The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Vintage on June 30, 1992 (first published 1962)
Source: Other
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 259
Format: Paperback
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four-stars

It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.


This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.

First off, the obvious question – why did I read The Man in the High Castle. I don’t WW2 books or, in general, sci-fi. A friend made me borrow it and he never suggests books, so I felt like I ought to read it. And then Michelle came up with her Sci-Fi Summer read-a-thon, so it was the prefect excuse. After all, according to the blurb, this is the book that established “Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction.”

On a side note, I never realized alternative history is a sub-genre of sci-fi. I tend to think of it more as fantasy. Wikipedia says, “since the 1950s, this type of fiction has, to a large extent, merged with science fiction tropes involving time travel between alternate histories, psychic awareness of the existence of one universe by the people in another, or time travel that results in history splitting into two or more timelines. Cross-time, time-splitting, and alternate history themes have become so closely interwoven that it is impossible to discuss them fully apart from one another.” I always find genres a bit confusing.

In the novel, President Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, leading to the continuation of the Great Depression and U.S. isolationism. The U.S. was unable to stop the Nazis the Japanese. By 1947, the U.S. and the remaining Allies surrendered. By the 1960s, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were the world’s competing superpowers, with Japan establishing the “Pacific States of America” from the former Western United States, with the remaining Rocky Mountain States now a neutral buffer zone between the P.S.A. and the Nazi-occupied former Eastern United States. Martin Bormann has become Chancellor of Germany, with Goebbels, Heydrich, Göring, Seyss-Inquart (who oversees the extermination of the peoples of Africa), and other Nazi leaders soon vying to take his place. The Nazis have drained the Mediterranean to make room for farmland, developed and used the hydrogen bomb, and designed rockets for extremely fast travel across the world as well as space, having colonized the Moon, Venus, and Mars.

By RedFoxJinx - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38080595
By RedFoxJinx – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38080595

Most of the novel takes place in San Francisco, where we meet Americans living under Japanese rule, some Japanese middle management. The story focusses on individuals rather than political maneuvering. It’s about how individuals deal with life, make decisions. Americans aren’t heroes here, there’s little resistance to the Japanese – they are after all, clearly a better alternative then the Nazis. The Japanese are calm and polite – the Nazis are still gassing people.

The concept is excellent. The world is so believable, each little detail just fits.

There’s a novel within the novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, that shows an alternate alternate history where the Allies do win, although not in the way that actually happened. I got to a certain point and said out loud – ah, metafiction, which led me to try to explain to Amber what I meant. Apparently saying a book is aware that it’s fiction is not necessarily the easiest concept, especially when she wasn’t actually reading the book, just hearing my description of it.

It’s definitely a book worth reading. It touches on prejudice and power. Art and culture is also important, how can a conquered people retain their culture, not sell their history as trinkets, how literature and art can affect or reinforce our views of the world.

My problem with The Man in the High Castle was that it had a lot of characters and each had an interesting, a unique outlook on life, but I didn’t get to really know any of them. I almost wish it had been longer, that I could have gotten to know them better, care about their stories. As it was, I never felt connected to the book. It’s one I know is good, one I’ll remember, but not one I loved. It could have been though.

About Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American writer, whose published works mainly belong to the genre of science fiction. Dick explored philosophical, sociological and political themes in novels with plots dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. In his later works, Dick’s thematic focus tended to reflect his personal interest in metaphysics and theology.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting about the genre subset- I tend to think of this type of work as speculative fiction, if it doesn’t have actual magic or futuristic science in it. I tried watching the film version but had difficulty keeping attention- it just wasn’t my kind of film.

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