Philip K Dick is characterized as a writer of science fiction, which is not a genre that I generally read. This book was recommended by one near and dear to me, so I approached it with an open mind. I knew it had one the Hugo Award the year it was written, and I know Dick has a huge following. A number of his books have been made into movies, such as: Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. I expect if you are a fan of his, you have read this book, as it is one of his most famous and is itself about to be made into a movie for the ScFi channel.
At any rate, for the rest of us who are not familiar with his work, this is an interesting book which is more like the Twilight Zone than a trip on the Starship Enterprise. My main issue with the book is that Dick's characters lack depth. It is difficult to care about them as their inner life is so hidden. They are rather representative of ideas, each with a role representing differing political ideologies. These characters are full of anxieties and foreboding, carrying the reader along with them. You just know something bad is going to happen. The basic plot centers on the premise that the Germans and Japanese have won World War II and have taken over the Western world. The few Jews who survive are either in hiding or living under assumed names and identities. The US has been divided with Germany controlling the Eastern half and Japan the Western. Of the two, the Japanese are clearly the more benevolent and are themselves threatened by Germany's growing power. The story takes place in 1962.
The author was deep into Taoism in his lifetime, and it shows in the writing. His characters have to wrestle with what it means to be human and have free will. His main characters Nobuske Tagomi and Juliana Frink worry about this, yet both seem to change in moments when faced with stressful situations. They become almost robot-like in their responses. This is the weakness in the story. How is it that their human nature is so altered almost to the point of insanity? Are drugs doing this? Are they being controlled in some other way?
There is also a secondary counter-story within the novel. It is an underground book with a cult following called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which details a parallel world where the Germans and Japanese have lost the war to the west.
All this may sound quite confusing, but it is not once you get into the book. I have read that Dick was a believer in the I Ching and used the throwing of the stalks to determine the outcome of the plot. He certainly has his characters do so. Whether he did so or not, we will never know as he died some time ago.
There is no doubt the story and the moral ambiguities it presents is an interesting and imaginative one. If you enjoy science fiction and haven't read this book, I would recommend you do so, or you might just like to try a different type of fiction for a change, as I did. It did not, however, make a convert of me.