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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Man in the High Castle
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on August 7, 2010
The Man in the High Castle is a novel that offers an idea of what the world would be like if the Axis had won World War II. In it one finds a North America that is dominated by the Japanese and a Europe that is filled with the cut throat inner politics of the Nazi party where the Nazis are prone to stab each other in the back. We follow the story of a Jewish man hiding in his labour, his ex-wife as she comes to realize what the world would be like if the Allies won the war, and a cast of other characters that includes a Japanese Trade Official and an American antique dealer. In this novel Dick approaches the problem of the meaning of a life in a deranged society, much like he does in his other novels.

I found this book to be one of Philip K. Dick's most literary works. However, this novel is by no means my favourite of his works that I have read. I prefer the mind-bending realities that Dick presents in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or the well crafted character study of Rick Deckard In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I did find this work to have the most polished and coherent plot of the three Dick books that I have read. That this is the case does not mean that this book did not have it's slower moments, especially near the end of the novel when an art object is contemplated a little too long for my taste.

Overall, I would recommend this novel to those who are looking for a good philosophical novel by the master of introspective science fiction. Although this novel technically does not have any futuristic sci-fi elements, the argument can be made that the alternate reality Dick creates is in it's own way sci-fi. This book may be award winning (Hugo award), but I found parts of this book to be extremely slow in the manner of some 19th century novels. While this is touted to be perhaps his best work, there are other Dick books I recommend you try first, but coming from Dick's mastery of writing, this book should not be over looked (just look at it after you have read more Dick!)
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on April 7, 2004
As a History grad and military history buff I found this book positively creepy and chilling!! It literally wrenches your insides because in it is a dark, terrifying, nightmare world that Dick creates in which HISTORY goes horribly, horribly wrong. After all, we're the "good guys", right? I mean we WON the war and the "bad guys" lost. Not so in this book and the WAY the bad guys won the war is fascinating. Dick gives it to us in tiny little morsels instead of all at once. Ex. "One of these lighters was in FDR's pocket when he was assassinated." WHOAH. Or "when the Germans took Malta...." or "during the Battle of London...." Dick takes you on a ride and shakes you. He tells you what the Nazis did to Europe and Africa after they won the war and how they are leading the space program and taking their deadly values to the stars. His portrayal of the Americans as second-class citizens in their own country indebted to Nazi economic reconstruction or Japanese slightly condescending humanitarianism is so real. He has a philosophical undertone throughout which is represented by the I Ching which has become the oracle of choice to the lowly Americans who try to make sense of their place in this new world. A book has been written inside this one which asserts that Germany and Japan DID lose the war and the Nazis and Japanese try to suppress it but at the same time find it irresistibly compelling as if its "truth" is truer than their realities. Man in the High Castle gives you a sense of hope in the end that the yanks will see this underlying truth amidst the stark reality of their present. Truly, though, this book is so real that as you are reading it you may find yourself shuddering and glancing through some history books just to make sure....
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on March 28, 2004
There's little need to contribute another general positive review of this insightful and fascinating novel, as it seems abundantly clear from the reviews that this is indeed a worthwhile read (with the dissenting opinions of the erudite anti-intellectual salesmen duly noted and dismissed). However, what seems to be lacking in the helpful criticism is the main theme of Dick's novel, an individual's relationship with history. Dick is interested in the extreme subjectivity of history, a phenomenon that is created based on human perception at and of a given intersection of space and time, a subjective perception that is then cast into an artificially objective mold. We create standards for verifying for athenticating, to show that something of historic value is universally important, not just an indiosycrasy of an individual. Certain objects are endowed with historicity, a connection with a universally recognized important historical event or figure, and are thus deemed valuable. Similary, certain events are judged arbitrarily (by, say, the victors of a war) and the world is then forced to abide by all their values and standards of determination. In this sense, one feels trapped by history, that is until they realize that they have been coerced into going along with an arbitary system of values that have never really existed beyond a subjective idea. Once the artifice of objectivity has been breached, the subjective creative forces behind history are revealed. The oppressive, at times nightmarish quality of history is superceded by an empowered individual, one who recognizes the manifold plurality of individual perception, in touch with the taoist principles of the simulateous coexistence of the absolute possibility and impossibility of everything in the world.
