The Sequel Philip K. Dick Couldn’t Write
We are excited to hand you guys over to Peter Tieryas who has kindly agreed to stop by Fantasy-Faction and tell us a bit about the inspiration for and motivation behind his upcoming book, United States of Japan. It’s a spiritual sequel to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and explores many of the tragedies that took place in Asia during WWII.
I’ve always loved The Man in the High Castle and I was surprised to learn that Philip K. Dick wanted to write a sequel, but couldn’t do it. As he stated in an interview: “It’s too horrible, too awful. I started several times to write a sequel, but I had to go back and read about Nazis again, so I couldn’t do it. Somebody would have to come in and help me–someone who had the stomach for it, the stamina, to think along those lines, to get into the head of the right character.”
Even before I wrote Bald New World, I knew I wanted to write a story bringing light to the horrific acts carried out by the Japanese military during WWII, killing from 17-22 million Asian civilians. There were countless others who suffered from forced prostitution, human experimentation, and brutal imprisonment, the extent of the atrocities being something even PKD wasn’t aware of.
At the same time, I didn’t want to write a work of historical fiction, at least at that juncture. And even though I’m of Asian descent, I still view myself as an American. The story I wanted to tell had to be a fusion of the two cultures, essentially an American story with Asian elements.
When I first found about Dick’s desire for a sequel, the question that popped in my head was: why don’t you try a spiritual sequel? It seemed like the perfect solution to what I wanted to write. But a part of me recoiled at the idea. The Man in the High Castle was a classic, a Hugo-Award winning masterpiece. Even to associate my new work with the book was to open myself to a lot of criticism, particularly when it came time for comparisons. PKD and I are very different writers with very different focuses. I admire him tremendously, and I hope readers can see his influence in my ideas and writing. But I felt sacrilegious following up one of the greatest writers I’ve ever read.
I’ve always felt a connection with Philip K. Dick because both of us are Berkeley drop-outs. Strange, I know. Dick had a variety of reasons he left school. I was forced to leave because of financial reasons. It was a tough year, and I found a lot of solace trying to get through a PKD book every other day, from Solar Lottery, Valis, The Divine Invasion, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and anything else I could find at the library. I could relate to his estranged protagonists, discovering that their reality is not really reality and that illusion was sometimes more powerful than a perceived truth. His disenfranchised outcasts had as little idea what to do with their lives as I did—I didn’t even know how I was going to make enough money to survive until the next month.
The Man in the High Castle was one of the most moving of PKD’s books that I read back then, taking place in an alternate history where the Axis forces won WWII even though its inhabitants dreamt of a universe where the Allies won. Their humanism and their attempt to both accept and defy fate through the I Ching was compelling. The Americans live under seemingly horrible conditions and each of the characters had to find their own unique way of enduring.
Philip K. Dick said his books usually revolve around two questions: “What is real?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?”
While his ontological and metaphysical speculations usually take the spotlight, the question of identity, about the “authentic human being,” was what attracted me most to The Man in the High Castle, as well as the rest of his books. His protagonists often stumble forward in an imperfect odyssey, filled with paranoia and fear. Sometimes, they have to act against their own beliefs, transgressing against what they believe in order to survive. Mr. Tagomi from High Castle says, “We are all insects. Groping towards something terrible or divine.” And the religious icon, Mercer, tells Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: “You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation.”
Fortunately in my personal life, the early exit from Berkeley ended up being the best thing for me as I ended up getting a dream job testing games and writing game manuals for LucasArts. I was able to draw on the programming and art lessons I’d had at Berkeley to eventually transition into the art department and find a career for myself.
My love for Philip K. Dick’s work never waned and I’ve revisited his novels every few years. Even though I’d put the initial idea of a spiritual sequel to The Man in the High Castle on hold, the idea kept on calling to me. It even had a name: United States of Japan.
As I’m wont to do when an idea whispers to me, I began outlining and writing short stories that take place in that world. The characters took on multiple permutations, evolving, morphing, and eventually coming to life. Before I knew it, I was thirty pages into the USJ. That first attempt ended up in disaster, an incoherent mess that I hated. It only seemed to confirm my initial resistance to take on the book. I was also troubled by the question of how I would portray Japan. Japanese culture has had a tremendous effect on me as a writer and as a person. Their films, their Manga, and their games have been a huge inspiration from Akira Kurosawa to Yukio Mishima. Some of the people I consider good friends are of Japanese descent. I wanted any book I’d write to be respectful to contemporary Japan, while at the same time, not holding back truths on the horrific acts the imperial military had inflicted. I found myself stalled. I would have given it up entirely if something akin to Steven Pressfield’s words from The War of Art hadn’t spoken to me: “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
A few months after that failed attempt, I returned to USJ and to my surprise, I found there were parts I actually liked. It served as the seed for the final form of the story. I culled what I needed and discarded anything that I didn’t. The book I wrote would have a different focus, different characters, even a different capital (Los Angeles rather than San Francisco) and history from The Man in the High Castle. There were a few more stunted efforts, but the core was there.
United States of Japan would revolve around two protagonists; a secret police agent named Akiko who sees herself as the modern samurai, and a mid-aged censor of video games named Ben whose expertise with programming and art would draw on my own background as a technical director in gaming and film. I speculated what I thought gaming, technology, and even warfare would be like in this alternate history. Giant mechas are the symbol of the Imperial Army as they fight against a bunch of American rebels who call themselves the George Washingtons. The 9th Army Technical Research Laboratory was a real group in the Japanese Imperial Army who explored unconventional warfare, including “energy weapons, chemical and biological weapons,” as well as the Fire Balloons they launched at our coasts (most of which never made it). I expanded on many of those ideas, fictionalizing what would have happened if they’d never stopped building those “unconventional” weapons. At the same time, I tried to imbue daily life with Japanese social customs that made sense, as well as the distinctive cultural brew only the mix of Asian and American cultures could result in.
When Angry Robot accepted USJ, I felt like I had come full circle. The story takes place in the five days leading to the 4th of July which has been warped in USJ from Independence Day to the celebration of the Japanese victory over the Americans. It also marked the week the deal for the actual USJ with Angry Robot was finalized, a synchronous coincidence. Having looked up to Dick’s monumental writing, I was now getting a chance to pay tribute to one of the most important writers of my life. At the same time, I was weaving together my own story and publishing it through my dream publisher.
“What is real?” Philip K. Dick asked.
If this isn’t it, don’t wake me.
United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas is due out in March 2016 from Angry Robot Books. Here’s the blurb:
Decades ago, Japan won the Second World War. Americans worship their infallible Emperor, and nobody believes that Japan’s conduct in the war was anything but exemplary. Nobody, that is, except the George Washingtons — a group of rebels fighting for freedom. Their latest terrorist tactic is to distribute an illegal video game that asks players to imagine what the world might be like if the United States had won the war instead.
Captain Beniko Ishimura’s job is to censor video games, and he’s tasked with getting to the bottom of this disturbing new development. But Ishimura’s hiding something…kind of. He’s slowly been discovering that the case of the George Washingtons is more complicated than it seems, and the subversive videogame’s origins are even more controversial and dangerous than the censors originally suspected.
Peter Tieryas is a character artist who has worked on films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderland andCloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.
His novel, Bald New World, was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books as well as Publishers Weekly’s Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014.