The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Spoilers!

I’m going to be blunt, this novel was a huge disappointment for me. It had so much potential and promise and it just didn’t deliver for me. The characters were for the most part uninteresting and the story dragged in a lot of places. This coupled with the idea that I don’t believe that Mr. Dick did a lot of research into some of the key players of the Nazi Party forces my disappointment in this book.

It tells the story of of a world where, due to the the successful assassination of FDR by Giuseppe Zangara in 1933, the Nazis and Imperial Japanese are able to beat the Allies and more or less conquer the world. The majority of the story takes place in California which is under the rule of the Japanese. Other locales include Germany and the American Midwest, which has become a buffer zone between the German held east coast and the Japanese west coast. A major plot point is the sale of American “antiques” by the wealthy Japanese who are immigrating to the west coast. These antiques, when not forged, are items that display popular American Culture from before the war. This nostalgia for the Americanism from before the war almost displays guilt from the conquerors for what they did to achieve supremacy over the world.

Another major plot point is the almost novel-within-a-novel. Many characters in the book have been influenced by a book they have read known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by the fictional Hawthorne Abendsen. This inner book is also an alternate history about the Allies winning the Second World War. In this alternate reality after winning the war, the US and the UK go into a cold war that sees the UK eventually overcoming the US. I won’t lie, this aspect of the book was actually interesting and it was my favorite aspect of the story, but it failed to make up for other aspects of the story. 

My first problem with the story was the characters. It’s inherently hard to like them or even to hate them,they’re just there! They’re nothing more than automatons that talk and feel occasionally. I understand that you don’t have to love the characters in a story, but you should at least feel something towards them. My second problem with the story was how at the end of the novel nothing is really resolved. The ending is completely open. Now keep in mind this isn’t necessary to a good story, after all it could be the set up to a sequel. Now I have heard that Philip K. Dick did indeed intend to write a sequel, but never got around to it. If this is indeed the case then I can let this go. My biggest problem was the historical aspects of the novel. This is keeping in mind that Mr. Dick claimed to have done extensive research into the Axis Powers. At one point in the story the current Fuhrer of Germany, Martin Bormann dies and two factions arise in the attempt to replace him. One faction led by Josef Goebbels intends to nuke the Japanese Home Islands in an attempt to conquer the rest of the world. The second faction lead by Reinhard Heydrich wishes to keep the German-Japanese Alliance in place. First off, the fact the Heydrich not only was one of  the main architects of the Final Solution as well as having helped to organize the mass persecution of Jews during the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) as well as having the nickname The Man with the Iron Heart makes me doubt that if he had survived the war with the Nazis winning that he would be for a peaceful coexistence with the Japanese considering that the Nazis considered them a lesser race. I also found it hard to believe the Martin Bormann would have succeeded Hitler as Fuhrer considering that Herman Goering was always considered the second in line to the Nazi “throne”. Also for all Mr. Dick’s “research” he very rarely mentions the Nazis at all. While this annoyed me, I must mention that his main focus on the Japanese aspect of the War was rather refreshing as most alternate histories alway focus on the Nazis rather than their Japanese counterparts.

Despite having a lot going against it. The book did have some positives. I found some of the technology mentioned in the novel interesting, such as a rocket plane that makes the travel time from Europe to California only a matter of a few hours rather than a day. I also enjoyed the description of the Nazis and Italians draining  the Mediterranean Sea and turning it into farmland. These, however, did not make up for the rest of the story.  There was a lot of potential in this book, but he just didn’t pull it off, I’m sorry to say,

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4 thoughts on “The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

  1. I do not know if the term “Hard Alternative History” exists (akin to “Hard Science Fiction”), but in any case “The Man in the High Castle” was never intended to be that. Dick used the “I Ching” to help him write it! The question of the plausibility of the world in the novel is like the plausibility of Childan’s pistols. Are they replicas or are they real?

    Anyway, back in March and April I blogged on 30 of Dick’s novels. Here is my post on “The Man in the High Castle.”

    http://tashqueedagg.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/philip-k-dick-the-man-in-high-castle-1960-a-confucian-millenium/

    • Then why do all the research if he didn’t want a realistic story? I understand he used the I Ching, it shows in the odd decisions his characters make. Thank you for the link, I shall be sure to look your review over.

      • I am not sure how much research he actually did. I am a historian and can tell you that our knowledge of the inner workings of the Nazi Party, the implementation of the Holocaust, etc was much less in 1960 than it is now. Raul Hilberg’s book on the Holocaust was not even published until 1961. That said, who knows what was on PKDs shelf, besides the “I Ching,” when he wrote TMITHC. It may be irrelevant. You are seeing it in the genre of (hard) alternative history, which would demand a certain plausibility. Clearly, he was not interested in creating a plausible alternative history.

        Cheers.

  2. Oh, I disagree. I feel that there was enough work already out there that he could have had an accurate picture of the Nazi System by the time he wrote the book. It would have been very easy for anyone to notice the difference between the key players of Nazi Germany. All one would have to do is look at their actions throughout the war. Heydrich earned the nickname “The Man with the Iron Heart” for a reason, while Goebbels was obviously more…. introverted in such regards. As for the “Hard” concept I again must disagree. I didn’t expect it to be entirely accurate going in considering his past works, but I do expect at least a semblance of rationality. The Robert Conroy novels, for example are so nationalistic for the US that they are obviously not realistic. However, the characters and their actions, as well as the events in the novels are portrayed to a degree that I can at least ignore their misgivings.

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