The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Man, does Amazon need to get their shit under control. I was vaguely aware that this book existed, but then Amazon turned it into a show, and had a huge super gross advertising campaign through of Nazi imagery, which obviously did not go over well.

I know that a lot of old classic sci-fi is hella racist/sexist/pick your poison problematic in all the different ways it can be. But I hadn’t remembered seeing much about Dick, or this book in particular. So I was interested in seeing what the deal with it was. What about this inspired such terrible promotional choices?

My big conclusion is that Amazon is just shit. Which really, I knew that already, and I feel bad about how much money I give them (I read this through kindle unlimited). I don’t know what they did with this book to their ad campaign. Bad things.

I read the book, and thought it was interesting, but  I’m not sure if it ever really coherers. The different threads only barely come together. It works, but only just. The whole time I was waiting for some sort of payoff, some sort of action sequence that I would understand inspiring a big action tv series. It never came.

I feel like the show must completely lose the meta aspect of the novel. The title, The Man In The High Castle refers to the author of a book within the novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is an alternate history where the Allies win World War Two.

The thing is, that in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the Allies win, but it’s still a dystopia. America and England wind up fighting, things don’t work out, and it’s basically World War Three. It’s a dystopian novel inside a dystopian novel, which makes us ask whether our world is a dystopia too? Like, it’s good that the Allies won the war, but what about everything that’s come since?

There’s also the question of who wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is the driving force through one plotline. The answer might be that it was written following the directions of the i-ching, which characters frequently consult in the novel. It’s a whole thing. It’s much a 1960’s Philip K. Dick novel.

The book takes place in Japanese controlled California, and in the independent Colorado. The Nazi’s may have won, but they aren’t in charge where this story is taking place, at least not directly. So all the Nazi imagery the show packed into the promos is its own invention, extrapolating the world in a very unpleasant direction.

I honestly don’t know where this show is going. I don’t know what characters it wants to use. I don’t know what plotlines could be turned into compelling tv. The cast of the book includes a jewish man, his ex-wife, and Japanese official. I thought the characters were interesting, but never connected with them too much. They exist to be in service of the plot and the world, and aren’t so compelling on their own. One of the more interesting storylines is about making jewelry, and like, uniqueness in art. I don’t know how this would fit into a tv show?

Honestly, after reading this book I might check out the show just to see what the hell they turned into. The one review I read didn’t make it sound like my cup of tea, but maybe. Probably not though — there are like a dozen episodes, and I don’t really have the time to invest in that sort of hate watching.

My sense is to stay the hell away from the show, but the book is an interesting alternate history that asks some interesting questions and is worth picking up.

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The Mirage by Matt Ruff

I’m not sure what to make of this book, but in a good way. I read it in July, and haven’t been able to get enough of a hold on my thoughts to write about it. It’s an alternate history set in the United Arab States. It addresses the post 9/11 world landscape in a very interesting way. I enjoyed reading it, and think there’s more I could have gotten out of it if I had put in more energy. The politics are interesting, but it isn’t all fable, the plot is compelling as well.

(semi spoiler) I like the ambiguity of the ending. It leaves the reader with the possibility of the unknown, asking us what kind of new world we can imagine ourselves instead of filling in the blanks. But in another mood I might have found this frustrating.

I liked it enough that I’d recommend it, so now you can go and read it, and we can talk about it, and maybe then I’ll have clearer thoughts about it.