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5.0 out of 5 stars The best of PK Dick
I doubt there are many writers as wildly inconsistent as Dick. He can be vapid and very bad--stylistically and materially--or knock-your-socks-off intelligent and excellent. This book is ranked among the latter.
The book's main theme is the one that Dick excels at developing in challenging, complicated, and provocative narrative situations--the theme of the nature of...
Published on June 21 2004 by C. Myers
3.0 out of 5 stars Surprising, but not as good as it could have been
This is a surprising opus. The action takes place in San Francisco in the 1960s. Japan and Germany won World War II twenty year earlier, and split the world between them. The two countries occupy each half of the United States. Germany has brought the final solution to an extreme in Africa. The few remaining Jews are prosecuted and have to hide even in the...
Published on April 18 2004 by Erik Bruchez
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4.0 out of 5 stars Classic Dick,
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.
3.0 out of 5 stars surreal, mysterious and vague,
The nightmare of an alternate history in which the Nazis concquered the world? Unfortunately, the story dissappoints because it doesn't sound as nightmarish as it suggests.
For those who've never heard of this book, "Castle" offers an oppressed and subjugated America long since conquered by the Axis powers of the War. America is divided between the Japanese consolidated states of the Pacific coast and the German dominated eastern-American sphere - though Dick suggests the Nazis as the more ambitious of the two victors. Still a militaristic society, the Japanese themselves are comparatively benign - polite invaders who maintain their occupation from restricted enclaves while spending their time acquiring "Americana" (American swords, billboards, vintage clothes, jewelry, etc..) The Germans have been busier, and Dick hints early that, as far as Germany is concerned, the Earth isn't big enough for two empires. The horrors of the Nazi genocide aren't fleshed out - Dick stays deliberately vague - there are hints of a horror in Africa, while the futuristic Nazis share the racial ideas of the historical Nazis. Between the Japanese and German dominated territories, a vast no-man's land exists in which people try to survive by exploiting each side's distrust of the other, guided by the I-Ching. When the novel opens, we learn that the Nazis are on the verge of planning two new wars - one against their enemies, but firs a battle among their own inner circle. At the center of everything lives the man of the castle himself - a recluse who has penned an underground best-selling novel which brazenly exalts and America that actually won WWII.
As a straight novel, "Castle" is an incredible disappointment. It's way-out characters (who are dominated by I-Ching), unresolved and seldom co-mingling plot-lines and barely fleshed out tension will make you feel that you've read hundreds of pages of a novel that never starts. Dick was supposed to have written "Castle" under great tension himself - constantly revolted by the evils of history's Nazis, but you won't see that here. You'd think that a world largely dominated (or even populated) by Nazis would be outright horrific - dotted by death factories, criss-crossed by railways carrying fresh victims - but that clashes with the tone Dick offers, which is simply surreal. (according to Dick legend, the author was too horrified to follow up "Castle" with a sequel. Instead, darkly inspired by the Nazi vision of a world divided between humans and seemingly identical beings otherwise deprived of human rights, Dick gave us the novel that became "Blade Runner" - with illegal androids subbing for genocide's victims.) Even the focus on I-Ching is unnerving (once Dick has educated us as to what I-Ching is, it soon begins to appear as if he used it to finish this book).
On a deeper level, one can still appreciate the irony - not on Dick's alternate history, but on the alternate history created by Dick's fictional man in the castle. We learn of his novel, "The Grasshopper lies heavily" long before we get a look at what's on its pages. Knowing of its premise of a triumphant America, we're supposed to imagine that Grasshopper's America will look much like our own. Near the end, when one of our "heores" looks into "Grasshopper" we learn that its vision does not stay close to our own for very long, at first closer to reality than that of "Castle". The cracks form once the west wins the war and must confront what became the "cold war", and we're left wondering which alternative reality is really the alternative reality, and which is simply a funhouse-mirror version of our own - one in which an ambitious super-power has scarred the world with its costly mistakes, tears itself apart in internecine battles and seeks to spread itself into space, likely in order to escape the charnel house it has made of the earth. Dick gave this story no ending, probably thinking that the scariest way to close a cautionary tale of an alternate time is to show you how alternate it's not.
