Throughout all my writing (including TMITHC especially) there is a preoccupation with fakes and the fake: fake worlds, fake humans, fake objects, fake time, etc… Again and again I attempt to formulate critieria for what is fake and what is not fake. (21:22, Part Two, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick)
TMITHC is a fascinating adjunct to all this, i.e., to the Gestalt. Fakes are discussed. Alternate universes exist. Fascism is the topic, and a book is reality, which seems to have some connection with Tears. TMITHC seems to be a subtle, even delicate questioning of, what is real? As if only the 2 books in it, Grasshopper and the I Ching, are really the only actual reality. Strange. (19:35, Part Two, The Exegesis…)
Juliana’s bra size is thirty-eight, signaling the 38th hexagram in the I Ching, ‘opposition is a prerequisite for union.’ The ongoing bra references are a metaphor for our own irreality, an effort to lift-and-separate the converging realities, the borders of which we cannot otherwise perceive.” (Archer Maytree, controversial PKD scholar and author of The Grasshopper Lies: The Philip K. Dick of the I Ching, p. 38)
This year’s Exegesis with a side of fiction PKD challenge hosted by BookPunks means that I have officially overdosed on Philip K. Dick and it’s a lot worse than just seeing a pink light while an AI satellite channels God or something into my brain. I’ve temporarily postponed The Three Stigmata of Timothy Archer because I simply could not do with more quasi-religious psychedelics, and moved ahead to his politically-charged alt-history The Man in the High Castle. This was a good decision.
‘But this book,’ Reiss thought, ‘is dangerous.’ (134)
Subgenre: Incendiary, my favorite subgenre, but The Man in the High Castle is PKD in coherent form, making sense out of discord, discord out of comfort, but, unlike his other works, it’s based on a fictional logic that, for once, is traceable to the end. As a novel based on the alt-world of victorious WWII Axis powers, utilized in a way to reflect the lifestyle of hypocrisy in our own Allied victory reality, as PKD is no loyal servant to any big government host. TMITHC highlights the fascist, racist, and neo-imperialistic reality of our US/British-conquered world via a fictional alt-history overlay, a semi-fictional alt-history novel published within this fictional alt-history world. Sounds confusing, but it’s just a potent slap in the face, especially in these here times.
Of all the PKD works I’ve read so far, TMITHC is the most directly preoccupied on every level with the authentic versus inauthentic, threading the idea through from top to bottom, suggesting that he perhaps put more time and thought into this novel compared to his others. Strangely, as others have commented, this feeling of cohesiveness makes TMITHC feel less sublimely discombobulating and more like basic cookie-cutter genre (though I’m not entirely convinced his other books are oh, so, different from this). And yet, that in itself fits the overall motif of TMITHC, the real versus the irreal, in which genuine pieces of amorphous jewelry are imbued with the Chinese concept of “wu,” while their identical, mass-manufactured fakes lack the same quality. In a book that is about a book about a possibly more genuine reality than either the fictional reality of TMITHC or our own, then really, to be true to the motif, TMITHC should feel artificial and lacking “wu” (Maytree, 38). And it does this very well.
Of course, another argument explaining the very un-PKDness of the novel could be that Dick didn’t actually write TMITHC. Friends state that PKD claimed to have used the I Ching for the plotting of this novel, thereby requiring PKD to actually plot his novel. It is the belief of some that the I Ching actually wrote TMITHC (Maytree, 43). This makes even more sense, frankly.
Be warned. The potential for readerly discomfort is present here: characters often rely on offensive epithets and stereotypes directed toward each other, modified in ways to fit this alt-worldview, but that part of their reality isn’t far from our own. In other words, this book is full of unsympathetic, racist characters, who, despite living in a different reality, aren’t very different from the unsympathetic, racists of the real world. And let’s also admit that his direct portrayals racism, while effective when taken from the perspective of the entire text, feel disingenuous on a case-by-case basis. He just can’t quite nail it, and perhaps due to reading other PKD novels where his handling of women and POCs is even more clumsy, I just can’t give him credit here.
In addition, one thing he overlooks, as always, is his own sexism, even though he plays it up in his characters. That’s default mode for PKD and one he is completely blind to, sacrificing character consistency to feminine whims when the plot calls for it. His audacious female protagonist Juliana, who knows Judo, intimidates men, and eventually murders an evil Nazi, doesn’t hesitate to spend a strange man’s small fortune on designer dresses, disintegrates into bumbling hysteria when confronted with male reticence, and ends the story with serious thoughts of returning to her loser ex-husband. She is also really concerned with her bra, which is clearly another PKD “what her breasts are doing” moment, though it’s true that underclothes do sometimes take up more mental space than one would expect.
It’s at this point in my PKD readings that I’ve finally turned to the critics in my growing library SF nonfiction to see what they have to say and I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t in some way mythologize PKD as a writer, attributing his haste, his vagueries, his disconnect to some sort of deeper insight into reality, or at least the craft of writing– a diviner of genre, if you will. Sure, Archer Maytree characterizes Dick as some sort of divine vessel of enlightenment, claiming his own frequent encounters with an Axis-dominated irreality after reading TMITHC (The Grasshopper Lies, 51) (stories which resulted in that famous drunken punch-out and long-time feud with Tim Powers), but even Joanna Russ, who stops just short of calling Dick a bourgeois slob who fetishizes marginalized groups and the lower classes, sees his work as “best in its digressions and at its periphery and weakest at the center (F&SF, 1973, as printed in The Country You Have Never Seen, pp. 106-107). (The “bourgeois” comment being not a precise paraphrase, and I may be projecting, and I also totally agree). For me, viewing his work for the first time in early mid-life, post-new millennium lassitude, and not as someone who grew up under his underdog influence, nothing about his messy convolutions blow my mind or inspire deeper thoughts about reality, but TMITHC is the convergence of two fictional experiences: good, politically-damning SF, if a bit stilted and artificial.