This novel, an alternative history first published in 1962, has been sitting on my TBR list for a while now. I bumped it up the list after reading my GR friend Megan's recent excellent review. I was not disappointed. Instead, I was stunned and disturbed.
The novel takes place in a world in which the Axis powers won World War II and between them Nazi Germany and Japan - and to a much lesser extent Italy - control the world. What was the United States is split into three: the Eastern states controlled Germany, the Pacific states controlled by Japan and the unoccupied area in the middle which acts as a buffer state between the rival super powers - former allies now involved in a Cold War. In the world of the novel, Japan is a relatively benign conqueror, while Nazi Germany remains terrifying. Slavery is again legal, Africa has been devastated by a holocaust and what was the South of the former United States is a place too horrible to contemplate going to. The narrative follows a number of characters as they negotiate the uncertain and dangerous world in which they live. There is a story within this story. It involves an alternative history novel which a number of the characters read and discuss. In that novel, Germany and Japan lost the war, but the world of that novel is not our world. Moreover, as characters contemplate what their world would have been like had the Allies won the war, they each come up with different scenarios.
Dick creates a frightening world in which the confusion of realities is a central theme. What's real, what's not? Maybe everything. Maybe nothing. With its sharp, clear prose, interesting characterisation and claustrophobic and paranoid atmosphere, this is a novel which will haunt me for a long time.