The Man in the High Castle, first edition
First edition

The Man in the High Castle

Novel, 1962
approx. 90,000 words
First line: [SHOW] [HIDE]

For a week Mr. R. Childan had been anxiously watching the mail.

Great lines: [SHOW] [HIDE]

"Listen. You're very good. You cut my aorta. Artery in my neck."
Giggling, she clapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh God—you're such a freak. I mean, you get words all wrong. The aorta's in your chest; you mean the carotid."

Last line: [SHOW] [HIDE]

She walked on without looking again at the Abendsen house and, as she walked, searching up and down the streets for a cab or a car, moving and bright and living, to take her back to her motel.

The author [SHOW] [HIDE]

Besides being one of the most important figures in 20th-century science fiction, this guy was nuts. Also one of my favourite writers. Maybe most favourite. Philip K. Dick exemplified.... more

The Man in the High Castle

COMMENTARY

Who really won World War II?

Around the time of this novel, Philip K. Dick’s was being heralded as the next sci-fi writer to break into mainstream popularity after Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The Man in the High Castle won the prestigious Hugo Award for science fiction and Dick seemed to be on the way. But somehow he has remained a cult favourite rather than a crowd-pleaser.

Perhaps this, his "break-through novel", shows why.

It's an alternative history: What if the Nazis and the Japanese won the Second World War? Well, this notion has been done to death in speculative fiction. But Dick takes it further into other realms.

He starts with the United States being divided between German and Japanese occupation. Then, where other writers would focus on political suppression and a rebel movement, Dick follows odd characters who consult the mystical teachings of the I Ching and have bizarre experiences that culminate in a startling discovery about the real nature of the society.

(Apparently Dick himself consulted the I Ching to select some plot developments, which even if you don't believe in the mystical crap about the I Ching, is interesting for adding an element of randomness to the work, similarly to how some 1960s recording artists threw bits of tape into the air to be reassembled haphazardly into new musical forms. It was a experimental decade.)

I won't give away the surprise twists The Man in the High Castle but they turn this into a what-if story inside a what-if story, possibly within yet another hypothetical universe.

Even more alienating for the general public, this strange, dark tale never really reaches a conclusion to satisfy the masses.

This is also one of Dick's most acclaimed novels, but far from my favourite. It's not that I want a more conventional storyline. Quite the opposite. Knowing how truly twisted and exciting later Dick novels become, I find this one too straightforward!

It seems a compromise between what was expected of Dick then and what Dick would later become—as a writer and a thinker.

If you are new to Philip K. Dick, it's a good jumping off point. It's also a good idea to read this relatively short novel before getting into the much more involved television series that began in 2015 and takes place in the alternative reality Dick created, but moving into some different directions.

But, TV aside, hold onto your reading hat. As wild as this tale may seem, the ride gets much bumpier in the years ahead with Dick's increasingly bizarre and fascinating writing.

— Eric

COMMENTARY

Related:

Philip K. Dick
author

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
novel

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The Man in the High Castle
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See also:

Robert A. Heinlein
author

Stranger in a Strage Land
novel

missing graphic
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Get at Amazon: USCanUK

missing graphic
Stranger in a Strange Land
Get at Amazon: USCanUK