Dick's ending is abrupt, but because it stops the reader short, he is almost forced to contemplate what was said before closing the book with any kind of satisfaction. It's a brilliant writing technique. It's really a shame that businessmen on airplanes didn't like this book because they're too busy selling things and don't have time to think. You really hate to see that kind of esteemed reader demographic become alienated. Stick to the t.v., pal. God forbid you should read too much and accidentally be inspired to think, you might start to resemble a (cringe!) COLLEGE PROFESSOR! We all shudder at the thought.
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on November 30, 2003
With works like this and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" it is odd that Phillip K Dick is not more widely read than he is, as his books rate for the most part with the doyens of American 20th century literature. This is the curse, I guess, of being branded a Sci-Fi Writer. It's embarassing to admit you like Sci-Fi.
The Man in the High Castle is superbly realised and depicted, and as with most of Dick's fiction, the outward subject of the book (in this case an alternative history of the 20th Century in which the Axis won the war and Japan and Germany conquered America) is only really the setting for a fascinating examination of the human protagonists, and the dilemmas of life they face inside it.
For this reason alone, his books have tended not to date; the particular issues they address are not of technology or history, but largely of personality and "spirituality" (for want of a better word).
The Man In The High Castle is also very well observed - in partiucular the ever-so slightly contorted constructions of Japanese English emanating from those in the Pacific States (whether Japanese or not) are very cleverly done. It is noteworthy that Dick doesn't stoop to make soft scores: there is little overt reference to the atrocities of the Second World War, and neither the German not the Japanese occupations are depicted as wholly brutal or totalitarian regimes - this is implied to an extent for the German regime, but none of the action really takes place there, and the Japanese government is portrayed surprisingly sympathetically, particularly at an individual level.
Ultimately, The Man In The High Castle descends out of focus and into incoherency, but as mentioned above, plot wasn't really what interested Dick, and this tends to be a characteristic of his novels.
Recommended.
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on April 20, 2003
The Man in the High Castle takes place in a North America radically different than the one we know. Written in 1962, Philip K. Dick's vision is less science fiction that alternative fiction. The east coast is controlled by the Third Reich, the west by the Japanese, and the mountain states are all that remains of the old America.
Dick makes an interesting case, with his blend of historical and fictitious Axis and Allies characters that shaped the destiny of the world. He doesn't go into a lot of futuristic gadgetry, mostly just rockets that can take humans to the moon and Venus and Mars, along with a forty-five minute trip from Berlin to San Francisco. He hints at the experiments conducted by the Nazis, such as the draining of the Mediterranean Sea and the African atrocity.
What really makes this book stand out is the characters and how they are linked through this story. We see Robert Childan, a dealer in items of "historicity" and closet racist. There's Mr. Tagomi, a conservative but open-minded businessman who has a defining moment with an "antique" revolver and a bit of nouveau jewelry. Frank Frink is a Jew who has evaded the Holocaust and goes into business with a friend, making the new style of jewelry. His ex-wife, Juliana, embarks on a quest to find the writer of a popular, but controversial book, the titular "Man in the High Castle." Their lives are intertwined, along with their belief in the oracle of the I Ching and the attachment of value to things that belonged, or could have belonged, to someone famous or to a famous period. The past is linked to the present and future.
The story traces their lives, along with subplots involving the change of the German high command and a Swedish businessman who may not be all that he appears.
I liked the book because it's a thinker, one that makes you question how things might have been, how they are, and how they could be, along with variations if key events or people had not made certain choices of action. Recommended for fans of classic science fiction, fantasy and history alike.
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on August 12, 2002
"The Man in the High Castle," by Philip K. Dick, is a science fiction novel that pushes the boundaries of the genre. It takes place in an alternate America where Germany and Japan won World War II. The Pacific States of America are ruled by Japan through a puppet white government; the Germans have engaged in genocide in Africa and are pursuing an aggressive space program. That's only the beginning of the "what if?" strangeness.
In "Man," Dick uses a dual book-within-the-book theme. The plot and characters are continuously impacted by two texts: first, the ancient Chinese oracle known as the I Ching, and second, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy," a banned novel of yet another alternate America. The book thus becomes a mindbending literary house of mirrors.
This is a bizarre, intelligent, and compelling work of fiction. There may be just a little too much going on; in the end, I'm not sure if the book completely holds together. But Dick poses some fascinating questions. "Man" is a biting satire about conspiracy, power, censorship, and cultural exploitation. Ultimately, Dick questions the very nature of science fiction, and ponders the role of literature in general.
