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.

4 Comments »

    • Hi Alice. Thank you for your comment. I agree that from what I know of the conduct of the Imperial Japanese Army, they were not without blame for their actions. I am curious, however, as to how you might view the actions of the US military and their use of atomic weapons upon civilian populations?

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  1. I’m not sure why we tend to focus solely on the the Nazi/European part of World War II. Imperial Japan was a great evil that had to be stopped. The list of war crimes goes on and on and on and on and on but the Bataan Death march and the Rape of Nanking are two horrific examples. Imperial Japan had a mentality much the same as the Nazi’s or ISIS. They had to be stopped. Unlike Germany that keeps apologizing for the Holocaust, modern day Japan covers up and refuses to acknowledge much of their history.

    So the US’s other option to stop Japan was what they had been working on before we dropped the A-bomb: a full scale invasion of Japan where the Japanese would have fought to the death rather then surrender. Many US soldiers, Japanese soldiers and Japanese civilians would have been killed and World War II would have been extended for longer.

    I feel extremely sad for all the civilians who greatly suffered and died or those who greatly suffered and lived. But I don’t think that Imperial Japan left the US with a lot of choice. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were strategic targets militarily. Although the US also wanted targets that hadn’t been bombed before so that they could understand the amount of damage wrought by the A-Bomb.

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    • Thank you for your reply. Sadly, I feel that you are a victim of the same mentality that you accuse the Japanese of, namely a failure to accept the horror of the actions of a nation that you feel an affinity to. Your ‘but’ has effectively attempted to justify the slaughter of almost 500,000 civilians, yet your last line states the true reason. The A-bombs were an experiment. That can never be justified, regardless of who was responsible. Those who died in the attacks were, as stated, civilians. Those in the US military were not. There can be no mitigating the fact that even if the bombings were not an experiment (which they most certainly were), civilians deaths can not be offset as having saved military lives, US or otherwise. I find it sad that those, such as you, who no doubt see themselves as humanitarian and principled, would try to defend the conduct of the US. Those responsible for dropping those bombs, were no better than the Nazis or Imperial Japanese troops that they fought. They also firebombed Tokyo (and killed more people than in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki), in concert with their, and British, actions in carpet-bombing German cities, also murdering innocent people.
      I don’t know how to get the truth into the heads of those who would defend dropping atomic bombs on civilians, as you do. You no doubt would defend the bombing of Yemen, Syria and Palestine also, with the resultant civilian deaths being necessary in the ‘Fight against Terror’. You would no doubt also defend the actions of the British colonial forces in Ireland and their creation of a famine that killed 1 million of my people. There are always those, like you, who would try to weakly defend any atrocity if it seemed to be in your favour. I don’t know you, but I do know I wouldn’t like you. I’d rather not hear from you again.

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