Since I’m easing into the method of sporadic posts, that are usually unrelated, I thought I’d jump away from the bigger pictures to focus on some more specific thoughts I’ve been having as of recent. I suppose the first thing that came to mind was this book: The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick. For those of you who are a fan of science fiction you’ve most probably heard of him. But for those who haven’t, Dick is one of the most renowned sci-fi authors from the twentieth century. Most – if not all – of his books have had a huge influence on succeeding authors in the genre, as well as figures within other aspects of the artistic medium, such as television and music.
Now the reason I focused more on this particular book more than Dick himself is because I actually haven’t read most of his work, and to make a thought on him as a whole based on the few books from him that I’ve read, seems a tad misguided. But from his work I found The Man in the High Castle resonated the most with me.
The thing that I think interested me in this title was its premise of alternate history. Before this book I had always personally been interested in history and – even more – the concept of alternate historical scenarios. It started off young with computer strategy games: like Creative Assembly’s Total War series, or Bohemia Interactive’s Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. Apart from them being enjoyable, the premise of history being changed because of the events you partook in through the game really sparked some interesting concepts. Later on I would go on to discover some of the books from Harry Turtledove, specifically Opening Atlantis and Ruled Britannia, which further developed on the concepts of changed history and how it would affect the lives and narrative of this different world.
However, once I had read The Man in the High Castle, I discovered something profound about the book. And that was Dick’s ability to make his strange world seem so alien, yet at the same time as real as one could get it. This book went beyond the concept of what if? It put you within the mundane lives of its citizens, it put you in a personal circle of characters that you could care about – even though deep down you knew you’re weren’t supposed to sympathise. There’s this immense shifting in tone that occurs both physically and meta-physically within the book, that leaves you torn and lost; the entire premise, the climax of the concept – this alternate universe – it doesn’t actually matter. You read along with multiple narratives from characters of varied backgrounds, and it’s their perspective that is made to feel important, despite the fact that you as the reader are focusing on the ghastly yet infinitely intriguing concept of an Axis ruled world. I feel like the book portrays a message of infinite possibility without meaning, and to accept the placement of one’s self within that structure; this may be the reason for the book heavily featuring the I Ching, a Chinese text on cosmological philosophy that one uses in conjunction with a hexagram to randomly produce a guiding path. The idea of an alternate history in which an unspeakable enemy were the victors, could be the reason it’s used with this concept, as it provides an exemplary setting in which we must come to understand that which we normally wouldn’t. And I think that is a deeply profound way of thinking, and a masterful way of executing this thinking on the author’s part.
So, if you find the time to spare and you’re looking for a more intellectually stimulating novel to burn through, I highly suggest this book. Despite my most probable incoherent rambling, the actual book is relatively easy to read: the prose is simple and the size of the book is relatively short. It’s the overall idea rather than any numerous themes that lend to a powerful concept, and that idea is what makes The Man in the High Castle one of my personal all-time favourite novels.