1. The surface story
Set in 1962, fourteen years after the end of a longer WW2 (1939-1948). The victorious Axis Powers (Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Italy) carved up the world at the end of the war. The Nazis have turned the Mediterranean into a huge agricultural area, killed the entire population of Africa, and most of the Soviet Union, and are sending spaceships to colonise Mars. The Nazis and Japan, the superpowers, are in a Cold War situation.
'The Man in the High Castle' takes place on the West Coast of the USA. In the book the USA is split into The Pacific States of America - a region run by Japan, and the rest of the US run indirectly by the Nazis. The story follows a collection of characters based in San Francisco who are linked either directly or indirectly and who are getting on with their lives.
I really enjoyed the story, and thought Dick's imagined post-War world was interesting and credible. The narrative is occasionally a bit confusing but always stimulating, particularly the detail of daily life. For example the way Japanese culture and customs have come to inform daily life for indigenous Americans.
There is also another story within the story. A bestselling book called 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy' - a populist Science Fiction novel in which America and the Allies win the Second World War. This book has become successful and so the Nazis want the author killed. This secondary story hints at some of the themes below the surface of the main narrative.
'The Man in the High Castle' made me think about history, and how it is written by the victors. For example, in the alternate world of this book, Churchill is cast as a war criminal. The book also asks other questions about history. Some of the characters collect, sell and create (or forge) historical memorabilia. Is history innate in memorabilia or just in the mind? As one of the book's characters explains, if we believe that a lighter was in Franklin D. Roosevelt's pocket when he was assassinated it becomes more valuable to a collector despite being just another lighter. Another character claims to be an Italian who fought in North Africa. His account doesn't convince his female companion - rightly so as it turns out. The suggestion is that all history is relative and we can't rely on any single account.
The parallel world of 'The Man in the High Castle' also explores the possibility that there is no single reality. That there exists a multiverse rather than a universe that is at odds with the generally accepted view of just one linear history. None of the characters in the book, like ourselves, are able to perceive it. Although, at one point Nobusuke Tagomi, a Japanese official in Japanese-run San Francisco, finds himself momentarily in another San Francisco in which Japan was defeated by the Allies.
My favourite Science Fiction writers (e.g Phillip K Dick and Kurt Vonnegut) re-imagine our world and consider alternate futures and histories, that offer the reader new perspectives. This book is a great example of how effective this is when done well. It's a really interesting book that succeeds on both levels: the "surface" plot that kept me interested throughout, and the more provocative and profound questions that Philip K Dick poses.
on 13 April 2004
This is the perfect book for those new to PKD's work or who have tried reading later, spaced-out novels such as "Valis" and given up. Counterfactual books, both fiction and non-fiction, are all the rage nowadays. So it is difficult when reading this book to remember that when it was published (in 1962, before the Vietnam War) the memories of World War II and the Korean War were still vivid. The premise is this: the Allies lost the war and the USA is split between the "Pacific States of America" in the West, run by the Japanese, and the East Coast, which is part of greater Germany (along with Europe and part of Asia). The background to how this came about is wonderfully teased out over the entire course of the book, and similarly the effects of Nazi rule over most of the globe are glimpsed in chilling off-hand remarks. PKD's world is well-thought out and comprehensive: while the "final solution" has been applied to the whole of Africa, Herbert von Karajan is resident as conductor-in-chief of the New York Philharmonic.
This is PKD's most mainstream, and in many ways his most approachable, published work. It is a wonderful analysis of how ordinary Americans might have behaved under totalitarian rule. There is a power vacuum created by the death of Martin Boorman, but the wider political picture remains a backdrop to the inter-connected stories of a selection of "average joes", all of whom are masterfully characterised. As a nod to the "science fiction" categorisation of the book, at the core of the tale is a bestselling, underground book written by a man who supposedly lives in a high castle in the Rockies, and which is a work of alternative history about how the Allies won the war - is it possible that reality could have been changed in some way? Intriguingly, even the alternative history presented in this book-within-a-book is substantially different to our own received history.
As ever with PKD, there are ambiguities everywhere and no definite resolution, not least to the identity of "the Man in the High Castle" and what his book represents. As previous reviewers have said, this novel examines ideas of oppression, colonialism, and the loss of cultural identity. It is a sometimes bleak work, but not without hope and some typical PKD black humour. This edition, with an insightful introduction, rightly presents the novel as a modern classic.
on 26 March 2012
I love science fiction. I also love alternate history. Finally, I have an interest in the Second World War. Clearly then, The Man in the High Castle held something for me. But it certainly wasn't what I was expecting.
