The Literary Horizon: The Man in the High Castle, Conquistador

I find alternate history endlessly fascinating, and the genre lends itself to plot-focused works rather than character-focused. While I prefer both in my reading, I do like things to happen, especially to characters I like. (This is my problem with the recent film adaptation of Thor; the characters are great, but the story is kind of… eh.) So, in any case, today we’re looking at a venerable piece of alternate history and a newer piece.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

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.

via Amazon

I’m not sure what to make of that description, since it both manages to privilege “the serious novel of ideas” over science fiction while admitting there can be overlap. Oh, well. This was one of the first pieces of alternate history that I ever heard of, and everywhere I look, it’s pretty highly recommended.

J. C. at The Biblio Blogazine thinks it’s a great introduction to Philip K. Dick; Val at Val’s Random Comments finds it enjoyable, deep, and challenging, although not quite as deserving of its reputation as expected.

The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962.

Conquistador by S. M. Stirling

A new alternate history of America from the author of The Peshawar Lancers, the bestselling novel the Chicago Sun-Times called “a pleasure to read” and Harry Turtledove hailed as “first-rate adventure all the way.”

1945: An ex-marine has discovered a portal that permits him to travel between the America he knows-and a virgin America untouched by European influence. 21st century: The two realities collide…

via Amazon

While changing the outcome of certain wars is pretty standard in alternate history, the absence of European colonization isn’t, at least to my knowledge, which is what interested me. The concept of a world where Europeans did not colonize as much as they did is fascinating to me. I actually own a copy of this; I bought it at a local thrift store to keep me in books while in Ireland. But I think it might focus less on that than I want…

Steven H. Silver at the SF Site enjoyed it, especially the characters; Stuart Jaffe at infinity plus enjoyed it, especially the worldbuilding, but thinks Stirling can do so much better.

Conquistador was published on March 2, 2004.

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