Upon hearing that Ridley Scott was going to adapt another Phillip K Dick novel (the first being Blade Runner – aka Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), I decided to read the book in question – The Man in the High Castle.
I’m only a few chapters in at this stage, but I was struck by something PKD is managing to do which is inherently difficult for a story like this.
You see, the story is set in 1962, long after the Axis wins World War II. Now, the whole “What if Germany Won” theme has been done to death, and yet it’s always a captivating topic. But the way I generally see it portrayed tends to be closer to after the fact, and the vibe I get is one of constant martial law with SS everywhere checking passports and stuff. Everyone oppressed and fearful.
So far what strikes me of this book is how it manages to do this in a different way than I’m used to. This is set in a time where the Axis rule is simply the new status quo. You have references to the horrible things the Nazis have done (to the Jews and Africans) alongside accomplishments like landing on Mars and having passenger rockets that reach San Fransisco in 45 minutes. The Japanese’s strict regime is one where everything is about position, class, formality and etiquette, rigid and unbreakable.
Most of the characters have lived in this world for nearly twenty years, and it shows. Hot headed revenge idealism has long ago washed away with the reality of needing to stay alive and earn a living. You see the influences of propaganda and culture in the American west coast, which is now part of Japan as the Pacific States of America.
What makes this future disconcerting at this stage is the everyday approach to it. There is no direct threats, terrors, gun pointing, or other such contrivances. We see from various characters perspectives what the everyday is like, which somehow makes it worse.
I’ll be interested in seeing where this goes, and revisiting this topic when I’m finished.