What if the Axis powers had won the second world war? The novel by Philip K Dick is set in this alternate world, where the old USA has been partitioned, with Nazi-run Eastern and Japanese-run Western portions and a buffer-zone along the Rockies. Germans have landed astronauts on Mars, turned the Mediterranean seabed into farmland, and have almost entirely wiped out the black African population as a part of the ‘final solution’. The novel follows the parallel narratives of a number of characters, some of which remain parallel even in the end of the book. The characters include a Jewish hoax museum piece maker, his ex-wife, A German high ranking military officer on a secret mission, A Japanese official etc. But the master stroke of this book is Abendsen, ‘the man in the high castle,’ who had written a fictional book regarding what would happen if Allies would have won the war. He appears in the last few pages of the book, but his book is there through out this book mentioned by various unrelated characters, like an uncanny presence.
This novel made me realise that many narrative experiments that we see today and consider as original (multiple narratives, playing with time between the different narratives, playing with the parallel nature of the narratives too long making us wonder how these individual stories are going to connect) have already been tried in 1960s. Also the story never gets into the formulaic predictable ‘spy chase’ mode which is the usual trap which usually writers falls into while writing this kind of subject. The novel is open ended and supposedly Philip K Dick was planning to write a sequel which never materialised. I like it this way, without a clear resolution. Just like life.
This is my first Philip K Dick experience (in a novel). What drew me to him was his ability to generate original concepts that formed the fodder for movies like ‘Blade runner,’ ‘Minority report.’ ‘A Scanner Darkly’ was the final nail (What a great ending, man!). His greatness lies in his ability to explore dark complex philosophical issues with apparently simple science fiction plots. And his plotting transcends the usual hero-villain paradigms.
Definitely planning to explore a few more of his works.