Okay, so I came to this book from the very excellent Amazon show, and it almost seems unfair to review it now when I’ll always have the comparison in my mind. As source material for the very excellent show, it’s very rich in subject, and I was impressed by Philip K Dick’s ability to get the mindset and cadences correct, of living — or having lived — in a nation that is essentially an Asian colony. Childan is easily the most interesting character here, a man whose inner rage at being seen as lesser is perverted into both a lusting after Japanese culture and a hatred of, paradoxically, both Japanese people and his own background. Frank is the most sympathetic, a man seeking his destiny while realistically and humanely viewing his circumstances. I liked Tagomi a lot and thought his struggles with his conscience were more profound than Frank’s. Juliana is at once the smartest person in the book and yet the hardest to identify with. She is not a stable person, or a very likeable one, yet Mr Dick clearly meant her to be the heroine of the piece. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around her. I don’t know if I don’t like her because I kept being told I ought to, instead of persuaded, or whether it had to do with her casual racism and, to a certain extent, a misogyny that permeated the writing of her. It’s just that, compared to the richness of all the other (male) main characters, she seems more like a sketch, more an unmedicated bundle of neuroses than a real person. I don’t think Mr Dick meant to make her lesser than the men, but I don’t think he knew how to make her the heroine he wanted her to be.
He does an amazing job of writing alternative history within alternative history, and this definitely ranks as a sci-fi classic. And yet, and yet. Once you watch the Amazon show, you realize how broadly and deeply you can go with what was begun here. Essential reading, yes, but if you can, you should really watch the show.