The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

 

Science Fiction

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick The Man in the High CastlePhilip K. Dick; vintage 1992WorldCat

It is 1962. President Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated before Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Allies lost World War II to the Japanese and the Nazis. Now the United States is divided between the two powers. The west part of the country has been annexed by Japan. The eastern industrial part of the country is now ruled by Germany. The area in the middle is nominally free but on tenuous footing.

The Japanese culture is strictly structured. The whites who deal with them have learned to accept their class structure and observe the rituals necessary. The Germans have tried to commit genocide on all Jews and negroes. Africa is decimated. There is a political relationship between the two powers that appears stable but is shaky in its underpinnings.

Then a free American publishes a book. It is an alternate history science fiction novel positing that the Allies won the war. Although it’s supposed to be illegal, the book is found throughout the West and East Coast areas. In San Francisco the upper class Japanese are fascinated with the novel and surruptuously passing it on to friends. At the same time a Swedish businessman is waiting for a Japanese elder to arrive from the Home Islands. Something isn’t right about Mr. Baynes, the visiting businessman. The Japanese attache attending him knows that much, but doesn’t know the truth. When it is finally revealed, the world could be facing yet another world war.

I found it fascinating reading an alternate history novel that includes an alternate history novel as part of its basis. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (the fictional novel) has the world powers of the Allies taking over differently than the reality of 1962 but still has Japan and the Nazis defeated. This banned book is making inroads into the current regime.

The politics between the ruling powers in The Man in the High Castle are furtive and reactive, neither trusting the other. In this novel Philip K. Dick presents a different world view than the one we experienced. It was first published in 1962 when sentiments were still high – the soldiers were than men in their late 30’s and early 40’s, the ones coming into political and business power. It was published before the Vietnam Conflict and reflects the political atmosphere of the time.

Although the events are dated, the sentiments in the novel are not. We know that history is written by the winners. The Man in the High Castle shows how history could have been written if the Axis nations had won World War II. It illustrates how people adapt to the ruling regime in order to get along. It also examines the seeds of revolution that will lead to the next upheavals and wars. This isn’t a fast paced book that pulls the reader through. Nor does it drag. Instead it meanders along at a good pace and when done leaves the reader thinking about what could have been.

More books by Philip K. Dick

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