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The Man in the High Castle Hardcover – October 18, 2016
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This harrowing, Hugo Award winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake."
From the Back Cover
Helped shape an entire field of modern fiction: alternate history. It s the definition of genre-defining. Guardian
One of the first examples of what would become Dick s signature style: his stories are complex, featuring regular characters altered by much larger events surrounding them, often influencing their perceptions on reality. Kirkus Reviews
Dick s most finely wrought work of fiction. New Statesman
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 18, 2016)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0544916085
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544916081
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.96 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #85,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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This story was written in the 60s, and is set then as well. What if the Axis won World War II is the major premise behind the setting. The conflicts highlight the extreme to which Japanese and German cultures could have gone, and the possible effects of living in a land under the control of one, and strongly influenced by the other. Imagine the Japanese concept of place, mixing with facist bigotry, overlaid on oppressed Americans living in a totalitarian world. PKD thoroughly denounces facism, bigotry and xenophobia.
But the story is more than that. The plot is hidden from the reader as we see events from several points of view. And the narration ends with barely a paragraph of denouement. If you are not driven to contemplation about the meaning of life or the nature of reality by this work, you should read it again, slowly.
Without giving anything away, let me say that, through nine-tenths of the book, Dick builds the story (and the readers) up to this heart-wrenching climax--and then doesn't deliver. The effect was like being ushered into a great and grand house, all designed and built around a single unifying theme, each room a better, more nuanced expression of that theme. Then, just as we come to the doorway to the central chamber--the ultimate expression of the theme which we have been led, by degrees, to understand throughout the entire tour--we run into a white sheet with the words "THUS FAR AND NO FARTHER. THANK YOU FOR YOUR VISIT--THE DOORMAN WILL SHOW YOU OUT." printed on it, and we are promptly hustled out the side entrance, the door slammed behind us.
Long story short: If you came here expecting a novel-form of the excellent series of the same name based on this story, produced by Amazon and overseen by Philip K. Dick's family and estate, you'll be very disappointed. What Amazon and the. Philip K. Dick family have done is taken the premise, a few of the excellently written characters, and the story question of this novel, and allowed the story to run, filling out a great riverbed, rather than constricting it to the bathtub-size which was this commercial volume.
TL;DR Watch the series instead. It is definitely inspired by this book, but much more detailed and suited to those who want an in-depth story.
The scenario is an alternative 1962, after Nazi Germany and Japan won WW2. The former USA is sliced into an east and centre under Nazi rule, a west coast run by Japan, and a neutral zone around the Rocky Mountains. Most of the action is in San Francisco, where several lives intersect. Nobusuke Tagomi is head of Japan’s Imperial Trade Mission. But he also is intellectually restless, an earnest seeker of Truth. He is learned in eastern and western philosophy and religion, a follower of the Tao, and regularly consults the I Ching. Robert Childan sells antiques to rich Japanese collectors, fawning on his Japanese masters, but yearning toward the east, where white men rule. Frank Frink sells jewellery and metal-work art to the same layer of Japanese collectors; born Frank Fink, he is a Jew – something to conceal at all costs lest he be sent off to the Nazis. Frink’s estranged wife Juliana lives in the Rockies, teaching judo.
The Japanese have established rigid racial hierarchies and an authoritarian but law-bound regime which will execute rebels, but also price-gouging landlords. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. It is liveable, and liberalism is sprouting in the younger generation of Japanese professionals. But over the mountains a nightmare looms, revealed through the characters’ stray thoughts and comments. The Nazis have seemingly irresistible military superiority: a menace distant but looming ever closer.
The unity of opposites pervades the story: Axis and Allies, Germany and Japan, good and evil, past and present, illusion and reality, the spiritual and material, Yin and Yang, the external world and the world within our heads. And then there is the story-world and our world: a mysterious writer called Hawthorne Absenden, aka the Man in the High Castle, has written a popular novel describing a world in which the Allies had won the war.
It is a philosophical novel rather than science fiction in the classic tradition. The sci fi touches, such as human being landing on Mars, are irrelevant to the story line and could easily have been deleted.