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on April 30, 2002
Upon first glance, this seems to be a different type of book for Philip K. Dick to write. It's more linear, and has far less screwy elements, than the majority of his work. It was one of the first major alternate history novels, and has been quite influential in that manner, and it also, as the back of the book claims, broke down the barriers between "science fiction and the serious novel of ideas." The book seems kind of haphazard after the first reading, and can actually be a disappointment. Being one of Dick's most famous books, and winner of the Hugo award, one might expect more than the seemingly arbitrary plot elements and non-action of the book - not to mention the apparently shabby ending. The book offers no obvious revelations, nor does it give any easy answers. The book, which seems to end almost at random, will, in all likelihood, leave you railing something along the lines of, "What?! That's IT?! How can it be done?! What was the POINT?!"
However, once examined, you realize something: this book isn't really about what you thought it was. I think that the sypnosis of this book that is generally given (the one on the back cover) is rather misleading, as is the one for Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly. For, the sypnosis that is given has absolutely nothing to do with what the book is really about - much less what it means (also like the aforementioned novel.) Sure, this is an alternate history novel. Sure, in it, the Allies lost the war, and the United States is now occupied jointly by Germany and Japan - sure, sure, sure. That has nothing to do with the book, however.
Allow me to explain. Despite what may gleam from the surface of this book, what Dick has actually done here is write another book that asks - in a fashion much more slip-shod and roundabout than usual - the question, "What is reality?" The book has nothing to do with war, alternate history, or anything else that you may imagine it has to do with. What the book actually does is examine the very fabric of reality itself. It's almost a cosmic joke - on a grand, realistic level.
Look at it. Dick wrote this book, in which resides an alternate history in which Germany and Japan won the war. In it, a man writes an alternate history book in which Germany and Japan lost the war. (Interstingly enough, let me point out something else, too: THIS BOOK HAS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENCE FICTION ELEMENTS. This fact is appreciated by Dick, who, in describing the novel within the novel, has a character say that it resides in the real of "fiction, possibly science fiction." Another character rebukes, saying that it isn't set in the future, and contains no science - elements both necessary for a novel to be considered science fiction. The arbiter refutes this notion, saying that it, like much science fiction, deals instead with the alternate present. This book just gets pigeon-holed as SF because it was written by Dick. Almost certainly, if it had been written by an author who wasn't generally considered and SF author, it would've never been called SF.) However, we find out, in the end, that Germany and Japan actually lost the war in the book, as well.
Or did they?
Like in many of Dick's other great novels - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Scanner Darkly, VALIS - the story starts out strange, and only gets stranger. And, just when you think you've got it pinned down, there is a major twist in the novel that will leave you scratching your head. Dick, at his best, pulls the thinner-than-you-think mat of reality out from underneath your feet at the moment you least expect it, leaving you reeling and questioning the very nature of your existence.
Perhaps existence is more arbitrary than we imagine - after all, what IS reality?
I think Dick himself said it best when he said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
...and that's what this book is all about. Not war, not alternate history - but reality itself. Incidentally, I think the whole heavy emphasis on the alternate WWII element may have ruined the book for many people. They went into it expecting something other than what they got, and left it feeling empty, and perhaps cheated. Here's a tip: ignore the back of the book. On any Philip K. Dick novel. It will only lead you down the wrong path. I don't think Dick intended the reader to know that this book was set in that alternate universe going in. It kind of spoils the story; one would be better off - and certainly more surprised - if they went into the book thinking that it was set in our time, and slowly realized the differences - and then back again... thinking, Maybe it's not SO different, after all...
Ultimately, this book does have a few problems. It's not perfect, and it's not Dick's best. However, it is a very interesting read - much more than it seems on the surface - and one that anyone should read. If you are a first-time Phil Dick reader, I advise you to start elsewhere - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or VALIS, for instance - but you will want to read this one, eventually: it's an essential book for any Philip K. Dick fan.
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on March 19, 2001
The only reason this novel doesn't get five stars is that Philip Dick wrote better novels. This is a serious, steady novel that lacks the shifts and reality twists that are so common in Philip Dick's works. It has a broad range of well fleshed out characters that we, the readers, can identify with. Their traumas and misadventures become ours. Although the novel is driven by a pilgrimmage to meet the author of 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy' it is the incidents around the pilgrimmage that give the novel its content.
