What I’m reading this week: “The Man in the High Castle

Conquered. Occupied. Stripped of power and privilege. Dick’s classic 1962 novel imagines life in an America that lost World War II. The Nazis and Japanese fascists have conquered the United States and divided it into territories, the spoils of war, over which they rule supreme. The Pacific States are controlled by fascist Japan– the South and East states, by Nazi Germany. The Rocky Mountain states lay in between, dismissed and overlooked, a no-mans land where the German and Japanese superpowers struggle for power in a diplomatic Cold War.

Much of the action takes place in San Francisco and the west coast. It’s a horrifying world fraught with deception, cruelty, greed and prejudice cloaked in banality and extreme cultural control. In this nightmare world, the dream of an alternative universe in which the United States England, and Russia won the war captures the imaginations of millions-— sparked by a wildly popular book-within-a-book that describes this mirror world in vivid detail. The book’s central characters struggle to reconcile these twin visions, which are more alike than not, as the plot drives them inexorably toward the climactic confrontation with the book-within-a-book’s author, the Man in the High Castle.

Written in the 1960s, Dick’s novel remains a work of genius however its blunt style and raw depictions of deep-seated racial animus raise the question of how it would be received if it was written in today’s world of reactionary divisiveness and identity politics. Another question is whether he intended his book to be a subtle indictment of the post World War II new world order of the 1960s, which at the time had its own forms of social control, cruelty, deception, greed, and prejudice. The novel’s descriptions of what American life might be like under fascist control leaves no question that a German/Japanese victory would have led to a dystopian hellscape of a society. Yet it subtly hints at a third way, between the darkness and the light, for which we all unconsciously yearn, yet which may only ever be a dream.

What I’m reading this week: “Zardoz”

Shaft of light inside a lava tube at Mojave National Preserve

What I’m reading this week: “Zardoz,” by John Boorman. 👽📚 A gigantic stone head levitates over a futuristic grass-covered landscape, spewing guns from its cavernous mouth to its bloodthirsty followers below. Sean Connery (a.k.a. the original James Bond) is among them as Zed the Exterminator. He’s bare-chested in a red loincloth, and sports a black ponytail and 1970s handlebar moustache. A dazzling menage of bizarre scenes unfolds from there, complete with freaky caves, macrame-clad “Eternals,” psychic probes, and trippy kaleidoscopic interludes. Through it all, the gargantuan stone head floats, god-like, in and out of the action to say and do terrible things.

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Zardoz, the book

I picked up a pristine original pulp copy of this sci-fi oddity at Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree. I was drawn to it like a Brutal to a cache of corn and fleeces. Upon reading it, I was delighted to find that Zardoz the novel is as wonderfully weird and non-sequitur as the film is. The novel was written by the screenwriter and based on the cult classic film.

Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree, Calif. They specialize in rare and awesome pulp sci-fi.

Zardoz the film is a corpulent tour de force that encapsulates everything wrong with 1970s-era filmmaking, and somehow everything that is awesome about it at the same time. The prose in Zardoz the book is just as, ahem, imaginative as the film. A seminal work from a truly strange place and time in pop culture.

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