3.0 out of 5 stars Now If Only It Had An Ending ...,
This is the novel Dick is best known for. It won him his Hugo award and put his name on sci-fi radar as a person to watch. And for the most part it is intensely interesting. Now if only it had an ending.
Although the concept of "what if the Nazis had won the war" has been beaten to death in straight-to-video action titles and alternate reality television series, it is important to realize that Dick was one of the first. This novel is old - it is from 1962 - and although the concept is a bit threadbare by now, Dick executes it well.
Contrary to the opinion of some readers, I was fascinated by how intimately Dick seemed to know his Japanese characters. Perhaps some people have different opinions of Japanese mentality, or are offended by any typifying of their mentality. But whether or not Dick's writing was objectively accurate, it was internally consistent and believable. That is what matters. He was able to create characters whose actions seemed logical based upon what we understood of them.
It is unfortunate that so few of the character arcs were given resolution, and that some of the more interesting plotlines were not developed (it would have been cool to read about the outcome of the supposed Nazi plan to attack Japan). But most of what Dick does present is interesting, so I can't really fault him for not writing about everything. It is a credit to his imagination that he created a world where there is so much stuff that he could only selectively develop a few ideas.
But then we come to that darn ending. Perhaps I just don't get it. Some have suggested that Dick was hinting that the Nazis really won. I find that too embarassingly pandering to believe - anyone can shout "the fascists really won" and get someone to cheer. There really is no grounds for such a statement, and Dick was a clever man. Some have suggested that Dick was merely revealing that this was, indeed, a fantasy world as an end to his story. I guess I just find that anticlimactic. Besides, the whole thing was kind of silly. The man doesn't protect himself - why don't the Nazis just kill him?
I find this problem with many of Dick's stories - he doesn't tend to finish with a strong statement or memorable line. This is in sharp contrast with Bester, who's better works (such as "The Stars My Destination") rise to a crescendo. However, Dick is much more gifted at fleshing out characters and internal monologues than Bester. So both have their strengths. I just wish Dick wouldn't let his stories taper off so lifelessly.
Because I was so enthralled in the book I read it very quickly. Thus getting to the dull sigh of an end was even more disppointing. I had these very interesting characters floating around in my head with nothing to do.
The quality of the writing earns it a 3 star rating from me. I cannot give it a higher rating because I just did not find it satisfying. Which is unfortunate, because I've almost worked my way through his available works.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest novels ever written,
By A Customer
This is quite possibly the greatest book I've ever read. It completely addicted me in the few short days it took to finish it, and really struck me with just how solid it was. It didn't have good characters but amateur writing, or good ideas but poor characters, and the quality was incredibly consistent, as it doesn't take long to suck you in, and doesn't feel like it has a single unneeded page, nor should anything have been done differently. What really makes this so perfect is how the ideas and setting are so well woven into the character's and their story. You may start off thinking "I'll read that book about the Axis winning WWII", but the book only reveals information about its setting as it pertains to the characters, and it works perfectly. By showing the world through the eyes of four excellent developed people, you get a much more real and vivid picture of the world while at the same time creating a much more enjoyable novel. The fact that Dick seamelessly layers interesting questions about reality on top of that just cements this novel's position as being as close to perfect as a book can be.
If you're going to read a Philip K. Dick novel, this will probably leave the strongest impression on you, although if you got into him from the many movies based on his works, you may want to start with one of the stories or novels that inspired them.
4.0 out of 5 stars What if the allies had lost WWII? And then...,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars And Much of Madness,
As alternate reality novels go, this is the best. A world where the Axis won.
The genius of this novel is that it focuses not on the plucky agitators, but on the colonial officials. Their reactions to a country not their own (ours) make this much more than a worthwhile diversion.
