The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick, also describes a divided America – this time between the German and Japanese forces that have won World War II. Most of the action is set on the Japanese side of the line, while the novel hints at Nazi atrocities committed elsewhere.
While The Years Of Rice And Salt is often about the movers and shakers of the world, this novel is about the under-dogs and middle-men, the Americans under occupation, scraping by and trying to make an honest or dishonest buck. Fakes and fake fakes abound: the Americans are forging historical Americana for the Japanese collectors. The I Ching features heavily again – and yes, I, the author and the cast of the novel are all aware this is not a Japanese philosophy! It’s been introduced to America by the Japanese and is there for a reason. Meanwhile a sudden German leadership contest forces the Japanese colonists and diplomats to choose between supporting different flavours of inhumanity.
The central mystery within the novel is another alternative history novel, banned on the German side of the line, which seems to depict a world in which the Germans and Japanese have lost the war. In the final chapter, a meeting with the author of the novel leads to a subtle, existential twist in the tail, foreshadowed by an earlier scene where a minor character briefly finds himself in our reality. It’s the perfectly executed prestige at the end of a great conjuror’s illusion.