Philip K Dick was born in Chicago in 1928 but spent most of his life in California . By the time he died in 1982, he written over 30 science-fiction novels and more than 100 short stories. Some of the more famous films of recent years - including "Blade Runner" and "A Scanner Darkly" have been based on his work. "The Man in the High Castle " was first published in 1962 and went on to win the Hugo Award.
"The Man in the High Castle " isn't necessarily what many would consider to be a `typical' science-fiction novel : there are no little green men, androids don't appear, nobody feels the force and the heroes aren't boldly going. Set in the 1960s, the story takes place in a world where the Allies lost the Second World War : Japan is in control of Asia, while Germany is in control of Europe and Africa. The Germans have also drained the Mediterranean for farmland, and have applied the `final solution' to the peoples of Africa. America, meanwhile, has been divided into three states. Much of the action takes place in the Pacific Seaboard America region, which is under the control of Japan. The eastern section of America is ruled by Germany, while between the two is the Rocky Mountain Buffer State. Life under the Japanese is presented as being relatively benign - pleasant, even. This appears to contrast sharply with life under German rule, despite the fact this isn't actually shown in the book.
The book follows the lives of a group of very loosely connected individuals - though what affects one has repercussions for all. Robert Childan is introduced first : a native of San Francisco, Childan can vaguely remember life before the war. He runs American Artistic Handcrafts, which sells "ethnic" American antiques to the Japanese, such as guns, comic-books - even framed, signed pictures of Jean Harlow ! Childan knows his place : the Japanese are at least one step above him on the ladder and, although there's a certain amount of admiration for them, there's also a great deal of resentment directed towards them also. His admiration for the Nazis, however, is untroubled by any such conflict. Nobuske Tagomi, the Head of the Japanese Imperial Trade Mission in San Francisco, is an occasional customer of Childan's. Tagomi is being used as a middle-man for a meeting between a representative of the Japanese government and a man called Baynes - apparently a Swedish national - and is hoping Childan will be able to supply a suitable gift.
What Childan doesn't realise is that much of his merchandise is fake. When Frank Frinks is introduced, he has just been sacked from his job with one of Childan's suppliers. He then goes into business himself, creating original jewellery - something he'll obviously need a market for. Frank has been divorced for about a year, though he seems to think constantly of Juliana, his ex-wife. Juliana, meanwhile, has been living in the Rocky Mountain State, working as a judo instructor - things start to change dramatically for her when she meets a lorry-driver called Joe.
Two books play a key role in "The Man in the High Castle". One is the "I Ching", the ancient Chinese Book of Divination. Many use it to guide their decisions and lives on a daily basis - Tagomi in particular. The other iscalled "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy", a work of fiction written by a man called Hawthorn Abendsen. It describes a world where the Allies won the war - as a result, it has been banned by both the Germans and the Japanese. Given his unpopularity with the world's two great powers, Abendsen is said to live in a heavily fortified home and has become known as "The Man in the High Castle".
This is the first book by Philip K Dick that I've read, though it won't be the last. It's comfortably one of the best books that I've read this year and it's one that would appeal to more than just the ardent science-fiction fan. Very highly recommended !