Review: ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K. Dick

by Vlad Vaslyn

the-man-in-the-high-castleThis 1960s work paints a chilling portrait of what life might have been like if Germany and Japan had been victorious in World War II, and it remains one of the pinnacles of the Alternative History sub-genre for a very good reason. Simply put, I found the book stellar, with resonant characters and interesting and disturbing philosophical questions about Nazism and Japanese fascism if they had been allowed to play out across the globe unrestrained.

In this book, the Allies lost the war, and the Axis powers have divided the world up. The Japanese rule the west coast of the United States, the Germans rule the east coast, and the two powerless remnants of what was once America eek out an existence in the middle. In many ways the Japanese are a power unto themselves, but there is no doubt that the Germans are the stronger of the two. While not exactly subservient to the Germans, the empires still chafe against one another, for the racial identity that drives Nazi culture looks down all non-Aryan races, a fact that is not lost on the Japanese.

The story takes place in what was once California, leveraging the friction between the two empires into a potent story element; the political might of government officials and secret police loom over the characters en masse. A simpering arts dealer, an anxious and estranged wife, a slick Gestapo assassin, and a jewelry designer who lives by the commands of an oracle are pulled into a multi-pronged conspiracy as the two empires seek leverage on one another.

In the background, an award-winning novelist has written a book that infuriates the Nazi regime and ended up on a hit list. That book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, is a fictional account of what would’ve happened if the Allies won the war, providing an interesting mirror as the alternative reality portrayed in The Man in the High Castle reflects the true reality that we’ve all come to know.

The drama in The Man in the High Castle lies not in chase scenes or explosions (although there are some fascinating Science Fiction elements), but rather in a simmering, intellectual sort of political and ideological tension that hooked me throughout and built to a boil in the final pages. The book reaches an intriguing crescendo, and it becomes easy to understand why so many have dubbed The Man in the High Castle one of the great Alternative History novels.

It took me a couple of minutes to comprehend what I had just read when I finished the story. When it finally sank it, I leaned back and thought, “Whoa. That was heavy.” Such is often the mark of a great book.

Genre: Science Fiction/Alternative History.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars.

VladVaslynVlad Vaslyn is the author of Brachman’s Underworld, Yorick and The Button. He has been a guest performer at multi-artist events such as Cool Roots and Rooted, and has appeared in places such as Open Book Society, Yahoo! Shine, Indie Author News, Strange Amusements, and Digital Journal. He is an active member of the New England Horror Writers, and his background as a newspaper correspondent has earned him dozens of publishing credits as well.

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