Just started reading this so I'm not sure yet what I think about it. I got it because Ursula K. Le Guin said at one point that it was the best science fiction novel ever, or something like that. So far it's done one cool thing which is show me my American privilege, that I'm not usually very aware of. Everyone in the world wants to learn to speak English. Nobody looks askance at me because I'm in too nice a neighborhood for my ethnicity. And I don't feel like a stranger or outsider in my own country. The racism and anti-semitism of this society are much worse than us here now, but part of it is that what there is doesn't happen to people of my ethnicity and skin color. That reversal is very interesting to explore. The sexism, though, seems completely unconscious, as is unsurprising for the early 60s. So that's doubly ironic. More to come later.
The novel dropped down behind my bed for a few days, but tonight I fished it out and finished it. I realized I didn't much like any of the characters or any of the action so far, when I faced my reluctance to get down and find it under the bed. The action became compelling shortly afterward, but I still found the ending very unsatisfying. Maybe in 1962 just the fact of an alternate history was sufficient to make it cool? Maybe knowing that he actually used the I Ching in writing the book makes it cool, in some 60s hippy way? Maybe the suggestion that truth is contingent, that history isn't fixed, was why people liked it so much? I mean, UKL loved it! I'm kind of appalled at that. Am I so dumb that I just don't get it? Or did that boat sail in 1965 or so and 47 years later it's just too dated to be good anymore? I'm not really sure.
In what sense was the book-within-the-book actually true inside the book (as the oracle declares at the end)? In what sense is the book actually true inside our world? The book-within-the-book that the oracle declares as truth is not equivalent to our world, not even back then when he wrote it. A number of major things are different, including Churchill still being in power and Hitler living to be tried as a war criminal. So why is it true? Is it just that reality, history is a matter of the imagination? I don't think I'll be seeking out and reading more PKD on the strength of this one. Please, people who loved it, feel free to explain why I'm wrong in the comments.