It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.
This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.
The Goodreads description is pretty accurate. The United States is separated into three zones- the west coast is under Japanse control, some of the mid-states are sort of a neutral zone and a large territory from mid-United States to the Atlantic is under Nazi control.
Somewhere in the neutral zone is a man who lives in a high castle, or so the legend goes. He is an author and wrote a book that has been banned in Nazi occupied territory, a book that speculates that the Allies won the war.
What a great premise. Unfortunately, it feels a little poorly executed. First, the characters in Japanese occupied territory are constantly consulting the I, Ching and I absolutely do not get the I, Ching. It’s a really complex magic eight ball. I guess you throw down a bunch of sticks, or something, and then based on the results, not sure how to calculate that, you look up the line. Then you do it again and again until you are supposed to stop. I’m not sure how you know to stop. Then you not only have to interpret it, but you have to interpret the position. Confusing. Here’s an example:
He wrote the question down on the tablet, then began whipping the yarrow stalks from hand to hand until he had the first line, the beginning. An eight. Half the sixty-four hexagrams eliminated already. He divided the stalks and obtained the second line. Soon, being so expert, he had all six lines; the hexagram lay before him, and he did not need to identify it by the chart. He could recognize it as Hexagram Fifteen. Ch’ien. Modesty. Ah. The low will be raised up, the high brought down, powerful families humbled; he did not have to refer to the text- he knew it by heart. A good omen. The oracle was giving him favorable council.
That’s not even the end of that particular scene; I just don’t want to bore you with the whole analysis.
Another problem I had was I found the characters boring. I don’t have to like any of the characters to enjoy a story, but I do have to find them, and the story, interesting. Neither was interesting.
Finally, there is a surprise ending… sort of. From the moment I read the description of the book, I had guessed what was going on and despite my disappointment with the progression of the story, I trudged on, eagerly awaiting the moment of revelation. It was quite the letdown. After I read it, I went back and re-read it to make sure I understood it; I thought I had missed something. To my dismay, I had missed nothing.
There are opportunities for discussion here but I was not interested in the story enough to really jump into the group discussion; I’m just not motivated. That’s not a good sign. If you decide to read this book, try to keep in mind that it was published in 1962 so what may have been a huge shocker then, now… eh.
Reviewed by Christina
March 5, 2015