After passing a critical moral test, Tagomi meditates on a silver ornament, perceiving it as a unity of the dark mineral earth and the sparkling fire of the heavens; he senses a chance to enter Nirvana, to escape illusion and the cycle of death and rebirth. Instead he finds himself transported to the San Francisco of our world. Without deciding anything about its existential status (though speculating that it might be one of the terrifying transitional places between death and rebirth depicted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead), he finds it dingy, coarse and ugly and a place where whites, offensively, do not defer to Japanese. He realises he is “Out of my world, my space and time” but quickly decides he has “broken from my moorings and hence stand on nothing… One seeks to contravene one’s perceptions - why? So that one can wander utterly lost, without signpost or guide?” The strange new world is no longer awesome to him, but merely a place of half-wakeful confusion, where the conscious and unconscious are all mixed up.
Perhaps he has been vouchsafed a glimpse of another world as a reward for his goodness. Or perhaps we humans are irrevocably anchored to the world we know, so our longings for the Beyond can never be assuaged.
Meanwhile Juliana meets Absenden and seeks wisdom from him. She also receives from the I Ching the message Inner Truth, which she interprets as meaning that Absenden’s book is somehow true: the Axis had lost the war. Juliana urges the novelist to “believe” but he shakes his head, and says he is not sure of anything.
Yet since we are dealing with Yin and Yang, the unity of opposites, Dick seems to suggest that his own book is also “true” – the Allies did lose the war, in some sense. Or perhaps both evil and good won and lost in both the alternative world and our world. Dick is not morally indifferent: he depicts the consequences of Nazi conquest unsparingly. But also he warns us not to absolutise the goodness of the Allies’ victory, and even though the alternate world seems on a path to ever greater horror, he offers a reminder that the actions of individuals can change the course of events. The light of the Yang reappears in the darkest Yin.
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Dick's prose isn't particularly fluid. Whatsmore, his penchant for inconsistently going into stream of consciousness narration and terse, clipped sentences make some passages outright confusing. Nonetheless, the reader becomes accustomed to this fairly early on. My issue with TMITHC is that it simply isn't very good. The story is fairly non-eventful and there is the constant nagging that Dick is wasting a fantastic setting on a bland, disjointed story. It is told through the perspectives of three main players, with each story arch sort of intersecting at one point or another. The problem with this is that they aren't equal and I found myself skimming pages for certain characters.
Another major disappointment is in Dick's apparent failure (assuming I wasn't just too stupid to pick up on nuances) to take advantage of excellent ideas. There is something very bold about writing a novella set in an alternate history, where a book set in an alternate history is revealed to be... an alternate history. I was expecting some kind of reflexive narrative gimmick or trick, but this doesn't happen. The end is irritatingly ambiguous - not in a thought-provoking way. The characters also talk on 'historicity' and how we give objects their value, rather than any intrinsic quality. I figured that this would be the theme, the ultimate goal of the story, to tell the reader that history is defined by perception in some clever revelation. This didn't seem to be the case - at least not so I detected. Again, it seemed like a missed opportunity to build something literary - an Orwell-esque allegory even. Instead, it is just a rather bland and disjointed story that I kept hoping would pick up, but it didn't.
The Amazon seriers has a much better storyline and far more developed characters. The book, quite frankly, was shit.
Dick's world building is reasonably good, and the descriptions of a Japanese sphere dominated west coast vs. the Nazi east coast with the mid-west buffer zone are thought provoking. The rocket ships etc. that fly from Germany to California in a few minutes are a bit too far fetched given the taxi's are pedal powered.
However, for me the problem is the disjointed nature of the story. The first third seems to be introducing the characters, in quite a lot of detail, but then to what purpose. I cannot really figure out the point of one of the main characters - he just seems to be there...
Overall the plot seems to be very disjointed - almost like two separate short stories that occur in the same vicinity, but are not really related.
There are no alternate world newsreels, no Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, no Resistance and Julia has no sister.
The story is readable and well-paced although the characters, with the exception of Tagomi, lack depth.
The curious dialogue style, imitating English as spoken by a foreigner, is initially irritating but, before long, your brain fills in the missing words and it appears more fluid.
For me the subject matter appears to be more a discourse on what constitutes free will vs predestination, with Julia Frink as an unpredictable, you might say unstable, wildcard.
You may come away feeling unsatisfied, with questions unanswered, but the book will definitely stimulate your brain and give you food for thought.
It stands up on its own merits and I would advise that, to enjoy it at its best, you try and mentally disconnect any connections to the TV show before reading.
The one star given here is the minimum I can put to submit a review and is for the fact that as a waste of my valuable time - it succeeded in destroying any further interest I may have had of reading more by Philip K Dick.