Dick infuses the entire novel with a chase-scene paranoia, a rush that belies the characters' near constant consultation of the I-Ching. This lends a relentless focus to the book, which rushes on toward a conclusion that seems certain at one point, ambiguous the next, but always SO CLOSE.
This is supposedly a CLASSIC, as I've heard. I only know that it's an incredible work. ...and more of sin, and horror's the soul of the plot....
May 2003. Several recent reviews ask "what's the point?" and "he dances around the center of the novel!" To these folks I would say that A) there is no "point" per se, just what you bring to it with your own values, and B) the genius of this as opposed to some of his other works is that he DOESN'T show us the man behind the curtain. True, it enriches some novels immeasurably, but this is one best left in its beareaucratic otherworld.
And one more thing---if you can easily discern the central idea of a novel, why complain that the author somehow "misses" it? Try a more academic solution, such as "The author failed to fully explore the possibilities of the situation.." Or something...
5.0 out of 5 stars Why science fiction, and why aren't we reading it now?,
Dick's book is a novel of incredibly literary merit. I say this because it is about characters--at least five major ones--and they happen to live in a time where Germany and Japan won world war II, but this novel is much more than a nifty alternate history novel. The characters are rich and rewarding, and the choices they have to make living in a world where a minor difference made a major catastrophe are brilliantly thought out. With Germany in control of much of the world, TVs weren't invented until 1960 and only a few homes in Germany have them; Mars has been reached, but it's merely for dramatic effect, the Mediterranean has been drained and used as farmland; the African people have been decimated; the Jews nearly wiped out except for a few in disguise.
This book is about finding the truth inside deception. Everyone's got a little racket going, and then pops in a book that calls into question the history as they know it. It's about their reactions to this book, the possibility that maybe there is a way out, or a way back, or another way.
I love this book, and I think reading it now makes me more aware of the need to help the universe become less evil, not more so. That may mean taking responsibility for doing something about the evil--but if we don't, we get something like this book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Much more subtle than it appears,
We were all disappointed at reading the last few lines of "The Man in the High Castle". Like Julia and "The Grasshopper..." we are left pondering its true meaning.
Consider this: in the novel Abendsen writes his alternate history using the I-Ching. He reaches a result that, although it does not match our reality exactly, is oddly familiar.
In reality PKD used the I-Ching to plot "Man in the High Castle." The implication is that TMITHC does not exactly reflect TRUE reality - but it is pretty close.
PKD, like Abendsen, ws not really talking about his alternate universe. He is making a bold statement about America in the 1960s. Did the Allies really win the second world war? What benefit was it, if the USA becomes another Nazi Germany?
Hitler once said: "Even if we cannot destroy our enemies, we can force them to become like us in order to destroy us." PKD often quoted this. He saw it as appalling that the victors over evil in the 1940s could end up plotting to blow each other up in the 1960s. Like Mr Tagomi, we are faced with a feeling of enormous moral outrage. Does it matter who wins, if the extermination of entire nations is even conceived of as realistic policy?
Yet PKD also points out how unthinkable life under the Nazis would be. (He is a little soft on the Japanese, in my opinion; just check out their occupation of China. But I digress). PKD's outrage at the Nazis' appalling mental processes (they have wiped out the population of Africa, and don't even care) makes for very interesting reading. He puts into words what many of us cannot - the bizzare feeling that the Nazis were literally inhuman - that ordinary people cannot even begin to comprehend how the Nazi mind operated. It was something at a total remove from ordinary humane thinking - the sheer coldness that PKD was later to call "android behaviour." (This would later be studied in the classic "Blade Runner").
Furthermore, there is the simple visceral pleasure of slowly working out the details of PKD's alternative universe. Churchill still in power in 1962?? F.D. Rooseveldt assassinated in the 1930s?? Hitler dying slowly of syphilis?? This is a history that really might have happened, had the world been less vigilant - and less lucky. In real life, FDR nearly was assassinated - and was saved by his cigarette lighter. History is a mass of chance transformations.
