Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Genre: Alternate History / Science Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Started: 6th October 2016
Completed: 7th October 2016
Summary: ‘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 twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.
Philip K. Dick is best known as a science fiction writer. If you’ve ever seen the film Blade Runner then you’ve seen an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick which is one of my favourite books of all time. He also wrote short stories and non-fiction books as well as novels.
The Man in the High Castle is technically an Alternate History novel but Dick himself actually argues about whether alternate history can be classed as science fiction in a section of The Man in the High Castle:
‘On contrary, interesting form of fiction possible within genre of science fiction.’
‘Oh no,’ Betty disagreed. ‘No science in it. Not set in future. Science fiction deals with future, in particular future where science has advanced over now. Book fits neither premise.’
‘But,’ Paul said, ‘it deals with alternate present. Many well-known science fiction novels of that sort.’
– Chapter 7
This is why I’ve added science fiction and speculative fiction as genres of this novel because it does deal with an alternate past but it also looks at new technology and the colonisation of space. Also, while this book may have been an alternate history it was also an alternate present as it was published in 1962 and it is set in 1962. So many genres…
Firstly, I love the premise of this novel. I’m such a huge nerd when it comes to history, especially WW1 and WW2, so this seemed like the perfect novel for me. I’ve stayed up many a night watching conspiracy theories about how Hitler had alien technology and the rise of the Nazi party in the US in the early 1930s so I wasn’t really shocked when the book revealed that Hitler had colonies on Venus and Mars in this alternative universe. I had never read an alternate history about what would happen to the US before this though.
The book centres on the USA in 1962 which is occupied and ruled by the Japanese. Slavery is legal once again and US citizens are forced into low paid manual jobs. Many Japanese citizens living in the US crave what they call ‘authentic’ American produce, like artifacts from the Civil War etc. It’s very much like when people buy products meant to created by Native Americans because they want something ‘authentic’. It’s a bit weird and very degrading. The artifacts that the Japanese people are buying are actually mass produced and brand new because they can’t tell the difference and this actually affects so many different types of people within the novel.
The main plot of the novel centres around an alternate history novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which is said to depict what would have happened if the Allied forces had won the war instead of the Axis Powers. It’s all very meta. Almost every character reads this book, which has been banned, even the high ranking Japanese officials. Julia, one of the characters, goes in search of the author of this novel to question him and to warn him that he may be assassinated by the Nazis. He confesses something unbelievable to Julia that has her questioning the truth and the novel ends very ambiguously. I really enjoyed the ending because I think that it suited the novel. Some may be disappointed with an ending like this but I’m glad that Dick left it so open because the novel is all about interpretation and questioning ‘what if…?’
I liked the different points of view that this novel gives as Dick focuses on the stories of several different characters which all overlap in some way or another. It ties the novel together and you get so many different stories from so many different people that are brought together by an overarching plot. My favourite characters are Frank, Julia, and Baynes because I loved reading from their points of view. All of the characters are well written and the book even throws a few surprises at you when it comes to the characters.
The language can be a bit difficult in certain sections of the novel because many of the Japanese characters speak in broken English (like in the quotation above) but it’s still understandable and he didn’t taken it too far. I don’t think that it’s offensive, unlike some other novels that use this idea, but I may be wrong. I did find it odd that the Japanese, as the ruling class, spoke English but most of them are incredibly interested in the authenticity of America so it does make sense that they’d want to be part of that ‘authentic’ version of America that they crave.
Also, the plot can be a bit confusing at times because of the sudden jumps from one character to another but it all works in the end so you just have to persevere and take your time when you’re reading it. It’s only 249 pages long but I read it over two days (during a hurricane) when a book of this length would usually only take me a few hours to read thoroughly. I think that you just have to focus on this book and concentrating on the book gives you such a wonderful reading experience.
The Man in the High Castle is an amazing book which provides us with one idea about what the world, and solar system, could have become if Hitler and the Axis Powers had won the second world war. I think that WW2 is one of those events that so many people question ‘what if…’ and I really enjoyed this interpretation. I would recommend it even though the topic of the book is a sensitive subject.