I’ve put all my bedroom furniture together now, and my bedtime reading over the past few days has been Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle. [Typically, Penguin publishes the book inside two different tarted-up covers, but with the same nasty old typesetting inside.] As “what if the Axis won the War?” novels go it’s not as frightening or convincing as Robert Harris’s Fatherland, (one of the finest thrillers I have ever read as well as being genuinely moving) but so far it is excellent—and particularly thoughtful about some of the subtler social and ethnic consequences of Japan and Germany carving up the World between them.

Fatherland was made into a terrible film, but Bladerunner is famous for being one of those rare adaptations that improves on the original: Dick’s story Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. Look at this list of films based on his work* and wonder at Dick’s extraordinary imagination. Sadly, his prose often lapses into a special kind of awful. A few years back I made it through most of his collected short stories [I only link to the first volume] before stumbling on his unevenness and/or being repelled by his chronic sexism. Despite them, there is a wild, genre-creating inventiveness about his stories that gave me the same sort of thrill I got when I worked my way through Poe as a boy. I can also remember the first time I read P K Dick: I bought a collection including Second Variety and Variable Man in a book remainder shop when I was on holiday with my parents in Blackpool. It was so much more interesting than most of the shlocky, 50s-style science fiction I had read up until then that it might as well have been in a different language.

I am half way through The Man In The High Castle now and, completely atypically, this is the first time Dick has referred to a woman’s breast. (It belongs to an actress and is being fondled by Göring in the imagination of a German officer stationed in America.)

*The list doesn’t include Terminator or Alien, inspired by Second Variety and Beyond Lies The Wub respectively.