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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Book Name: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher(s): Putnam
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Alternate History
Release Date: October 1962

My first introduction to The Man in the High Castle was not in printed format – I first watched the adaptation that Amazon produced. I was intrigued by the concept of an alternate reality where World War II culminates in the triumph of the Axis powers. The first season of the show was gripping and I binge-watched it through to the end of the second without wasting a breath. As with most adaptations, much of the book gets left out or changed, so I wanted to read first-hand how the author had originally penned this work. I didn’t know at the time that it was written by the same hand as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a work where, even the title alone, has me and my partner debating the real meaning behind it.

To be honest, the end of the second season took a turn that, although I’d predicted it was coming, came at an alarming speed. So I turned to the book to see just how well the show reflected the original.

Set in 1962, fifteen years after the Nazis had won the war, America is divided into the Pacific States of America (P.S.A.), created under Japanese rule from the Western half of the United States, and the Eastern United States, was placed under Nazi rule. The Rocky Mountains act as a neutral buffer zone between the two powers. We’re briefly given an insight into how Nazi rule has shaped the development of the world, with the Final Solution being applied to Africa, the Mediterranean being drained to use as farmland, and powerful rocket ships leading the colonisation of the Moon and beyond. The Nazis are making huge breakthroughs in developing technology, something the Japanese are all too aware of; they are far from equals, with an uneasy alliance between them.

Japanese citizens must be greeted with a respectful bow, and a Nazi salute should be thrown when approaching German officials. Americans and Japanese alike who occupy the P.S.A. have become reliant on using the I Ching – a form of divination used to make decisions. Black people are used as slaves and any remaining Jews are arrested.

The novel is written with little dialogue, with the text mostly made up of the thoughts of its main characters. We connect with a handful as their stories develop, such as Frank Frink, the Jew who has to hide his true religion; Juliana Frink, the ex-wife; Nobusuke Tagomi, the Japanese Trade Minister; and Robert Childan, the antiques-dealing American who aspires to more. Many of these characters will be known to those who have seen the series but their roles do change slightly in the book. The text is often erratic and broken, written in the way that thoughts often come to us; jagged and abrupt. We see Childan try hard to mosey up to his Japanese customers and curry favour as he talks in the same speech pattern as they do, so it comes across as not quite grammatically correct.

The story introduces us to the novel within the novel, A Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Written by Hawthorne Abendsen, it tells of an alternate reality where Imperial Japan and the Nazis do not claim power over America. For this reason, it’s been banned in many states, but yet many of the characters have read, or are reading, the book. They’re captivated by the outcomes and the way in which the book has been written, as if it’s almost factual. Julianna seeks the truth behind the work, and arranges to meet the author, or ‘The Man in the High Castle’, so-called because of the lengths he’s said to have taken in order to protect himself from Nazis. It’s here that she learns of how the book came into being.

The ending is one that will leave you thinking for several minutes afterwards, contemplating just what it is that you’ve read. For me, I think the Amazon series has turned out pretty well, enhancing these characters and developing their storylines. I much prefer Amazon’s Juliana, as I just cannot stand the self-absorbed one that emanates from the pages. It’s fascinating to see just how it all began with Philip K Dick’s work. The theme of reality is strong throughout, with ‘historicity’ being questioned – one character has two lighters that he shows off to another. One lighter is said to have been on Franklin D Roosevelt when he was assassinated; the other was not.

“One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing. Can you feel it?” He nudged her. “You can’t. You can’t tell which is which. There’s no ‘mystical plasmic presence,’ no ‘aura’ around it.”

The idea being that something only has the value that we place upon it. If Abendsen has written about an alternate reality, then who’s to say there isn’t one? If there’s no evidence to show one way or the other, then we can each make up our own minds about what we want to believe. The case for Abendsen’s book being set in reality is well and truly closed for Juliana when she gets the answer to her question.

Overall, it’s a fascinating read, but it is one of those books that’s open to interpretation and what one person takes away will probably be different from the next. But surely that’s what helps make a book last longer, that you’re still questioning it days after you’ve finished it? Those lingering concepts hidden on the pages that on the surface aren’t fully visible, but over time upon reflection, become a little more padded out.


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