Now that I have finished the book it is time to sit down, relax, meditate, and reflect. We look to the past that was not and look to the future that is.
Er… sorry, the tone of the book gets to you after a while.
This book is interesting on several levels. Like all good SF it’s not about the future (or in the is case the alternate past), it’s about the characters within it. While it’s always interesting to look at “what ifs,” it’s something that can be summed up in a few pages, really. Basing a whole story on just the politics is a mistake. It gets boring after a while, like reading a history book – but fiction. It’s counterproductive.
But when told within the framework of character, you pick up the snippets here and there greedily, because while you are interested in the people, part of you is trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of what happened before and how things are now, and trying to get a feeling of where things are going. That’s the way to keep a geek interested.
The story jumps between different character POVs, and with them you have vastly different voices used. From stilted English in the main Japanese character and an American who tries very hard to think Japanese, to disjointed distracted thoughts that I’m pretty sure are coming from a crazy person.
The primary story isn’t about the moving and shaking of empires, but more of an everyday setting (I learned the word quotidian is a good one to define this), though there is an element of espionage with dire overtones that could affect the future within it.
The story contains within it another story – someone has written an alternate history novel within this alternate history novel called The Grasshoppers Lies Heavy, depicting a “what if the Allies won,” but what is most intriguing about that it is not our history at all.
But perhaps the strangest thing used in the book is the I Ching, a fortune telling device (oracle, if you will) that three of the main characters consult regularly to predict the future or make decisions. It is symbolic of how Oriental culture permeates American culture (on the Pacific, that is, where most of the story takes place), but it has even deeper uses – both in the book and outside of it apparently.
I suppose what makes this book worth reading isn’t the “what if,” that’s just the hook. It’s the reflection of the characters on their places in life that get you thinking. The characters whose thoughts we are privy to aren’t evil (though one is thoroughly unlikeable), even if the regimes they have to work for are.
Everyone is not only flawed, but almost cripplingly so, to the point where the don’t seem to have real choices in their actions. So often you see them completely misinterpret what is happening around them, and yet you completely buy into them doing so. You know what choices they’re going to make, even when we see options all around them, because they are so locked into their world views that they can’t realistically do anything else.
A classic story definitely worth of the Hugo it won, and worth a read if you get the chance.