The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (1962), Gollancz (2009)
Awards Won: Hugo Award
“It's America in 1962, but not the America you know. The United States lost World War II, and the country has been divided and jointly occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan. In this world, genocide is commonplace and slavery is legal. In San Francisco, both the Japanese and the downtrodden locals consult the I Ching for guidance.
A handful of people, with limited power to change the reality of the world in which they live, move through the actions of their daily lives. As their stories intersect or influence one another, they may come closer to seeing through artifice and understanding the truth of their lives and their world.” ~Allie
I’ve read a few of Philip K. Dick’s novels before, but this is the first one I’ve reviewed on this blog. By complete coincidence, I finished The Man in the High Castle directly before the pilot for a series adaptation on Amazon Prime was announced! I watched the pilot, of course (it is available here), but it remains to be seen if it will be greenlighted for a full season. I’m going to include my impressions of the pilot after the book review. This is a book I chose to read both for Stainless Steel Dropping's Sci-Fi Experience and Little Red Reviewer's Vintage Sci-Fi Month.
The Man in the High Castle shows a world where World War II has ended very differently, with Japan and Germany dividing up and occupying a defeated United States. It was set in modern day for the time of publication, which puts it around half a century into our past. Thus, it has now become an alternate past extrapolated forward from a more distant alternate past. I’m sure plenty of people have discussed the I Ching and the nested/interconnected authentic and inauthentic realities of the story. Since I’m not familiar with I Ching, and I just spent a lot of time writing about multiple WWII realities in my review of The Separation, I’m not going to go into that discussion here. Instead, I will focus on the parts of the novel that have stuck with me the most—the characters and how they cope with their world.
The story follows a handful of characters that are each leading their ordinary lives. Frank Frink is an artisan hiding a Jewish heritage, and his vanished wife Juliana just wants to live peacefully in the unoccupied Rocky Mountain States as a judo instructor. Robert Childan is a shopowner who sells antiques of American culture to enthusiastic Japanese patrons, and Tagomi, a San Francisco trade missioner, is one of his top customers. Tagomi begins the story in preparations to meet with Mr. Baynes, supposedly a rich Swedish industrialist who seems to have an ulterior motive. Some of these characters’ stories intersect, or influence one another in indirect ways, but there is never a point where all the stories converge. I was pretty equally interested by each of the storylines, since they each showed a mental perspective from a different level of society.
However, while it was interesting seeing views from people of various levels of power and privilege in a fascist world, the portrayal of the world and the characters necessarily involves a lot of racism. This racism ran from quietly held beliefs, to racial slurs, to acceptance of genocide, and I think it was clearly intended to be shocking. It seemed that the point was to show how people can get used to a world like their (or, well, like ours), and how they can pass their daily lives without examining their prejudices or really thinking about distant atrocities that seem unchangeable. At the same time, while the characters may have had little power to affect their world on the large scale, their thoughts and actions still have meaning and impact the lives of the people around them. I really enjoyed seeing how each character’s actions could intentionally and unintentionally affect the lives of the others. The ending of the novel is pretty weird, but I took it in a metaphorical way. That may not have been the intention, but I think that interpretation makes for a rather satisfying ending.
My Rating: 4/5
The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history story about the daily life of a defeated American people. The novel follows many loosely connected characters living in a western US occupied by Japan, whose stories influence one another but never merge into a single narrative. I thought each of the storylines was pretty interesting in its own right, and I enjoyed seeing how they intersected with each other. With the I Ching, the alternate history within an alternate history, the portrayals of people in various strata of society and more, I think that this is a book that merits a lot of discussion. I also enjoyed the Amazon Prime pilot, though it differs from the novel in some very significant ways. I hope the rest of the show is produced!
The Man in the High Castle: The Amazon Pilot
(Some Mild Episode 1 TV Spoilers Ahead)
Overall, I thought the pilot episode of The Man in the High Castle was pretty entertaining. There were some changes made to the story from the novel that I agree were necessary, and also others that seemed unnecessary. On the unnecessary side, for instance, I believe Juliana is into aikido instead of judo. Perhaps Aikido is more stylish these days? On changes that were necessary for the adaptation, they have managed to connect all of the disparate storylines into two main plot threads, cutting out only one viewpoint character at this point. I think this was probably needed for a one-hour television pilot, or the story might have seemed too disjointed. Also, I think there is a rule written somewhere that science fiction pilots must have action—something that only shows up later in the novel’s story. To this end, they have introduced an American Resistance, which provides violence and tension for the early story. I am really interested in seeing what direction they go with this adaptation, so I hope Amazon greenlights its season!