The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick was first published in 1962 and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. I’m a fairly big fan of PKD and I’ve had this book on my list to read for some time. I’d always heard it was a great story, the title is fantastic, and the premise is definitely intriguing.
The story takes place in an alternate history where the Allies lost the second World War and the United States is split into two territories with Japan owning the western region and Nazi Germany occupying the eastern (as seen on the cover here).
I’ll admit, I had fairly high expectations for this book despite not knowing much about the story outside of what I stated above. I know Amazon has turned the novel into a series which has several seasons and I’ve heard good things. I may try the show soon as I’m sure it differs greatly from the book and perhaps may even improve upon it as it has been nearly 60 years since the book was released.
The book has several interesting characters and different stories happening simultaneously. I was most interested in the political story-lines (despite not caring for politics in general). As you can imagine, there is a lot of racism and sexism related to Nazi idealism and there are plenty of heinous practices in place throughout the novel in relation to these. Luckily, we don’t have any/many direct instances of these in the story but they are referenced and go along with much of what actually happened during the war.
As in several other stories by PKD, there is a spiritual/divine presence in the form of the I Ching or Book of Changes which is a real book you can find today. The user can determine their fortune and possible short-term future by using this Oracle book. This added an interesting element to the novel, especially as it becomes more prominent as the story progresses, but it may be a little absurd for some readers. However, I did enjoy another element of the story in the form of an alternative history novel within this novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a fictional book (not to be confused with a real book by this title recently released in 2015) within The Man in the High Castle which predicts a future where the Allies win the World War (aka the actual outcome of the war). The book is banned in all Nazi territories and it lies toward the center of the overall story.
One of the things I like about PKD’s writing is that it has become a nostalgic form of science fiction. This book states that the Nazi’s have already colonized other planets in the solar system, and you can take rocket flights halfway around the world in 45 minutes, but the phone system still uses operators and everything is paid for in cash. This juxtaposition we recognize today would not have existed in the 1960’s, but I find it charming and makes the book even more interesting because it is a glimpse into the time it was written despite the setting being in the future (a future that has since become our past).
I’m recommending this book mainly because it does have a high status within literature and has become a historical piece itself. The book is a bit dated, but I can understand why it made a big splash when it first came out. I don’t think a book like this would be published today (or at least to the acclaim it received), so I recommend this book with a slight warning to keep your expectations of events a little low. PKD’s writing, for me, is really easy to read and he sometimes goes off on philosophical tangents (part of what I like about it), but it all comes together perfectly and leaves you a little to think about after finishing the story. This story does not disappoint in regards to this. It is a shorter book at around 250 pages depending on the edition you get. This was the first alternative history book I believe I have read and it was an interesting one. If the premise captured your attention, you’ll likely enjoy it.