Philip Dick was a great stylist as a writer, but his most distinct attribute was his ideas. It was an interesting enough idea to have a novel about America divided by an iron curtain between Japan and German occupied zones after the allies had lost WWII. Interesting but hardly astounding. The way Philip Dick writes, especially about Japan occupied America, creates a real alternate world for the readers - a convincing image. That, again, demonstrates technical competence of the writer - but many writers can achieve this level of creativity and detail. When Philip Dick adds the component of having a writer in his imagined world write a novel about an alternative world to him - our world - now, that's a real innovation.
Many critics have felt flat at the end of the novel when the pilgrimmage rather peters out. The author of 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy' (the novel that depicts our world in Philip Dick's created world) turns out to be rather a disappointment. There are no revelations here that we, the readers, might have hoped for. But that made me look back into the novel - what is it all about? And I settled for the moment when the Japanese politician - elderly, frail, compassionate - experiences the one reality-shifting moment in the novel. A flash of light off an item of custom jewellery momentarily blinds him at a moment of physical weakness and vulnerability. For several well chosen paragraphs this Japanese gentleman is in our world - the world of 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy'. Suddenly the reality of the alternative world that Philip Dick has created in this novel is overlaid by a greater reality - one every reader can readily identify with. Is Dick wondering what triggers there might be in our reality - the reality of our lives - that might expose us to a greater reality? (See 'The Doors of Perception' by Aldous Huxley.) Perhaps the 'I Ching' is a way to revelation - Philip Dick wrote about this in his personal life and my own experiments were a bit challenging to accomodate.
So what of that fade-out ending? I don't think it is any accident that the object of the pilgrimmage is an author, and one of some disrepute. I suggest that Philip Dick was leading the reader to himself and saying - 'Look, don't come to me asking me what it all means. I just write the stuff. Read the words and find what you can from them yourself.'
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on November 13, 2000
One should return to Philip K. Dick's books every three or four years in order not to forget what an adult sci-fi book looks like. Of course, one has to be careful because Philip K. Dick, amidst a dozen masterpieces, also wrote a certain number of books to pay his rent, books which could deceive the curious reader.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE won the 1964 Hugo award and gave to Philip K. Dick the opportunity to write his best novels without being worried by financial problems. It's not my favorite Dick novel but I nevertheless read it on a regular basis because this writer, in my opinion, is one of the most important american writers of the XXth century and each of his books is way better than the 99 % of today sci-fi production.
Numerous Dick's obsessions can be found in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE like his fear in front of any kind of totalitarism or his intimate belief that reality is only a mask hiding another reality which could hide... and so on. His problems with the F.B.I. have also inspired the scenes describing how innocent people are hunted and arrested by members of the german secret police.
I should say that THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is a good introduction to Philip K. Dick's universe for those of you who want to discover this writer. It's adult science-fiction at its best.
A book to read again. And again. And again.
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on June 13, 2000
Science fiction writing - for those who think it's just make-believe fantasy - allows us to explore current issues from the safe light of afar - ('cause it's just make-believe fantasy, right?) While reading, we can make comparisons of modern racism or genocides with fictionalized aliens, and so on....
In this book, there are no aliens from outer space. This is an alternate view of our own history and other social issues in the days of Nazi Germany. The anonymous reviewer ("Things are Not as They Seem") has the BEST words on this book - read his/her review and then buy the book, if you haven't!
Here's my story - my first husband brought this book to me in 1968, as I lay in a hospital bed after the birth of our son. That's my kind of guy (though I didn't know it then!) We were barely out of our teen years, right in the midst of some major changes in the US.
Fresh out of high school, I hadn't bothered to think through much, and had grown up accepting the US's Number One Hero position in the world.
This book was fascinating, not just a sci fi escape, but a book that raised questions in my very young mind, questions I wouldn't have gone to on my own. What would our lives have been like if the Axis had won the war? The book is good for the liberal-minded, though the ending is...well - you need to read it yourself.
And it needs to be read and then discussed, in order to challenge that cocky belief we hold to be true, (a slightly masked form of global racism), that we are the chosen country.
It is time for someone to write on this theme again, but for now, this is a good read. If you liked Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here," or if the short story "The Lottery" got you thinking, you will enjoy reading this book.
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