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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
“The hands of the artificer,” Paul said, “had wu, and allowed that wu to flow into this piece. Possibly he himself knows only that this piece satisfies. It is complete, Robert. By contemplating it, we gain more wu ourselves. We experience the tranquility associated not with art but with holy things. I recall a shrine in Hiroshima wherein a shinbone of some medieval saint could be examined. However, this is an artifact and that was a relic. This is alive in the now, whereas that merely remained. By this meditation, conducted by myself at great length since you were last here, I have come to identify the value which this has in opposition to historicity. I am deeply moved, as you may see.”
I am not sure what wu is so I can’t say whether I gained more of it after having read and contemplated this book. Another reason I made a note of this passage for quotation is because it seems barking mad to me, but in an oddly appealing way. Any way, basically I have no idea what the character Paul Kasoura is talking about.

The Man in the High Castle is one of Philip K. Dick's best known books. Ranked number 3 in Goodreads’ PKD page. I personally much prefer Dick’s other famous titles like
[b:Ubik|22590|Ubik|Philip K. Dick|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327995569s/22590.jpg|62929], [b:Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?|7082|Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?|Philip K. Dick|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327865673s/7082.jpg|830939], [b:The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch|14185|The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch|Philip K. Dick|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1338461946s/14185.jpg|1399376] and several other mind bending titles. I first read The Man in the High Castle in my teens among other Dick books but I remember very little of it part from the basic premise which is well known in any case. Having reread this decades later I am not surprised, it is the most difficult PKD book I have ever read, and it is also the slowest paced and frankly rather dull in places.

On the bright side the alternate reality that Dick depicts in this book is fascinating, a sort of dystopian USA with the German and the Japanese in an uneasy co-ownership and management. I love the bizarre image of the cycle rickshaw (pedicab) as a common mode of transportation, the weird class system where the American characters kowtow to the Japanese, the banning of television, and of course the reliance on the I Ching. A few of the characters also fascinate me, I have read criticisms of Dick’s writing on the ground of prose and characterization. Personally I never have any problem with his prose, they get the job done quite efficiently without any literary flourishes. His stories are weird enough without obscuring them with purple prose. That said, this passage jumped out at me because it is pretty lyrical:
You cook the native foods to perfection, Robert Childan thought. What they say is true: your powers of imitation are immense. Apple pie, Coca-Cola, stroll after the movie, Glenn Miller . . . you could paste together out of tin and rice paper a complete artificial America. Rice-paper Mom in the kitchen, rice-paper Dad reading the newspaper. Rice-paper pup at his feet. Everything.
As for his characters I find that they are usually not that well developed but they tend to be rather strange people and I never know what they are going to do or say next.

The problem I have with this book is that while it is fairly short it is comprised of multiple plots strands which do not seem to intertwine into one cohesive story. Also some subplots are more interesting than others. Every time the narrative focus switches to Baynes or Mr. Tagomi my mind begin to drift. On the other hand the stories of Juliana and Robert Childan are riveting, especially when Juliana decides to kick some ass. (Sorry I am tossing these characters’ name about without explaining who they are).

As always Philip K. Dick messes with the reader’s head until they don’t know what is real any more. Unfortunately I find The Man in the High Castle not as accessible or entertaining as his other books.