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5.0 out of 5 stars Axis of Evil, 9 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: The Man in the High Castle (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Imagining trying to make your way as an ordinary citizen in a very different world, one dominated by the Reich and Japan, a very different axis of power following the defeat of the Allied powers during WWII. That's the `what if' premise of Dick's novel, and in this case it works brilliantly.
The perspective on events are those of everyday citizens, and the book has a beautifully satisfying structure as it moves from their different stories, steadily making clear how their actions determine the fate of each other. There is: Robert Childan, an American small business man, a shop owner specialising in US memorabilia much prized by the Japanese; Mr Tagomi, a senior Japanese trade executive; Frank Fink, a manufacturer of fake US memorabilia; and his ex wife Julianna, a troubled and drifting young woman in search of a redemption she cannot define. The chilling oppression of the Reich - Japan axis (with the Reich being by far the most savage and evil of the world powers) is palpable not because we are given explicit descriptions of atrocities (new genocides in Africa are all the more horrifying as being described as accepted recent historical events) but because we feel the emotional and psychological oppression as it is described through the stories of the principal characters dealing with the pressures of their everyday lives. This feels real and lived.
The political backdrop also feels effectively real in how it plays out, giving an intelligent extension and analysis of Nazi logic in this furthering `what if' scenario. Hitler has degenerated through syphilis of the brain and Bormann has been Chancellor. But Bormann's sudden death causes a power struggle through the factions at the heart of Nazi Germany. And it is the banality and the horror of what these factions represent; a choice of evils, which brings a terrible dilemma to some of the players in the drama. All this we hear through the eyes and ears of the principal characters attending business briefings, listening to the radio and reading the papers.
There's a psychological and emotional realism to the confusion and dilemma's of the characters. A striking passage in the novel sums up the human condition wonderfully, that of craving for absolutes and clear choices in a world where everything bleeds into everything else:
"On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components."
A "proper tool" to which all of the main character's turn is the `I Ching' and this is a pivotal device in the narrative of the novel. It points us to the closest this novel gets to the `alternative and competing realities' theme that really takes off in Dick's later work. Does the I Ching guide or does it determine? The synchronicity and the Yin/Yang tension of the Tao are never far from events in the novel. There's also a novel within the novel written by the titular `Man in the High castle' that most of the characters read, which is a science fiction work describing what would have happened if the allies had won the war. And here, in typically Dickian fashion, we feel the ground start to shift beneath our feet....
Satisfying, compelling, and beautifully written this is deservedly regarded as a genre classic. It deserves a place on your bookshelf whether you're a science fiction reader or not.
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