“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. DickThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published: 2012 by Mariner Books
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 274
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift
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Post-election, I had a discussion with a couple of my friends about how we should read or reread some classic dystopias. I’d had The Man in the High Castle sitting in my shelf for a while, so decided to give it a whirl. For anyone unfamiliar with the premise, it’s basically an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II, the US was colonized by Japan, and the world in general has a lot more racism and repression. And yet (some at least) people continue to try to live day to day, and don’t know or consider anything else.

The Man in the High Castle is super meta–it’s an alternate history book, and there’s an alternate history book within the book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy that each of the characters encounters. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy tells the story of a world where Hitler didn’t win. It isn’t quite the same as our own world, but it’s a vision of hope and what ifs for the characters, and helps them to see past the harshness of the world that they inhabit. It’s escapism, but also life-changing, in kind of a psychedelic way.

My feelings on The Man in the High Castle were mixed. The story itself felt jumbled and messy. There were too many characters, most of whom I couldn’t make myself care about. They felt so real–casually racist but yearning for a better world, most of them not at their hearts terrible people but instead are just people perpetuating a system that they were born into because they don’t know anything else, and taking that extra step is hard. And yet, I found myself not caring about their fates or their lives or what happened to them. While their stories intertwine, they aren’t particularly interesting people. And the intertwining of the stories is kind of a “so this happened and these people are connected” without them being part of any bigger story. Actually, maybe that’s my biggest criticism of the novel–it felt like a bunch of vignettes from characters whose worlds are intertwined rather than an actual story. The book doesn’t know what it’s trying to be–there’s are a couple spy plots, some relationship plots, some characters struggling to start a small business… but at the end of the day it’s all of those things and none of them. Then you get to the end of the book, at which point it gets all trippy and Inception-y and the fabric of reality starts to unravel leaving readers to wonder whether anything they just read is even real. And yet interspersed throughout the jumbled mess that is The Man in the High Castle were words and passages of beautiful writing that felt like they spoke to my soul. So that’s a definite plus.

That’s about all I feel like saying about the book right now, so instead I’ll leave you with a small anecdote of an incident that occurred while I was reading the book. As you know, I am a big fan of bathtub reading. So I pour myself a nice bath filled with chamomile and lavender scented bubbles, and I have my cup of tea and my book and I’m getting into the tub and OOPS. The book falls. The book gets soaked. I make a muffled yelp. Mike, from the other room, hears me and says, “What happened, are you okay?!?” and I respond by saying “It’s okay I just dropped my Dick in the bathtub and now it’s all wet” and Mike was very confused. Clearly I’m immature and have the sense of humor of a ten-year-old boy. Luckily, the book was salvageable and after drying for a few hours was a little wrinkly but very much readable.

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2 comments

  1. I know Dick is a must read and all but I kinda feel the way you did about this about the two I have read. Amazing idea man but his writing doesn’t set me on fire.

    I did read that these old dystopias are booming right now though, so you are not the only one grabbing them.

    1. Which ones did you read, out of curiosity? I saw the movie version of “A Scanner Darkly” and adored it, and am wondering if the book is any good.

      Reading older dystopias again is interesting, because while I read many of the classics years ago, I was a lot younger at the time, and some of the lessons mean more as you get older. And it was also before YA dystopia was a major trend.