The book details a world in which the Axis powers won World War Two and conquered the world. After their victory in 1948, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan split the USA between them, the East Coast acting as a German puppet state and the West as a Japanese one. The book is set in San Francisco, part of Japanese America (or the Pacific States of America). There are various characters in the story, ranging from Robert Childan- an antique store owner, to Mr Baynes- a Swedish businessman.
There is no "story" in the more traditional sense to be found in this book, it instead concentrates on the lives of various elements of society living underneath the heel of an all-powerful society. One of the most intriguing elements of the novel is a "book-within-a-book" called " The Grasshopper Lies Heavy". This in-novel book also details an alternative history in which *gasp* the Allies win WW2. The most interesting feature of this book is that it portrays the Allies winning the war in a completely different way to in real life. This is one of the most interesting areas of the book, showing that there are never just two ways about anything.
I also found the presentation of society under the yoke of the Japanese to be fascinating, particularly in their deference towards the I Ching, a text consulted to obtain details about the future. Indeed, the whole world of High Castle is very well constructed by Dick, slowly illuminating the watchful reader with small clues about how the war ended the way it did.
One thing that might make the book less attractive to some readers is the total lack of an overarching story. I personally didn't mind this and allowed myself to become immersed in Dick's world and meet his interesting characters. However, I will warn potential readers that the book is primarily concerned with portraying the physical world, rather than a tightly plotted story.
Overall then, it's a recommendation for sci-fi and history fans who will no doubt be enthralled by the strange alternate history presented. But those who are more concerned by books with closer knitted stories, this book is not for you. Instead, I would recommend Robert Harris' Fatherland.
on 16 March 2008
I first read this in my teens, and I think that much of the subtlety passed me by. I have just aquired a new copy from Amazon,decorated with one of the most un-pc book sleeves you are likely to come across ( not a "tube-reader" folks)! I have just finished reading it, and well, this is clearly a work of genius. The book for anyone who hasn't yet read it, contrasts a novel, The Grasshopper Lies Down, about our post-1945 world; within a novel where the Axis powers won the Second World War. Japanese- controlled West Coast of USA is honourable,spiritual and superstitious, and speak in clipped English; whereas the Nazi-controlled Eastern seaboard is materialistic and technologically advanced. Africa has been obliterated as an extension of the Final Solution. Dick's book questions the exact nature of history and reality; that what is real is only relative to the individuals own experience.
I have to say that I didn't wholly understand the ending; if anyone can explain this I would be grateful! I have read lengthy reviews which suggest that the world in Abendson's book is in fact, the real history of the 20th century. But this doesn't work for me.
If you think the previous paragraph contradicts my praise for this book, you are missing the point. It is a process-based novel and the ending is largely irrelevant, in my opinion anyway.
Has this novel ever been made into a film?
If not, why?
on 8 January 2016
If you bought this book as a result of having seen the Amazon TV series, hoping for a few more clues, forget it. "Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick" it is, sort of - it takes the bare bones (Germany and Japan as uneasy bedfellows in a divided, conquered USA) and some of the characters (often considerably altered), adds new ones (no Obergrüppenführer Smith or Chief Inspector Kido in the book) and disappears off at a wild tangent. And whereas only Trade Minister Tagomi is a practitioner of I Ching in the series, in the book nearly everyone is.Thus, book and TV series have to be judged on their own merits.
And the book? Interesting, thought-provoking, but ultimately unsatisfying, as it sort-of peters out at the end. And that I Ching is central to the whole affair. One could do a Freddie Mercury impersonation and sing, "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" Read, and decide for yourself.
Personally, from what I've seen so far, I prefer the Amazon re-interpretation. In its first season, it has set the bar very high - can it live up to it?
This was recommended to me by a friend who knows the type of book I am currently researching to write. I'm glad I read it. It's clearly a little dated now - female secretaries and everyone smoking - and the narrative lost clarity a little in parts but otherwise was a great read. What I liked was the acceptance by the characters of their daily lives under occupation and how the customs of their conquerors had become second nature to them. The Japanese narratives I found irritating, 'Like child' he told himself, and 'On seashore', but perhaps the missing words are irksome due to proofreading habits? I don't think this added to the writing. If someone is foreign they don't have to talk in BBC soap opera accents and dialogue; but I accept this was written in 1962. Interesting to see much of the explanations of the war were done using direct speech in conversations, a quick and effective way to get across a lot of information, that may otherwise have risked being a little repetitive and boring. It is the ordinariness of the characters in the situations that was done well, and as with any such tale when we can relate to them we believe the story all the more.
