I guess it was last week or so that the Squuby fellow finished reading Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle and he had some questions about it, and since I said that I would and since I recommended the book, I feel like I should present my thoughts on the thing, at any rate. Not that I’m actually certain that those aforementioned thoughts will in any way clarify those questions, but it’s worth a try, eh?
I’m not entirely certain what his question(s) about the book is/are exactly, but here’s the little bit that I latched onto, anyway:
“I don’t think I get it. If it weren’t for that I could unequivocally say I liked it. The writing is great, the surreality of the thing is just up my tree. But the whole fact of it ending up sort of leaving me hanging here saying, ‘err, what? None of it was real? Is that the thing?'”
The Man in the High Castle (MITHC) was one of the first PKD books that I read, about three years ago, and I read it in a single afternoon, so my response here will be colored by the ten or so of his other novels that I’ve read in the mean time. Additionally, I’m not going to go into a plot summary of MITHC either, because, well, I’ve read the book and HE’S read the book. It’s a story about an alternate world where the Nazis and the Japanese won in WWII, where the West coast is a Japanese protectorate and the East coast is run by the Nazis.
MITHC is one of PKD’s earlier books (written in 1962), but it’s themes or ideas are present in most (all?) of his books that I’ve read: basically, what is the nature of the reality that we perceive? Or, to put another way, the reality that we perceive is an illusion and we can only perceive the True Reality obliquely, through flaws in the Illusion.
At its most basic, I think that MITHC is a simple alternate history, What If?, novel, with the added complexity of a book within the story which is a fictional account of what appears to be our ACTUAL history: the US and Allies defeating the Nazis and Japan in the war. This addition raises questions as to the nature of artistic creation: if the author in this fictional work writes an account of our “real” history as an alternate history, what does that mean for us, who are reading a book by a “real” science fiction author about an alternate history?
The fascinating thing, for me, about PKD is that a decade or so after writing MITHC (and many others), he experienced (or reported experiencing) what he perceived to be “real” events which called into question the reality of our reality (or the reality of HIS reality) and which served to reinforce the idea that reality WAS an illusion. He experienced the thing which his science fiction novels and short stories, up to that point, had been exploring.
I find it very very interesting that so many of his short stories and novels have been recently adapted (mostly not well) into movies. An interesting idea that PKD had was that if there was a Truth out there–beneath the Illusion–then it wouldn’t appear in any obvious fashion, but as “a thief in the night”, as trash in a gutter, or commercials on the television or as trashy science fiction novels…
I could go on and on about this, but I think I’ll stop for the moment. Does this help?
Oh, and if you haven’t read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, you should.