No, I have not seen the Amazon Prime show. And no, I have no plans to.
Let’s talk about the genre of Alternate History. According to WikiPedia, Alternate History falls under the more broadly-defined genre of Speculative Fiction, which, according to one dictionary entry, is said to encompass “any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.” Under the same umbrella, we find Science Fiction. I suppose, in that case, we could consider Alternate History to be a kind of “sister” genre to Science Fiction.
Or maybe Alternate History is Science Fiction. Some people think it is. Others staunchly object (check out the comments, if you dare, on this article). Still others consider Alternate History to be a sub-genre of Science Fiction, or sub-sub-genre, or a sub-sub-sub-genre. Who could possibly function in such a quagmire of complexity?
Here’s my hot take on the subject: If we are committed, as we seem to be, to shelving our books according to genre, then I reserve the right to observe the broadest definitions possible of each genre. Stories considered Alternate History are, therefore, also Science Fiction. Don’t try to argue with me.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is a work of Alternate History. And of Science Fiction. I can say that, and you can’t stop me. It takes place in a world where the Axis powers were victorious in World War II, and imagines life in a United States that has been divided between Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Many of the characters practice divination using the I Ching, making decisions based on their interpretation of the book’s passages, and indeed the I Ching is quite common among the citizens of the US. There also exists in this world a subversive piece of literature that posits a completely different world, an Alternate History, one that seems fantastical to the inhabitants of this conquered America. What is it? Read the book. Don’t watch the show.
After reading The Man in the High Castle, I was left with a desire to dig deeper into the history of World War II, and I discovered that I didn’t know nearly as much about it as I thought I did. Along with that, I looked into the I Ching and studied Taoism. It’s a beautiful thing when a work of fiction can be more than mere entertainment, when it goes beyond showing the reader fantastic realities and introduces us to the more distant parts of our own world that we never knew existed.
The Man in the High Castle was originally published in 1962, seventeen years after the end of WWII. I imagine the horrors of the war were still somewhat fresh in people’s minds. Certainly they wouldn’t have forgotten the abominations brought upon the world by the Nazis. These days, seeing the Nazis’ twisted ideologies still very much alive world-wide, I can’t help but wonder about the version of history we learned in school. After all, they taught us that we defeated the Nazis in WWII.
See you next time.