The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick is an intriguing author that many will be unaware of, especially outside of his home nation of the US. Born in Chicago, in 1928, Philip K. Dick (the ‘K’ is for ‘Kindred’. I shit you not) wrote eight sci-fi novels, about a dozen mainstream novels and more than eighty sci-fi stories. It is said that he could type 120 words a minute. Think about that for a while.
The Man in the High Castle was both written and set in 1962, in a world where the Axis powers won the Second Word War. Although, recently, we have had Robert Harris’ ‘Fatherland‘ examining a similar scenario, Philip K. Dick was decades ahead of his time, a quality that shows over and over in his writing. Probably his most famous novel is, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which was based the Ridley Scott movie, Bladerunner.
In The Man in the High Castle, the US has been divided into three. The Nazis control the eastern portion, the Japanese the western, and the central part is still under the tenuous control of what remains of the US.
The story revolves around a number of characters who struggle to find their place in this precarious world. Set in both the western and central sectors, we observe the ongoing conflict between the cultures of north America and Japan, as people such as Jewish Frank Frink strive to survive by staying one step ahead of the Nazis who are still determined to wipe them out.
This is an extremely quirky story. It is written in a manner that strongly recalls for me The Great Gatsby. Passages and thoughts are often, infuriatingly, left incomplete. Yet this style is not entirely off-putting and, instead, serves cleverly to draw the reader further into the narrative.
Interestingly, we are introduced to a novel within the novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a seditious book written by the eponymous man in the high castle, and presents the characters of our story with a world in which the Allies did indeed win the war. Confused?
We should remember that Dick (sounds kinda like porn when I only use his surname) deals primarily in sci-fi. Therefore, his stories must contain some kind of twist. In The Man in the High Castle we have the Nazis already exploring Mars and the rest of the Solar System. The German penchant for efficiency is played upon, as is the Nazi’s clinical and apathetic approach to humanity.
The Japanese, alternatively, are shown as cultured, polite and agreeable. I do wonder if the horrors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced the author’s more sympathetic portrayal of the Japanese. In any event, in The Man in the High Castle, there is certainly conflict between the Nazis and the Japanese, with the citizens of the US caught both literally and metaphorically in the middle.
I enjoyed this novel. I won’t go into detail regarding the plot as I would hate to spoil it. However, I can say that the conclusion, whilst not a total surprise, still packed a thump when considered.
There are many notable persons in this book and, although they are consistent, they are ‘unfinished’. Perhaps there is a kind of beauty in that as, today, we tend to talk and write everything to death. I blame Oprah Winfrey.
The Man in the High Castle is regarded as a classic. It certainly kicks the living shit out of Pride and Prejudice (unless it’s the one with the zombies, previously reviewed). This is the second novel by Dick (see what I mean) that I have read. It won’t be the last. Interesting book. Interesting man.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. Definitely worth a shot.