FICTION AND THE POWER OF COUNTERFACTUALS
I recently had lunch with Dave Schuler
of The Glittering Eye
and Lexington Green
of Chicago Boyz
, and during the course of the conversation, Dave and Lex spoke animatedly about science fiction author Philip K. Dick
and his novel, The Man in the High Castle
. Outside of Russian lit, I haven't read much fiction since my teens and early twenties ( my last sojurn was re-reading The Catcher in the Rye
in Jamaica last year) and I had not heard of the book that had made such an impression on them.
Lex was kind enough to lend me a copy, which I finished reading the other day. The Man in The High Castle
is a fabulous read, and if you like science fiction or counterfactual history and have not read it, you might wish to pick it up.
I won't spoil the plot, but the setting is in a world where the Axis utterly won WWII. America is divided into an East coastal United States occupied by the Third Reich; a Pacific States of America on the West coast under Imperial Japanese hegemony; and a nominally independent, lightly populated Rocky mountains- Great Plains state. The South, with an indulgent nod from Berlin, has reinstituted slavery for African-Americans. As Lex and Dave had suggested, an intriguing aspect of the novel is the depiction of Americans with the mentality of a conquered people, inadvertantly admiring and aping their foreign rulers despite themselves. A psychology that is entirely outside the American historical experience, excepting of course, in the old South.As I have mentioned previously
thinking is useful as well as entertaining. It leads us to give old ideas a second look in a new light. The greater the "realism" of the counterfactual scenario, the more attractive it is to puzzle through. Philip K. Dick did his homework with his novel, obviously having dipped into Hitler's infamous " second book
", unpublished in the dictator's lifetime, records of his table talk
and perhaps some of the Nazi-Japanese diplomatic exchanges. His scenario follows what Axis leaders speculatively sketched out for " the next war" in the 1930's when they were still planning the "limited "wars that set off WWII and ended their quest for world domination.
I won't give away the specifics of the plot for The Man in The High Castle
but the counterfactual aspect is worth your time alone.