The United States of Japan
By Peter Tieryas
Philip K Dick's novel The Man in the High Castle is one of my favourite all time reads. An alternative history novel that sees the Axis winning the second World War and splitting the USA between Germany on the East coast,Japan on the West and a small neutral zone in the middle. There is an author who believes differently though, the author of a secret, underground novel that is spoken in whispers by those looking for something better. A book known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. This book it tells a story of the Allies winning the war, of American freedom from oppression. If you haven't read it you are missing out, bigtime.
The Man in the High Castle was always intended to be a trilogy however the author just couldn't get to grips with the horrifically dark subject matter that was the Nazi regime and so until now we have not seen past this story.
The United States of Japan continues the journey that PKD started and is set decades later in 1980's Japan controlled California. Many American's now worship their infalliable Emperor and history has been re-written showing Japan's role in the war as exemplary with nothing but honourable conduct. There is however a small but persistent group of rebels known as "The George Washingtons" who fight for freedom and try to disrupt the totalitarium regime with an underground videogame that allows players to imagine what life would have been like if the Allies had won the war.
Captain Beniko Ishimura, videogame censor, is tasked with getting to the bottom of this terrorism but it seems the George Washingtons and their videogame are even more subversive and more dangerous than anyone had suspected. Before long he is joined by Akiko Tsukino, a member of the secret police force and together they try and unravel the mystery around this revolutionary group.
The biggest danger of continuing someone else's work is that fans of the original won't appreciate it, that it doesn't hold up. It's also dangerous to fall into the trap of just repeating what the first author wrote and trying too hard to write in their voice. Tieryas avoids both these traps, there s clearly a continuation from PKD's work and the style of writing — the attention to character and detail in particluar — draws inspiration from PKD however its also clearly the authors own voice, paying respect rather than trying to copy.
Tieryas manages to bring PKD's vision to a gloriously different 1980's — a more technologically advanced 80's than our own, a wonderfully rich alternative history distopia of oppressive authority and post-cyberpunk. This is a world where Japan's technological prowess has progressed unhindered, with giant robots, smartphones, genetic engineering and advanced biomechanical alterations. It's a dizzying and vivid vision that moves at a fast and constant pace -alternating between some wonderfully energetic action sequences and rich, intelligent dialogue. We even get treated to action sequences featuring these giant freaking robots — worth reading for these bits alone. The book reads as this deliciously dark thriller, a world where the wrong word to the wrong person at the wrong time will make you disappear quicker than a politicians promise.
Lets run that by one more time, this is a thriller set within one of PKD's finest creations and comes complete with post-cyberpunk technology, giant robots and a brutal, corrupt regime. Not written to the same tone without being contrite but also avoiding coming across as "fanmade" fiction.
The United States of Japan is a tremendous book, it's got a wonderfully dark and rich atmosphere, great action, intelligent and twisted story and above all not only does it pay homage to one of the finest authors of the 20th century but also continues one of his most celebrated and yet most difficult works — simply wonderful.
Written on 17th February 2016 by Ant .