Welcome to another edition of Kai’s Husband Reads a Book Then Gives Her a Review on it for Her Blog!! Today we have his review of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. An alternative history novel published in 1962 & the inspiration behind the much more current tv show of the same name.
So sit back, relax, & let’s see what he has to say on this one!!
(click the cover to go to the book’s GoodReads page for more info!)
Full Synopsis: Nothing happens.
So apparently I’m incapable of reading any books that haven’t been made into TV shows. This time — unlike A Clash of Kings, where I largely already knew what was going to happen — I was actively hoping to spoil the show for myself. On that part, I failed miserably. Turns out, the book is almost nothing like the show. In a rare twist, I firmly believe that the show is actually a great deal better than the book.
This isn’t actually saying a lot. I’d give the show about a 3.5. It’s a decent show. It has some really interesting and compelling moments, as well as some long, drawn out and boring episodes. I do like the show, though. It’s worth watching if you already have Amazon Prime and have several hours to invest in a show. It’s not ground-breaking, though, and it develops rather slowly. It takes a few episodes before it really starts to draw you in.
The book, on the other hand, develops even more slowly. Literally the entire first half of the book is dedicated to exposition that is disguised as story-telling. Philip K. Dick has developed a world in which the Germans and Japanese have won World War II and now collectively own most of the United States. He has decided, quite unfortunately, to tell — not show — the reader about this world, often including entirely unimportant details. He frequently does this in the middle of conversations. Characters will be engaging in conversation and suddenly the prose will break off into several pages of a character retrospectively thinking about how these past events have affected their life in some way. It is done so clearly for the benefit of the reader that it’s almost painful. Then, he jarringly returns the reader — pages later — to the conversation that you’d almost completely forgotten about. To make matters worse, the conversations are nearly as uninteresting and pointless as the exposition is.
Throughout this first half of the book, it feels as if Dick really wants to be telling the story of how the Germans and the Japanese won the war. He has decided instead to tell the story of a handful of characters some 15 years later, and how this has affected their lives. This may very well be a fine story to tell, if he hadn’t spent the first half of the story retelling the past while nothing of any importance happened to any of the characters.
This is one of many traps that the TV show doesn’t fall for. It is decidedly easier to show than tell when working with video productions. The show decided to create this world, tell the viewer very little about it, and place the characters in it. Through this, it is clear how the past has affected the present and this affects the characters lives. They spend little to no time telling the viewer details about the German organization structure and how it’s changed since the war, or other such minutia. And the story benefits from this a great deal.
About three quarters of the way through the book is when things of any real importance start occurring. When I read through one chapter, I actually shouted to my wife that something had actually happened in the book! After all I had told her about the book, she was as surprised as I was. A storyline that had been building for about 150 pages had finally come to fruition, but even then not even completely. To call this the climax of the book is somewhat generous. I’m not certain that the book actually had a climax at all.
I was compelled to read to the end, though. I had to know what the book was building to. But the end was the most disappointing part. It ended abruptly and made no attempt to explain itself. Imagine if Fight Club made no effort to lay any groundwork for its twist revelation, then expected you to take it at face value with no explanation, and then just ended. That’s how the ending felt. How did this happen in the first place? What happens now? Why did I even read this? None of these questions are answered.
There are some real strong racist overtones throughout the book as well, without a hint of condemnation. Some of them are pretty hard to read. I do understand that those were the times, but, unless I’m missing something, there doesn’t appear to be a deeper message here other than “people are racist.” This could have easily been a reflection of the real world wherein we had won the war but were still quite actively racist. Perhaps it was intended as such, but it never felt that way to me. The show wisely decided to convert this into more subtle undertones of the story. Tribalism is an important part of the world that Dick built; one character’s sycophantic need to impress the Japanese, other’s disdain for Japanese and German rule, and the German hate for the Jews, are all compelling parts of the world-building. Unapologetic vulgarity, however, is hard for people to hear these days, especially when expressed by an otherwise quite likeable character.
The one redeeming quality of the book is its characters. With a few small exceptions, they are all quite likeable and have distinct personalities that make them interesting. It is the characters alone that kept me reading this book. It is worth mentioning, however, that at least three of the characters could be removed entirely or reduced to tertiary roles and it would have had no effect on the overall story. On top of this list is Childan, the opening character, whose storyline is entirely pointless but fortunately quite brief. He is also the least likeable character. There are a couple of other storylines that could be extracted from the story entirely and have little to no impact. The story would probably have been more eventful as a result… but only about 50 pages long. Since the show didn’t have much source material to work with anyways, they fortunately decided to give many of these characters more meat to their storylines, and to tie them in more directly to the overall story.
The most interesting difference between the book and the show is the eponymous character, the man in the high castle. In the book, he is a man who wrote a book — an essay basically — about what might have happened if the US had won the war. In the show, he is a man distributing films that show the US actually winning the war. The latter is a great deal more compelling because it begs a lot of questions. If there’s actually footage of America winning the war, was this footage staged? Did it really happen? Or is there something else afoot? A man writing an essay and publishing it begs exactly zero questions, especially since we have ironic knowledge that he was actually wrong about a few things. Here again, the show benefits from showing and not telling. The show also makes this a great deal more interesting because people are actively being killed — as early as the first episode — while trying to distribute these films.
My recommendation; if any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you, watch the show and skip the book. Despite being only about 250 pages, the book was difficult to get through. The first chapter is mind-numbingly boring. Most of the rest of the book is quite dry, and I took a week-long break before reading the last two chapters because I feared the worst. Quite correctly, I might add. Perhaps there’s a reason that this book is so highly regarded and I’ve missed the point entirely, but I’m happy to concede that I simply disagree and move on.
I give the book two stars, which my wife calls generous, but excellent character creation does merit some recognition.
What do y’all think?
Have you read this one?
Seen the show?
Agree or disagree?
Feel free to talk about it in the comments!