about the process is the general feeling of nausea I got from studying the various Nazi leaders mentioned in the novel. Contrasting the Nuremberg trial verdicts with the alternative reality where these men are not only not-hunted but celebrated, was pretty rough, and I can totally see why Philip K. Dick did not want to dwell on the Nazi mindset for the sequel.
 
I don't remember much about the ending except for being slightly disappointed by it at the time. However, like Chris, I don't know what would have been more satisfying ending. I definitely appreciate that no one finds a weak point in the epic Nazi Götterdämmerung that causes the Third Reich to fall. The very nature of this book calls for the ending to be a disappointment, a whimper: "You done fuck up, this is your reality now, there is no going back. Actually, I'm sorry, it is nothing to do with you, you couldn't have done anything... but this is still your reality."
 
People should definitely read more Philip K. Dick books. The recurring theme in his works is the questioning of reality. Any attempts to summarize the plots make the books sound like the groovy products of a 60s acid trip. The books are definitely hallucinatory, but in a thought-provoking and often extremely "uncomfortable" way which surpasses any "bad trip". I haven't read much about Philip K. Dick himself, but it sounds like he was schizophrenic and at times extremely paranoid. For example:
 

Lem singled out only one American SF writer for praise, Philip K. Dick—see the 1986 English-language anthology of his critical essays, Microworlds. Dick thought that Stanisław Lem was probably a false name used by a composite committee operating on orders of the Communist party to gain control over public opinion, and wrote a letter to the FBI to that effect. Stanisław Lem was also responsible for Polish translation of Dick's work, and when Dick felt monetarily short-changed by the publisher, he held Lem personally responsible (see Microworlds).

 
Reading these types of things help me understand what makes his novels so effective for me. It also makes some of his novels even more painful. For instance, VALIS is a novel about a writer Horselover Fat (yup) who receives vast amounts of information from an alien satellite via a pink laser beam aimed at his head. Turns out this part of the novel is based on Philip K. Dick's own experiences. As a results, reading VALIS was extremely uncomfortable at times, much more so than Man in the High Castle. However, it was still an experience that I do not regret in any way.
 
 

Start with Ubik, though.

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brodey   

Hey Guys,

 

Just listening to the podcast, haven't read the book, but wanted to comment on I Ching in the context of Japanese culture.

 

I've been to Japan 3 times and I am a fairly informally practising buddhist.

 

A big part of modern Japanese culture is strongly influenced from China. For example, one of the famous princes in the past 'shotoku' he sent people to China to learn the way of writing, building (temples) and politics.

 

That's why we see a lot of Japanese temples that are reminiscent of traditional chinese design. And that's why the Japanese Kanji are very similar to Chinese Hanzi.

 

It's a similar story with Buddhism, it first went to Japan from China and there is a long history of monks going back and forth China to Japan and Japan to china. Lot's of great stories.

 

So anyway, that's a good reason why it's easy to understand why the I Ching could be seen as an important basis in Japanese beliefs.

 

Alex

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Urthman   

I found the clipped language to have a kind of poetic beauty in a lot of places.  And I thought it was an interesting and effective way of showing how Childan has internalized his (distorted, I think) perception of Japanese culture and thinking out in his pursuit of greater social status.

 

And I was continually impressed by the way Dick folds details about the world into the narrative without infodumps.  One of my favorites was the guy talking about the difference between the two lighters, which is an intersting conversation on it's own, but also created a very natural-sounding way to drop in the detail that FDR had been assassinated in this world.

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xchen   

Really glad I've only got one chapter left. Plot was fine but I do not care for the prose at all. Is this typical of PKDs style for other books as well?

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While I don't think all of his books are this egregious, he is definitely an ideas-over-style kind of writer. I remember reading his short stories in high school and finding them fascinating, but his style of writing totally lost me in this novel. I am far more receptive to well-written decent ideas than poorly-written good ideas, which made it difficult to enjoy the book, despite thinking parts of it were fairly interesting (while other parts were incredibly frustrating). 

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xchen   

That was definitely my experience too! Certain characters stories were super engrossing but I found a lot of the Tegomi sections so disjointed and choppy I'd find myself spacing out. I understand the effect he was going for it just didn't connect for me. I think I actually prefer the show to the book.

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So I'm finally getting around to reading this and joining in on the new incarnation of the Idle Book club, only half a year or so late. (Will listen to the podcast and read all your thoughts after I finish.) I've been thinking a lot about World Wars recently (because of uh, current events), and the fragility of the period of "long peace" that we live in, and just today am about a third of the way through the latest Hardcore History that's (so far) very much about people's mindsets just after the end of WWII. So from reading the back cover, I'm either in the best head-space for this book, or the worst?

 

Speaking of the back cover, there's an unfortunate typo in the blurb ("neutal buffer zone") - does anyone else have the Penguin Essentials edition and have the same typo?

 

 

the_neutal_agenda.jpg

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mondryle   

Same edition here, with the same typo. Great cover though, and relatively inexpensive! (I too am this far behind -- a little further, actually. After a late start on Fates and Furies and Never Let Me Go, I got into Ferrante. I'm back after Book 4, I promise.)

 

the-man-in-the-high-castle.jpg

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It is a great cover. And, good to know that I'm not the only one getting distracted by other great books - for me it was Against the Day, which took most of 2016 for me to read, but was well worth it.

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Yeah - this book was definitely interesting. Like others, I was very into the fact that the novel wasn't just about the what-if scenario, but about relating it back to our world and history. I'm usually a bit wary of the escapist tendencies of what-if stories, but I felt that Dick purposely keeps pointing to the what-if nature of the book (through the references to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy) to keep the reader from escaping into this alternate world and forgetting what it says about our own.

 

One thing that nagged at me while reading was the portrayal of the Japanese as the less murderous, more enlightened (as to racism and human rights) member of the Axis, and the lack of any mention of the genocidal and inhumane treatment of Chinese people by the Japanese during the second World War. I'd guess it's related to the fact that, at the time the novel was written, awareness of what went on in China during WWII would not have been as high among Western people (and thus authors); the only real mention of any Chinese people in the novel are the pedicab drivers.

 

I'm pretty confused by the ending of the novel (does Abensen live in the same reality as Juliana, or in our reality, or a reality partway in between?) but in looking up something I was on the Gestapo wiki page and this sequence of names jumped out at me:

 

frank_frick.png.ead132f154c6db1b1ad53134d7ab46f6.png

 

Kinda weird.

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Argobot   

That's a really interesting point about the way the Japanese are depicted as the "good" Axis power. I wonder if the TV show holds onto that depiction, even if we generally are more aware of what was going on in Asia at the time. (Spoilers: turns out all humans have the capacity for evil, not just the Nazis)

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