257 pages @350 wds/pg
For a week Mr. R. Childan had been anxiously watching the mail.
"Listen. You're very good. You cut my aorta. Artery in my neck."
Giggling, she clapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh God—you're such a freak. I mean, you get words all wrong. The aorta's in your chest; you mean the carotid."
Around the time of this novel, Philip K. Dick’s was being heralded as the next sci-fi writer to break into mainstream popularity after Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The Man in the High Castle won the prestigious Hugo Award for science fiction and Dick seemed to be on the way. But somehow he has remained a cult favourite rather than a crowd-pleaser.
Perhaps this, his "break-through novel", shows why.
It's an alternative history: What if the Nazis and the Japanese won the Second World War? Well, this notion has been done to death in speculative fiction. But Dick takes it further into other realms.
He starts with the United States being divided between German and Japanese occupation. Then, where other writers would focus on political suppression and a rebel movement, Dick follows odd characters who consult the mystical teachings of the I Ching and have bizarre experiences that culminate in a startling discovery about the real nature of the society. I won't give it away but it turns this into a what-if story inside a what-if story. It's a strange, dark tale that never really reaches a conclusion to satisfy the masses.
This is also one of Dick's most acclaimed novels, but far from my favourite. It's not that I want a more conventional storyline. Quite the opposite. Knowing how truly twisted and exciting later Dick novels become, I find this one too straightforward. It seems a compromise between what was expected of him then and what he would later become—as a writer and a thinker.
If you are new to Philip K. Dick, it's a good jumping off point.
But hold onto your hat. As wild as this tale may seem, the ride gets much bumpier in the years ahead.