I started this book a couple of years ago and attempted reading it for several times, but never went beyond the first two chapters. Finally this time I was able to suck it up and finish it.  But no, I still don’t like it.

I guess the setting of the story is somewhat interesting. Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany won WWII and the world became hell. This and that. But the book is poorly written. The plot was broken in many places and eventually went nowhere, after taking many sharp turns for no apparent reasons. For example, the expose that Germany was going to nuke Japan and Juliana’s sudden realization of Joe being a Nazi assassin.  They are shocking plot developments indeed, but I just couldn’t help swearing WTH and WTF. And the ending, oh, my, if there was an ending rather than him just stopped typing…

To be honest I don’t think PKD had any good idea about what he was writing about either. He had a concept of an alternative history, “Hmm, what if FDR died and the Axis won the war…,” which to be fair was pretty awesome. But that is just a starting point. It takes a lot to actually implement that alternative history with vivid details and credible character-building and logical plot-development. But this book has none of it. I know PKD was on drugs often, and sometimes that did make his writing great. (I am a big fan of A Scanner Darkly.)  But no this time.  The Man in the High Castle feels a lot like a pile of random and irresponsible writing to fill a “cool” story concept.  The magic dragon is simply not there.

A lot of people appreciate PKD’s extensive use of I-Ching as reference and tool in the book. That doesn’t work for me either. Being a native Chinese, I like I-Ching myself. Hell, fortune-telling with I-Ching is one of my favorite pasttimes. But PKD’s use of I-Ching in the book felt very 60ish – awed by some ancient eastern mysticism for its disguise of wisdom and sophistication, without realizing the essential primitive and bullshit nature of it. The I-Ching is not a secret tool that grants people knowledge and wisdom, despite for some smart  ambivalence. On the contrary, historically it may well have been the hindrance of scientific clarity and progress.  “A or B, and maybe C, if D and E, and ah look at F…” has nothing to do with quantum physics or truth.  It is very much “I have no idea what I am talking about but since it sounds impressive and deep and you look impressed I will continue the BS for the hell of it…”

Hmm, actually I think that sentence does capture this book pretty well. Maybe I-Ching does work more than I gave it credit for…

3/5

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