The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is a science-fiction, alternate history take on what would happen if Germany and its allies won WWII. The book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963 and has been made into an Amazon Prime television series.
It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.
Philip K. Dick is a titan in the science-fiction world and this alt-history novel of his is one of his best known works, and, I think, probably one of his best. The book puts forth an alternative history narrative that follows an ensemble cast of characters from diverse backgrounds to better show the complete picture of what life is like in the world post-WWII under German and Japanese hegemony.
I found Dick’s image of this alternative future to be fascinating and really well researched. The way that all these separate character stories, which at first appear to be so random and generic, slowly come together and interweave and come to a head is surprising and oddly satisfying. When I first began reading this book, I was so confused as to why these individuals were being singled out to tell this story. Many of them seem so inconsequential. And yet all their stories come into sharp focus as the story’s plot reaches its crescendo and the book ends as these stories, now crucially important, come to a head.
I was a bit surprised at the cliff-hanger ending. The book is ultimately open-ended, which left me a bit unsatisfied. But the overall masterfully woven plot sort of makes up for it. Dick provides a staggering amount of philosophical debate and such depth in his characters. Though I found myself finding it difficult to fully grasp the deeper meanings of this novel, I still enjoyed it.
Literary Value: 3/5
I almost wish I had read this as part of a lit class, because I feel I would probably be rating it higher, overall. However, since I didn’t, I have to say I can only guess where this book ranks overall in the sci-fi genre. But I can say that it is a very well-written book as far as plot construction and character development goes. The syntax of the characters varied, depending on their cultural backgrounds, though it seemed a bit odd sometimes to read such stilted writing when reading foreign characters.
I guess, overall, I could say that while I can appreciate the construction of this book, I didn’t particularly connect with it fully, and parts of it felt slow and left me feeling dis-engaged.
Entertainment Factor: 2/5
While I objectively enjoyed the construction of this book and the complex, interwoven character narratives, I didn’t actually enjoy reading it. It’s a vary slow-paced book, its philosophical nature really bogs down the plot, and, in my opinion, keeps the story from feeling like a story instead of just an exercise in hypothetical musings about how history would have changed if Germany won WWII. I also didn’t particularly care for any of the characters. All of them felt slightly in-human in certain ways, but I think this was mostly due to the philosophical inner-dialogue that almost every character engaged in.
Cover Art: 2/5
I’m judging this book on its original, 1st edition cover. It’s okay. That’s the best I can say about it. It’s boring and makes the book seem like it’s actually a history book instead of a novel. It only provides the bare minimum: a title and the flags of the two countries in supremacy in the book, Germany’s and Japan’s. While I’m glad there isn’t some attempt at illustrating one or a few of the characters, I still think this book cover could have offered up a bit more in order to give the viewer an idea of what the book might be about.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Colt Revolvers
Boy I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened this book! I can say that since I have not read too many (if any?) alt-history books, I probably would have been impressed by this book no matter what. I think it’s quite difficult to imagine so many different outcomes by changing a moment in history. Dick does a good job of imagining a different history, of creating characters who live in this world and have to navigate this tricky, Nazi-ruled world. I also found the story-within-a-story interesting, especially as it gave the characters some rather interesting dialog moments and musings on the could-have-been that is, in reality our history (in which Germany loses WWII).
I ultimately didn’t enjoy my reading experience too much. The book was very narrative-heavy, with lots of character introspective moments that are philosophy-heavy. And since I’m not too familiar with the I-Ching, I found each of the moments where characters used it baffling and hard to grasp. Basically, this book was just hard to grasp for me and despite knowing that it’s definitely a masterful work of sci-fi, I, myself, just didn’t get too much out of it.
Thoughts & Thanks!
Thank you so much for reading my review. I hope I provided you with some insight into this book and aided you on your decision to read it or skip it. If you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Did you like it? Love it? Maybe you hated it? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments! And, as always, happy reading!