“Work the sentences, if you wish, so that they will mean something. Or so that they mean nothing. Whichever you prefer.”
The limited previews I saw for the Amazon adaptation are what pushed my interest in “the Man in the High Castle” to the reading point. Is the show any good? I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m intrigued. Nazis! Alternate history! Episodic storytelling! DJ Qualls! Ok, maybe not necessarily DJ Qualls, but the Nazis and alternate history piqued my interest. Having read a few other Philip K. Dick novels and handful of short stories, I wanted to see what he would do with the few pieces I knew about.
The only way to explain how I felt reading ‘High Castle’, and I hope this makes sense, is to say nothing actually happened, but no one bothered to tell me.
Similar to other examples of Philip K. Dick I’ve read, there isn’t what you would normally call “world building” going on in his books. It’s more like “world immersion,” as if you wake up to this new reality and although you have no idea what or who anything is, you assume that’s how it has always been. Like laughing along with everyone else even though you don’t get the joke, you don’t freak out and try to understand what’s happening around you in this new reality. Instead, you keep reacting and moving and speaking, picking up clues and understanding things as you go, hoping no one else figures out that you have no idea what you’re doing.
In that regard, I suppose Dick’s writing is as close to real life as one can get, just with slightly more advanced technology that you still don’t know how to work.
Sometimes this method works, such as in “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” where that almost literally is the plot. It works a little less so for “Time Out of Joint,” but generally extremely well for his short stories and in “A Scanner Darkly.” You learn the necessary facts of this new reality as you go. The important details are made clear because you need them to survive. You learn by doing, by living. It’s a ‘take only what you need to survive’ sort of writing style.
This style is great, and I’ve loved it in the past, and it’s why I enjoy Dick’s books.But here, with this reality and these characters, it left me constantly waiting. We never really moved forward. While the characters were steadily doing things and interacting with each other and proving they knew on another and were all connected, it never felt like they were ever moving about in the same reality. They kept doing but never moving. Acting but never affecting.
But here, with this reality and these characters, it left me constantly waiting. We never really moved forward. While the characters were always doing things and interacting with each other and proving they knew one another and were all connected, it never felt like they were actually moving about in the same reality. They kept doing but never moving. Acting but never affecting.
I kept turning the page. They kept going through the motions. And we all kept waiting to see where we were going and whether it was worth it.
But even as these characters met their ends and found explanations and tried to understand what they had learned from what they’d done, there didn’t seem to be much of a point to it. I was left holding a book that was more an unfinished thought then fully formed novel. I didn’t grow into understanding the reality so I didn’t care about the people in it, which was ok because the same could be said for any of the characters in it as well.
While this won’t turn me off reading more Philip K. Dick, or even deter me from checking out the tv show, this wouldn’t be the first, third or even fifth book by him I recommend. Not when he much better-written novels and stories to chose from that successfully pull off his immersion style of writing.
This was an accidental story. Well, I supposed they all are when it comes down to it. A stray thought unconnected to the events around you, an overheard snippet of someone’s conversation, a glimpse of graffiti passed in the car—
Or, while in a towel ironing my shirt, the sudden image of a distraught man sitting along at the bar.
“It stung. He pretended not to notice, but knew anyone could see his grimace/cringe. He didn’t want it.”
I had to grab the first piece of paper I could find; an envelope, and get that one short paragraph that followed down in writing, into the real world, and out of my head before the memory of the words was twisted out of its original shape and lost. That’s the danger here—it’s the dance with the devil every writer attempts, to repeat the piece of perfection (or so we believe it to be) again and again in our mind because we believe we’ll remember it forever and be able to write down later. We won’t. We never do.
So, standing in a damp towel, the iron forgotten about in the other room, I wrote against the ticking clock of my flawed short-term memory. And I found myself at the start of a story I’d never intended to tell, one I didn’t think there’d be a reason to tell; of what drives a man to take his own life, of what events come together to crush someone who was always relied on, always envied as being the strong one, the successful one, the one who got all right? What does it take for him to realize that man doesn’t exist? Not in fictional stories or the real world.
But not everyone realizes that. Some believe he does exist. Some believe they are that man. Only the idea of that man has ever existed, and it’s when he realizes that, that he finds himself more alone then he had ever imagined possible, ordering a drink he doesn’t want, to forget the events and the people that brought him there, trying to find some comfort at the end of his world.
Last night, I overheard these two kids talking about the manga series they were reading. Have you ever listened to two nerds talk about manga? Use the buddy system if you do, it may be necessary for someone to drag you away before the sheer amount of information they retain, the convoluted plotlines, the talking gender-assigned weapons, and competitive fanboy condescension triggers a murderous berserker attack.
When I’d more or less overcome the urge to scale the shelves and attack from above and beat them both to death with a One Piece boxed set, I found myself thinking about what they were talking about, or at least about the few keywords of their conversation that had stuck with me.
So later, on my lunch break, I came up with this. I only had twenty minutes, so it’s rough and awkward. There is a lot sitting in the shadows, just behind what I was able to get down on paper….
Through the scope the boy slouched lower in his metal chair. One hand rested on the table, fingers around his cup. The fingers of his left hand drummed along his thigh.
He looked quite relaxed. Quite free. It was abnormal. No one looked like that. Since he had sat down, he had not once looked around, or over his shoulder. When two police officers had passed by the small patio, he did not look up. He did not even notice. The other customers had noticed. They had all put down their cups or silverware, they had watched the patrol pass by and continue to the corner, where they turned and headed for the last checkpoint on Zraly Street before the wall. Only after they were out of sight did anyone return to their paper, their conversation, their meals or tea. Except this boy.
But it wasn’t right to call him a boy when they were very near in age. He had always been like that to her, too. Relaxed. The city around them had never seemed to exist for him. The people, the places, they did, they were all there for him to interact with, to navigate through. But the real city—the one that built the wall, that enforced the curfew, and that armed the police patrols, that city never seemed to exist for him.
She had never been to this part of the city before.
When he slouched, the barrel of the rifle pointed at his chest from twelve stories up and half a block away lowered a fraction of an inch. The brain attached to the rifle hadn’t even noticed the movement. There was no realization that such an adjustment was necessary, no calculations to determine how much in order to keep the target perfectly within the crosshairs. The target moved. The rifle moved. The brain attached to it was no longer a part of the equation. The girl possessing this brain was no longer a part of the equation. Training had eradicated that, eliminated every trace of individual thought. Nearly.
“Take the shot,” the voice said.
The girl hesitated.