The Man in High Castle
Published 1963, the premise of Philip K. Dick's alternative history novel is simple: what if America and the Allied powers had lost World War II? The Man in High Castle conjures up a world in which America is under occupation by Japan and Germany, rocket travel is common, and slavery is legal once again. Cleverly, The Man in High Castle is also a story-within-a-story. The titular man is the author of an alternative history (within the history of the story) entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy wherein the Allies defeat the Axis. The bulk of the narrative mainly takes place in San Francisco, around the five characters: Bob Childan (antiques shop owner), Frank Frink (a Jewish-American who keeps his identity secret), Nobusuke Tagomi (Japanese official), Juliana Frink (Frank's ex-wife) and Joe Cinnadella (Italian ex-soldier). If you're wondering about how they all connect, don't worry. The novel expects you to be confused. It took me some time to get all the characters straight, and understand the quirks and lingo of the alternate reality. What inspired me to pick up this book a half a century after its publication was the new TV series of the same name (I'm a strong believer in reading before you watch) and (more honestly) the fact it was on sale at my college bookstore. I'll leave you with a meta quote from the last chapter (no spoilers, I promise!):
No wonder Mr. Tagomi could not go on, he thought. The terrible dilemma of our lives. Whatever happens, it is evil beyond compare. Why struggle, then? Why choose? If all alternatives are the same...
He thought, We can only hope. And try. On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components.
The Man in High Castle challenges its readers to imagine another world, and in doing so, gives its readers a lens to examine their current world.