on 7 January 2016
I first read The Man In The High Castle many years ago and I was inspired to re-read it following the recent Amazon TV Series. The Man in the High. Castle is probably Dick's best novel and one of the earliest examples of alternative history. The end seems a little rushed and inconclusive leaving the reader to wonder what becomes of the Frinks, Childan and in fact this alternative world with its Germans on Mars and Africa a ruin. This book should be, on anyone's list of Science Fiction classics.
on 1 May 2016
I'm a fan of neither science fiction nor alternative history, but I enjoyed the Amazon prime video so much that I was driven 'back to the text' for what i hoped would be even richer fare. Well, it turns out this isn't really 'the book of the film' in the traditional sense: it seems to have served as a starting point, merely. In fact, to play on one of its themes, this is one fiction that the author might have created; the video an alternative. Each sharing a common ancestor, yet each completely its own animal.
I'd say there are at least three novellas here, set in the same universe, running parallel and even sharing characters from time to time - but hardly woven into what can properly be called a novel. The ideas are big, and fascinating (I'm not sure I got my head fully round all of them, or their implications). So in one sense, I was not disappointed.
But this is a meditation on the possibilities of alternative universes, and even of passing between them (through the power of art?). The video seems to me more of a simple - though absolutely brilliant - thriller, set, by the way, in a world different from our own.
This book touches on so much more, but only touches.
on 6 October 2015
This book left me disappointed. It could have been so much more, it lacked any real story. In some parts I was completely bored by the inane ramblings of the Japanese pondering the worth of women's jewellery. There is much more to say on the matter, I was bored pure and simple.
P.s the audio version is terrible, the narrator does cringe worthy voices and on occasions forget which accents he's supposed to, hence a sometimes Japanese sounding German businessman
on 13 May 2012
Often described as Philip K Dick's best work, I found The Man in the High Castle to be poorly-executed and a little boring. Set in the 1960s in a world where the Nazis and Japanese won WW2, the alternate-history premise is interesting, and was likely original when the book was first published, but may strike the modern reader as a cliche. The retro-futurist twaddle about atomic-powered rocket ships and wonder materials is introduced intrusively, and adds little.
The Man in the High Castle covers a brief period in the lives of four major characters and several minor ones. Their paths occasionally cross but the structure is largely that of several synchronous short stories unfolding in parallel. The tangential connections between the characters' lives and actions may be intended to demonstrate the Taoist principle of interconnectedness, but does not make for a satisfying read. All of the characters narrate their portions of the plot in a peculiar clipped, staccato style. I found their interactions with others unbelievable and stilted. A yoga instructor, for instance, falls in love with an Italian truck driver near the beginning of the book, despite no discernible charisma on his part. He proceeds to terrify and verbally abuse her, but she nevertheless gladly agrees to abandon her life and elope to Denver with him. She, like all of the other major characters, is prone to panic attacks, bizarre behavior and existential crises. (SPOILERS FOLLOW) For instance, she phones the titular Man in the High Castle later in the book, to warn him of a Nazi plot to assassinate him, only to ramble on instead about the I Ching and forgot to tell him about the plot. She realises this after hanging up, berates herself as mad and stupid for forgetting, but decides not to phone him back as it's getting late. (SPOILERS END) All of the major characters display such moments of fecklessness and self-loathing, and by the end of the book I found it difficult to sympathise much with any of them.
As in many of Dick's works, The Man in the High Castle's principle themes are the nature of authenticity, reality and illusion, but Dick has has few new insights to shed here. The debate between relativist 'truth in the eye of the beholder' and absolutist 'underlying but hidden reality' is simply rehashed; and several scenes directly addressing these themes read like excerpts from an undergraduate philosophy seminar. Dick's repeated use of the I Ching - a Taoist fortune-telling device - and espousal of Taoist philosophy may leave readers who do not subscribe to Chinese mysticism frustrated.
Overall, the Man in the High Castle is an unusual book which had the potential for greatness, but is badly let down by a meandering plot, unlikeable characters, stilted dialogue and intrusive, fruitless philosophising. Science fiction has come a long way since this was written. If you're looking for SF which addresses Dick's themes of reality and illusion, I'd recommend avoiding The Man in the High Castle and instead reading The Bridge by Ian Banks, or The City and the City by China Mieville.