Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick is a powerhouse in the world of Science Fiction. Known for stories that have lead the groundwork for several other works, most notably "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" becoming the movie "Bladerunner". Just recently, I got stuck on a piece I was working on and found myself looking for something, anything, to hang my hat on to keep it going. (I have since given up that piece for lost, but it got me to go to the library.) I picked up a four volume set of Philip K. Dick's work which included "The Man in the High Castle", "Ubik", "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", and "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch". "The Man in the High Castle" was the first in the volume.

I think what strikes me most is the almost unfinished quality of the work. Dick doesn't tie everything up in a neat little bow, he leaves threads hanging loosely all over. The story of Frank Frink ends with him going back to his workbench, much more preferable than what might have happened to him. Juliana Frink meets Abendsen, the man who used to live in the high castle, and walks out of the whole thing with a few of her questions answered but what is going to happen to her or the writer is far from concluded. Tagomi has a heart attack and our last view of him is him resting as others move around him and tend to him.

The story doesn't so much seem to end as it trails off.

I believe this was the intention. The story doesn't end because truthfully stories don't end in neat little packages. All of it tied up with "The End" tacked on. What I don't know is whether it seems satisfactory to end it that way. On one side, I want the neat ending, everything tied up in a little bow, everyone taking their bows before the final curtain. On the other, the work is what it is and the ending it has is the ending it has. It can't be any more or less than what it already is.

The second thing that strikes me is the level of detail he goes into regarding the political systems of the two winning nations. What they've made of the world since they were fortunate enough to win the war. It seems almost as if it could be true, which is parallel in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the book within the book. It turns out to be true as well according to the I Ching.

Finally, there are two books which draw all the characters in one way or another, the fictional piece The Grasshopper Lies Heavy written by Hawthorne Abendsen which it seems almost all of the characters in the book are reading or planning to read; and the I Ching or Book of Changes, the oracle a number of them refer to throughout the story. Both pieces are integral to the plot. Dick supposedly wrote the entire book using the oracle as a guide. But every character has some connection to either of the two texts. I find it interesting any time a fictional work is mentioned in a work of fiction, especially when it is quoted throughout.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It wasn't precisely what I went looking for. I was researching cyberpunk, but it was definitely worth the read.

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