Over Christmas break, my dad got our family hooked on Amazon’s latest drama The Man in the High Castle. This dramatic, action-filled show is set in a different (Alternate? Parallel? We’re still not sure!) universe in which the Axis powers won WWII. The United States has been split between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and all sorts of crazy things happen. A typical scene from this show looks like this…
and a typical episode leaves you feeling/looking like this…
And considering that I’m in love with The Crown, Downton Abbey, This is Us, and Gilmore Girls, it’s safe to say that this is not my normal TV genre.
So when I decided to read the book that this show is loosely based on, I knew it would probably take me out of my reading comfort zone and into the realm of science fiction. For this reason, I’m using this book to fill out my “Book from an Unfamiliar Genre” category on the 2017 reading list.
Now for the book review. Well, let me start by saying that Amazon should really say their show is inspired by Phillip K. Dick’s novel, because the two are very, very different. Aside from the same major characters and dystopian, alternate reality, much of the plot is different. Another major difference is the absence of the film reels so crucial to the TV show. Instead, the world of the novel is interrupted by another novel, a book entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. So this book actually presents you with a book-inside-a-book and an alternate-reality-inside-an-alternate-reality. Confused yet?
I think it’s also important to share with you that the novel is very philosophical, which (in my limited experience) is is somewhat unusual for science fiction. I read online somewhere that Phillip K. Dick wanted to combine science fiction with a novel about ideas, and I think he’s done just that. As with any philosophy-heavy novel, this one is a little abstract. Much of the inspiration and source material comes from the I Ching, a Chinese book used for divination. The book is cyclical, and you see how characters’ small actions influence other characters and form a sort of ripple-effect across space (and, possibly, time). The I Ching isn’t just a source of inspiration for this novel, it’s actually a text mentioned and used by most of the characters in the book to try and predict the future or gain wisdom about their actions. I was impressed with how the author wove all of their different storylines together into one complete, if confusing, picture that had the I Ching at the center.
My ultimate opinion, though, is that if you want action involving morally ambiguous characters, cliffhangers, parallel universes, and alternate realities, watch the Amazon show. The action in this novel is surrounded by a lot of philosophizing, and the characters sometimes feel flat and overshadowed by their setting and the strangeness of the book’s main plot. That being said, if you’re a fan of the show, the book might open your eyes to some new theories.
See–sometimes the movie/TV version is better!