Lastly, there is PKd's fascinating ideas about "historicity" - ideas that are apparent to anyone who owns ancient or historic artefacts. I have some ancient coins in my collection. These coins probably went through the hands of Roman merchants, Roman sailors, even Roman soldiers, senators and noblemen. Yet I cannot shake the feeling that they are just pieces of metal. Where is the historicity in these coins? Only in my mind. PKD plays around with this idea with his notion of a factory turning out fake historical artefacts.
The Man in the High Castle may seem disappointing at first reading - but further reading shows the great subtlety in this, one of PKD's masterpieces.
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull and plotless; not worth reading, in my opinion.,
Boring! That's the first word that came to mind as I started reading The Man in the High Castle, and, no matter how hard I tried, I could not keep that word from permeating my thoughts as I plodded along in this book. One could say that the grasshopper laid heavy on my eyelids as I dozed off while I attempted to struggle through this book.
The Man in the High Castle starts off with an interesting premise - it's after World War II, and the Allies have lost because FDR got assassinated. The former USA has been divided: Japan has claimed the west, while Germany has claimed the east. This sounds pretty intriguing, and it promised to be, but then the "plot" of the book started. That is the problem that plagues the book: it has no plot! All it does is tell the stories of a few ordinary, boring citizens; one of which who sells antiques (wow!!!) and all of which are interested in meeting somebody who was written a book; this man who lives in the high castle. However, despite all the bad things that I've said about TMITHC already, as I continued reading the book, things actually got pretty interesting. I was thinking, "oh hell yes, maybe the ending will be exciting! maybe the separate stories of boring citizens will come together in a final exciting climax!" Then I actually read the end. It was so amazingly anticlimactic that I thought it was supposed to be a piece of humor from the great PKD. When I realized it was a serious ending, and some people actually enjoyed it, I was so mad that I ripped the book to pieces and wrote this scathing review. Bottom line: don't read this book, it's sooooo boring and sooooo stupid; basically a bunch of plotless drivel repackaged and billed as "great art" and "radically philosophical". Final score for TMITHC: 1 star
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Dick's greatest achievements,
Philip K. Dick is my favorite Sci-fi writer despite the fact that he is as easy to criticize, as he is to praise. He possessed an absolutely astonishing imagination, and created during the course of his writing career novels of ideas that were quite without parallel in the world of Sci-fi. It would be impossible to imagine current Sci-fi without Dick. The Cyberpunk movement is based squarely on his work, and his invention of genre's dealing with alternative history or alternative realities permeates contemporary writing. At the same time, Dick's books are frequently not as good as his initial inspiration. He was essentially a pulp writer, which meant that he made money for writing quickly, not for writing well. As a result, many of his characters are not fully realized, his prose is sometimes less than inspired, and some scenes are not fully developed. At his best, however, he is frequently stunning, and his explorations of how we perceive "what is" and "what might have be" are often thrilling.
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is one of Dick's most highly regarded books. In it, he gave birth to the alternative history genre. The story is well known: In the part of the former United States occupied by Imperial Japan, a number of individuals are struggling with the situation after the end of WW II, in which Japan and Germany split the continent between them. Many of them are aware of and discuss among each other a banned but nonetheless widely read and distributed book by a man who is said to live in a high castle. In this book, he writes a historical fiction, imagining the world as it would have been had Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not died before the beginning of WW II, giving the US a strong leader instead of the weak one who took over in his stead. He imagines that the US would have decisively influenced affairs both in Europe and the Pacific, leading to the defeat of both the Japanese and the Germans. Many other things happen in the book, but they are neither as key or as provocative as the basic world that Dick describes. This is the heart of the novel. After having read this book twice, I can only remotely remember the key characters in the book, and cannot recall with perfect clarity the events contained in it. But the world itself, and the novel within the novel that creates such a sensation, I recall vividly.
This is not merely a novel for Sci-fi fans: this is a book for anyone who enjoys first-rate imaginative fiction. It is also a book of great historical importance, in that it was instrumental in creating a new sub genre in Sci-fi.
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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Mass Market Paperback - July 1992)
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