A lot of sci-fi fans think it’s criminal that Dick only won one Hugo, and I would agree that this is not his best novel. Dick is odd enough that I don’t expect him to win these awards though. It’s like Quentin Tarantino and the Oscars; I love every Tarantino film I’ve seen, but I don’t begrudge the Academy for picking films with wider appeal. My first Philip K. Dick work, by the way, was VALIS, one of his last. VALIS is the semi-autobiographical story of a drug addict who receives coded messages from God via a hidden satellite in space. That pretty much sums up Philip K. Dick for those unfamiliar with his work (it is a pretty good book though.)
Anyway, High Castle is an interesting work, and, while it’s no Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which I will get a chance to talk about as we go), I think it’s a worthy representation of Dick’s work. It presents an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II and eventually conquered a stubbornly isolationist United States. Japan and Nazi Germany split North America down the middle. The two surviving powers are now involved in their own Cold War, though the rocket-loving and ruthless Nazis seem to have a decided advantage and have made it all the way to Mars. The novel takes place in California, which is in the Japanese half.
It’s a rich setting, but I can’t say there’s a ton of plot. A well-drawn and diverse array of characters wander around and try to live their lives under a totalitarian occupying power. Lots of people consult the I Ching for advice. Everyone reads an alternate history novel about a world where the Allies won the war (but not quite our world) which leads to some thoughts on parallel universes. Then, the book just sort of peters out.
It is a very interesting read though, and worth a look if you’re interested in Philip K. Dick (though you should really start with Do Androids Dream? first, if that’s the case).