Dick began writing in the 1950s, a decade haunted by the Cold War and a decade which witnessed the blossoming of science fiction. While this form of literature was already haunting the margins of culture as early as 1926, when Hugo Gernsback identified it as "scientifiction", it was the terror of science gone mad-the atomic bomb-that gave science fiction its first, heroin-like shot in the arm.
In some ways the fear of nuclear war is just another expression of a theme that has seized the attention of literary theorists, philosophers and social scientists alike: how stable is "reality"? This is the great postmodern question, which has led theorists like Jean Baudrillard to conclude that even protests against the current multinational consumer system are programmed by the system, Michel Foucault to argue that the totalitarian momentum of this system seeks to colonize that last refuges of human freedom, one of these being our unconscious minds, and Daniel Bell to open up the possibility that the consumption of images and simulacra will continue to the point where "reality" may be nothing more than a series of products that one can purchase.
The Man in the High Castle novel presented the ultimate hallucinatory reality for the 20th century-a reality in which the Axis powers won World War II. Into this world, which Dick peoples with memorable characters, comes a novel written by a man who supposedly lives in a defended compound-the High Castle-in the nominally independent Rocky Mountain States. This novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, portrays a reality which powerfully affects everyone who reads it: a reality in which the Axis lost the war. Dick deepens the sense of dislocation for his characters and for the readers when the death of Reichschancellor Martin Bormann unleashes a power struggle in the Reich that will affect top secret Operation Dandelion-the planned nuclear attack on the Japanese Home Islands. To his horror, the Japanese Consul in San Francisco, Tagomi, discovers that the only leadership candidate opposed to Dandelion is Reinhard Heydrich, head of the dreaded S.D., and to save itself Japan must support the evil of the black uniform-an evil which has completed the holocaust in Europe and demands the surrender of Jews even in the Japanese-occupied Pacific States of America; an evil which has exterminated the black population of Africa in fifteen years. Tagomi literally becomes ill at discovering the reality of evil and concludes that humans are insects "...groping toward something terrible or divine." Tagomi manages to perform one small moral action-refusing to accede to a German request to extradite Jew Frank Frink from the P.S.A. to the Reich, and this action is echoed by Wegener, a representative of a German faction trying to thwart Dandelion: "We can only control the end by making a choice at each step."
The novel ends with Frink's wife Juliana discovering that the real "author" of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is the I-Ching and that the novel is actually the "truth"-Germany and Japan lost the war. While this realization does not heal her reality-save for the fact that her journey has prompted her to want to rejoin her husband-it stands as a symbol that transcends the book and speaks directly to the reader. The Man in the High Castle is thus, itself, an assault on reality-a work of fiction's internal reality. The reader of 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, cannot help but feel that, despite its terrors, the Cold War is inevitable and preferable to the only historical alternative that could have prevented it. Patrick R. Burger
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About the Author
One of the greatest authors of the 20th century, with a career spanning 3 decades and 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories. Eleven novels and short stories have been adapted to film; notably: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. Dick won the Hugo Award in 1963 and was inducted into the SF Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2007 he was the first science fiction to be published by the Library of America.
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