After the choco-Quaker discovery, nothing like a good old crazy Dick sci-fi classic. I am a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan and I first read it when I was a teenager, in Italian. I remember thinking that it was a bit batshit and that I thought I was not getting it, so I was interested to discover what older me would make of it.
What is it about?
It is a short book, and it amazes me that it was ever made into a series (never watched it, zero interest, although I understand the appeal of a what-if/alternate universe).
I never give away too much of the plot or the characters, because… What’s the point in case someone is interested in reading it? So I will always keep this section fairly skimpy on details.
As you probably know, this novel is set into a post World War II which was won, in an alternate reality, by the Axis alliance (so the Germans, the Japanese, and the Italians – HA HA, I mean they even make fun of them in here). We follow a handful of characters in an America controlled on the West Coast by the Japanese and on the East Coast by the Nazis. And that’s how much I feel comfortable sharing. There are spies, women on the run, servile middlemen and antique shop owners.
What makes it good?
Now, I recall that I had the impression that Dick was a complete nutso… For whatever reason, the feeling is confirmed this time around. The subject matter itself is not necessarily what you would expect. I found it more a philosophical reflection than an actual story with a well structured development. One probably would think
The style is the winner for me. You get into these people heads and you see how this foreign and “weird” (to their own American standard) culture has permeated all the different aspects of their own one. These concepts of face, of humiliation, of behaving in a certain manner are reflected in the way the characters think and speak. English is bent to make space to shorter sentences and a more clipped style, closer to how Japanese sentences are formed. Of course, when I was seventeen and reading in Italian, I didn’t get it. I just thought it was a bizarre way of saying things, but now I can appreciate it fully and it’s this subtlety that I enjoyed the most.
There is a lot, a LOT of i-Ching in this novel. I thought this the first time around, and again now. Is it bad? No, it’s actually quite central to the development of the book, but it kind of tells you where it’s going, doesn’t it?
The longer it goes, the more I think that it was good, and it is a classic, but I probably expected more from it. Sometimes it happens.