Evidently we go on, as we always have. From day to day. At this moment we work against Operation Dandelion. Later on, at another moment, we work to defeat the police. But we cannot do it all at once; it is a sequence. An unfolding process. We can only control the end by making a choice at each step.

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, Mariner Books, New York, 1962, at page 260

Fifteen years after the capitulation of the Allied forces at the end of the Second World War, a moral and ethical darkness pervades the world. The United States is occupied by Nazi Germany on the East Coast and Imperial Japan in the West. Group characteristics, rather than individual character, define your lot in life; slavery is legal and some groups remain targets for extermination.

In the middle of this grim American landscape lies a narrow buffer zone - the unoccupied Rocky Mountain states. It is here that a mysterious author, the man in the high castle, has penned a science fiction story of an alternate present where the Allies won the War. The banned book and the world it depicts have captured the imagination of the public. The novel is such a source of irritation to the Reich that, even on the eve of plotting the nuclear destruction of their former Pacific ally, plans are afoot to assassinate its enigmatic writer.

Philip K. Dick’s novel serves as a thought experiment – an extrapolation of last century’s most disturbing ideologies. It is a reminder of how bleak day-to-day life can be in a world lacking any meaningful controls on state authority.

The novel also depicts the intellectual and artistic poverty of a society where freedom of expression is curtailed. The censorship of books has been accompanied by the decimation of other forms of entertainment - one of the last surviving great comedians is forced to broadcast from Canada. Dick reminds us that an inability to laugh is a symptom of a society in serious trouble.

Dick also explores our motivations for collecting objects and examines how we imbue inanimate items with special meaning through our thoughts. Furthermore, he contemplates the characteristics that define an object as authentic or genuine and suggests that sometimes a replica may be even better than the real thing.

A worthwhile read.

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