As I said earlier this year, every Philip K. Dick novel is like your first Philip K. Dick novel. And this one was no exception. The premise of the novel, “what would the world look like had Japan and the Nazis won WW2?” is a strange one to imagine from my vantage point this far from the war (my father, though older than average for fathers of twenty-eight year olds, is still not old enough to remember the war). The Allied victory seems inevitable, and we forget that there were times when it was very much in doubt. So how does it play out?
The Japanese of Dick’s fictional late 1960s turn out to be very much like the Japanese of today (or rather, like our Western view of the Japanese people), and offer a reasonable, although not entirely likable to my eyes, way of living and dealing with the world. I found myself sympathizing with many of the conquering/colonizing Japanese characters far more than with most of the ignorant, bigoted American characters. At first I thought that Dick had painted a portrait of an America turned bitter and racist in defeat, and heavily influenced by many of the worst characteristics of the conquering fascists, but then I realized that if I were to look at the popular media from the time that Dick was actually pointing out that, even in victory he could see a great flaw in the popular American consciousness. Heavy stuff. I would not be surprised to learn that this book influenced William Gibson, actually. It felt very close to some of his work.
There’s too much to say about this book, really. It’s one of the best and most thought-provoking books I’ve read all year, and I was genuinely saddened that it ended. The title of the book refers to an author within the novel who has written an “alternate history” of the Second World War, one in which the Allies won (and two his credit, Dick changes some of the details so that it remains genuine fiction). The book has an interesting place in the novel, something that I think might deserve serious critical attention (if it hasn’t already, I haven’t looked), and I don’t feel like I’ve thought about it long enough to give any real report on that place. My head nearly exploded when the source of book, or the author’s ideas for the book, were revealed.
I can only finish by saying, read this book.
Next: Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins.