The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick
I watched the first episode of the Amazon Prime adaptation and thought to myself “no, stop!” and decided to read the book first instead. Alternative history is a genre that’s always fascinated me but I’ve never taken the plunge and read one, probably due to the fact I feel like I need a certain base level knowledge of a certain event/period before I can and, even though I have a History A Level, I felt I was probably lacking the prerequisite.
TMITHC is based around the notion of the Nazis and Japan winning WWII and it’s startling to think that this book was written just fifteen years after VE Day. Imagine George Orwell’s 1984 meets Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and The Wizard Of Oz and you’re kind of there with this book . It focuses on individual characters and their first person narratives, all of which overlap in the end (and most notably one American-born character is so keen to curry the favour of the Japanese now living in San Fransico and as his leaders that he thinks like them), and the search for ‘The Man In The High Castle’ who has written a piece of literature where the Allies win the war instead. I can understand that some may find this novel ever so slightly confusing (once you’ve read Catch 22 I think you become open to anything) and certain parts need a bit of a run-up but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I found this novel incredibly refreshing in its portrayal of a WWII result turned on its head for one reason: the Nazis aren’t the focus. Being in Europe our entire notion of WWII is the Nazis, Hitler and their rise and fall from power. Philip K Dick, as an American writer, focuses primarily on Japan and their takeover of the West coast of the USA (the country has been split in three, with the West given to the Japanese, the East to the Nazis and a no-man’s land created in the middle). America obviously has more of a focus on Japan given the events of Pearl Harbour, but as a European I found it very refreshing to read it without the Nazis being a key focus. They do lurk in the background and aren’t totally ignored as most of the characters are in two minds as to whether they are in fact better off under the Japanese rule or whether they would prefer to be on the East coast with the innovations of the Nazis, but it’s made clear that both sides have taken very different routes since WWII. There’s also the constant fear of Jews being discovered and sent to new concentration camps which have been set up near New York.
TMITHC also introduced me to my new favourite phrase, ‘a pot pourri of pointlessness’, which went straight in my Twitter bio.
Swan Song by Edmund Crispin
I took a punt a while ago and bought a set of Gervase Fen novels and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made – they’re joyous. Focusing on an amateur detective/university don, the erudite but lumbering Fen, they’re set in and around wartime Oxford. I’ve read four of the novels so far and aside from one which involves government spies in its plot, the war itself is barely mentioned – it just so happens that they were written as being set in the present and at the time a war was on, rarely being used as a direct plot device.
Crispin keeps the time periods in each novel brief – the goings on rarely happen over a period of time longer than week and during one book, The Moving Toyshop, the plot is wrapped up in just over 24 hours. These books are witty, clever and knowing, occasionally breaking the fourth wall with a glorious knowing wink, far more obtuse than Christie’s inclusion of Ariadne Oliver but better for it.
I wouldn’t say this is my favourite Fen novel but it’s certainly enjoyable and the payoff at the end is incredibly clever. These books are hugely satisfying and great fun to read – you’ll love them if you like a classic murder mystery, and (dare I say it) are far more fun than anything Agatha Christie of Dorothy L Sayers ever wrote.
Long reads & articles
I ❤ Jackie Tyler As a Doctor Who loving pre-teen, a magazine created precisely for my audience was a Godsend and I have fond memories of reading Doctor Who Adventures. The inclusion of a pocket FM radio as a free gift meant so much to me as a radio obsessed child, too! One of the team members involved with its launch looks back on ten glorious years. I even remember some of the page spreads included in the post!
Marcia With The People vs. OJ Simpson finishing, here’s a great interview with Marcia Clark.
Top Of The Nots Peter Robinson on the moments in pop music that *almost* happened.
Monica Jon Ronson revisits Monica Lewinsky from the perspective of his hit book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed?
All Fun & Games How Hasbro exploited the Magdalene women
Achoo! What happens when your video goes viral?
Shitpic Ever wondered why so many viral pictures and memes shared on Facebook and Twitter look like they’ve been faxed in and photocopied on a printer with little ink left? This is why.