Great Hugo Readthrough 1963: Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

First Readthrough/ Reread: Reread
Acquired: Owned

Other Nominees:
Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Sword of Aldones
Arthur C. Clarke: A Fall of Moondust
H. Beam Piper: Little Fuzzy
Jean Bruller: Sylva

Background: One of the early heavy hitters of the alternate history genre.

Synopsis: Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have conquered the world. The book follows a group of citizens in the western United States, which is ruled by Japan. The Nazis have pulled ahead of Japan technologically, and nuclear war looms on the horizon.

Verdict: Fantastic book. It’s up against some heavy hitters this year, though. Marion Zimmer Bradley has been a dominant figure in SF/Fantasy for a long time, even more than a decade after her death. A few weeks ago, it would have been a tougher decision, but with the recent controversy surrounding her, I’ve become much, much less interested in her work. (Turns out she’s a child molester. Given that she was one of my favorite authors as a kid, that’s been kind of fucking with my head lately. I mean, seriously? I don’t even know how to process that shit.) Arthur C. Clarke also is up for this round, and he’s traditionally freaking epic, though I haven’t read A Fall of Moondust. Haven’t even heard of Sylva, but H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy is absolutely fantastic. If you haven’t read it, do so. I don’t think it quite ranks up to The Man in the High Castle, though.
I honestly don’t know how to quite describe The Man in the High Castle. Phillip K. Dick has earned a reputation for being a trippy writer for good reason. This book, on the surface, is a bit more straight-forward and comprehensible than some of his others, but when you start burrowing into the book, you really quickly realize how multi-layered it is. It’s an alternate history novel about an Axis victory, which itself contains an alternate history novel about an Allied victory completely, bizarrely different than our own. It’s got a nuanced rebuttal of racism through the eyes of a racist. It’s got a spy subplot, it’s got a slice of life/Henry James style subplot, it’s got a feminist subplot. It’s riddled through by characters with their fates out of their own hands, relying on the I Ching to guide them. It’s… I don’t even know quite how to explain it. It’s a brilliant, deranged book, by a brilliant, deranged author. If you haven’t read it, you need to. Probably the best book on the readthrough so far in my opinion, along with A Canticle For Leibowitz.

<1962: Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land