I read The Man in The High Castle about two hundred and fifty years ago when I was a kid. I remember I'd picked it up in the library because it had just about the coolest cover I had ever seen. The was a map of the USA, but it was filled with a Japanese Rising Sun on one side, and a Nazi Swastika on the other. It was black, red, and white, and if a book could look angry, this book was the angriest looking one I'd ever saw.
That book, that day, helped changed my life.
I read it, and even though I was only a kid my mind was truly blown. I think since then I've managed to read pretty much everything else PKD wrote, and it is a stunning body of work. But The Man in the High Castle, for me, stands literally head and shoulders over all the rest.
I've asked myself that question several times since I first read the book. It took me years to figure it out but, finally, I think the answer lies in me not knowing if I am brave enough.
Let me explain.
Before I became a writer I was an English bobby for ten years, in the tough northern city of Liverpool. In the early days of my Police training, and the first few weeks out on patrol, there was one thing I was worried about. It wasn't whether or not I'd be scared of dead bodies, it wasn't whether or not I'd be able to remember the law on Public Order, and it wasn't whether or not I would be able to direct traffic in the middle of a busy junction.
It was whether or not I was brave enough.
It was whether or not I'd run towards trouble, and then stand and fight. It was whether or not the people I worked with could trust me to be there when they looked around for help.
As it turned out, I'm relieved to say that I was. Over the years I discovered something else, which was that pretty much everyone else I worked with had suffered the same concern as me.
I suppose it's just human nature.
Of course there were a couple of people I worked with who couldn't be relied on. They were the ones who wouldn't turn up, or who would go missing when the moment came. We accepted that, and we would usually work around it until they ended up behind a desk somewhere, and we carried on working the streets at two in the morning, living on our nerves, strong coffee, and always looking over our shoulders.
Years later, after a bad chicken sandwich (which is another story for another time) I started to write my first book, The Darkest Hour. My book shared the same basic idea that the Nazis had won the war, and it ruminated about the oppression and evil that would have followed that grimmest of grim outcomes.
Unlike the Philip K Dick's masterpiece I shied away from the grand political maneuvering, but not because I'm not interested in it (I love all that political shenanigan stuff, and one day I'll write a book about it) it was because I think the little man or woman on the ground, in the middle of the storm, looking in the mirror and asking themselves "am I brave enough?" is more interesting.
We are those little men and women. We, the descendents of the greatest generation who did it against Hitler, we are the people who would have to get down and dirty, not the politicians, not the top generals.
Winning wars, doing the right thing, standing up to evil, isn't about grand political gestures.
It is about one person gritting their teeth, and running towards the fight.
A book can't answer the question, a book, even one as good as The Man in the High Castle, can't decide if you would do the right thing and stand up, only you can do that.
So ask yourself, and answer honestly, would you have been brave enough?Suggest a correction