Narrator: Jeff Cummings
Published by Brilliance Audio on 2 June 2015
Length: 9 hrs and 58 mins
Genres: Alternate History, Science Fiction
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It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war - and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan. This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.
©1962 Philip K. Dick, © renewed 1990 by Laura Coelho, Christopher Dick, and Isa Hackett. (P)2014 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.
In this alternate history, the US and it’s allies lost WWII in the 1940s. The US in 1962 is divided up between Germany and Japan, with an unoccupied strip in the middle following the Rocky Mountain Range. A banned novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is read by many of the main characters, influencing their choices, but perhaps not as much as the popular I Ching.
It was very interesting visiting this SF classic after having watched the first season of the TV series. Juliana is one of the few ladies to have a full name and a role in the plot. She’s Frank Frink’s ex-wife and lives in Canon City in the neutral Mountain States teaching martial arts. Meanwhile, Frank is still in San Francisco working at a metalsmith’s shop. He’s one of a shrinking number of Jewish Americans living in the Japanese occupied states. For me, it was these two characters that I initially gravitated towards the most.
A Mountain States author wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some years ago and it was initially banned in all Axis occupied lands. However, Japan lifted it’s ban and this has allowed the book to spread a bit. This book depicts a world in which the Allies won; the book’s WWII outcome doesn’t reflect our historical reality but provides yet another possible scenario which I found interesting. Most of the main characters have an interaction with this book and each character’s reaction is a bit different. Juliana becomes a bit obsessed with the book after she meets a truck driver, Joe Cinnadella, who let her borrow his copy.
I didn’t particularly like Juliana after she hooked up with Joe. Her character really had this shift that I didn’t find fully believable. I also noticed the same thing happen with Robert Childan, the man who runs a San Francisco antiques store. Both characters change direction and are then used by the plot. It felt like PKD wrote a quarter of this novel, set it aside, and when he came back to it he decided he wanted to take a different path but was too lazy to rewrite these characters to fit what came next. Instead, he just has this rather swift shift in character for each of them that feels unnatural the rest of the book.
While there is not much more than a peek into Nazi-occupied US, we do hear quite a bit about the Germans. They have a huge advantage in technology, so much so that they are sending Germans to Mars and Venus to colonize them. Japan is increasingly falling behind in their tech and tensions continue to mount between these two world powers. I did get a giggle out of the apparent jump in tech and science (colonizing Mars) and yet the Germans and Japanese continue to use tape recorders. I just had to keep in mind that this book was originally published in 1962 and many authors, even the SF greats, rarely saw any tech beyond physical recordings on some sort of plastic strip.
The story winds up the reader, tightening the tension with each chapter. Some characters are just trying to get by. Others are actively assisting the German government in maintaining their current world dominance. Some few are interested in finding a way out of this Germany/Japanese controlled world for everyone. Yet even as the story reaches what I was expecting to be the final crescendo, nothing truly big happens at the end. Most of our characters are still, for the most part, stuck in their various situations trying to find a way out. Nothing is truly resolved. Since I wasn’t fully invested in the characters, I was OK with that. This novel was pretty mediocre for me.
The Narration: Jeff Cummings was OK. He did fine with regional American accents but his foreign accents were pretty rough, especially his Italian accent. He did do a good job imbuing the characters with emotions at the right times.
This review first appeared on Dab of Darkness.
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