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The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

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Author: Philip K. Dick / Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy

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    6 Reviews
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      14.12.2012 23:05
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      A curious classic.

      This kind of thing's been done several times to varying effect - Robert Harris's Fatherland a memorable take on the theme. What if the Allies had lost the Second World War? In Phillip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle, the story unfolds in Japanese-controlled San Francisco; the USA having been carved up between Japan and Nazi Germany. This isn't the kind of thriller you might expect from the genre; rather it's about the daily life of three characters - Frank and Julia Frink, an estranged couple with their own personal quests, and Nobusuke Tagomi, a businessman who comes to question the accepted rules of society.

      It's in many ways a low-key book; in keeping with the portrayal of the Japanese culture imposed on the US, it's delivered in an indirect, formal style ... this works well, though. It seems to get across the atmosphere of the time and the place more effectively than a fast-moving plot would.

      The story is essentially driven by a revolutionary, shocking book written by the eponymous Man in the High Castle, a Hawthorne Abendsen who lives in the buffer zone between Japanese and German America. This novel posits a world in which the Allies won the Second World War, an alternative reality that is at once tantalising and uncomfortable for those living under Japanese control.

      It's a gripping, fascinating novel that asks intriguing questions - and is in some ways better than Robert Harris's novel. It might lack the pace and action, but it portrays a more realistic world in which the winning side aren't all villains but normal people, and the new world isn't necessarily a bad place for those on the losing side. It's a curious book, but one well worth investing time in.

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      26.02.2009 21:08

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      Read other Dick books

      Strange, unaffecting, dark book of an alternate world in America post-ww2 but with a Nazi-Japanese victory. Follows from a number of characters perspectives slightly linked and suffering in a sort of limbo, grey country. Bitterness and shady truths, black Nazi intrigue and a resignation to fatalism. Idealistic lies in the beliefs and thinking of the people.

      Truth and its reality submerged.

      A religion and a book offers a way and hope while key political/powerful players attempt to prevent the potential for greater darkness.....This world has lost itself in ruse and value with no-one facing up to what is real and making fate?

      Make what you like of all this, but I just found it too abstract and convoluted to be a mature piece of science-fiction. It loves its ideas but it's not potent in delivering much on them.

      It's a bit sketchy in places. Characters are not strong. The motivations difficult.

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      11.01.2009 02:34
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      I respect his status as a writer but this bored me to tears.

      The concept of this book is brilliant - a world where the Axis powers won the war, Africa is wiped out and North America is divided between Germany and Japan. However, as much as I wanted to like this book and this 'legendary' sci-fi writer, this book was just...dull. Another example of a classic people rave about that just isn't a good read. I tried to battle on with this book only leave it lying in my parent's car not bothering to retrieve it.
      I may return to it one day as I am one of those stubborn people that hates beginning a book without ending it and I do hope for a colourful ending. It is intriguing in parts and as a history student it brings up a hypothetical situation that is highly interesting. However, I just loathe his writing style and, well, how the novel revolves around men in high places (yes I am aware of the title). I think that if you were reading a story that imagines such an alternate future you'd want a little more perspective from the common person.

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      24.06.2003 17:45
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      Just as much that lies in the category of Art > Modern Art > British can be summarised in just a few words ("dead shark in liquid"), so much in the way of Fiction > Science Fiction > Alternate Worlds/Realities can be described in a similarly short way. In the case of The Man in the High Castle, it would be "WW2 ended the other way round". But just as we might like also to know what liquid, how the shark is portrayed, the dimensions of the tank, etc, we would also like to know what that initial premise entails for our future exploration. And so, in this case, it would be the following. Japan and The Nazis managed to win the second world war, and as a result became the super-powers. The Germans have ploughed on ahead with those new-fangled plastics, and now the world is littered with Lufthansa skyways, rocketing people around the globe in minutes. They also have the monopoly on the rest of the solar system too, von Braun (presumably) getting all the industrialists out there and bringing all the much-needed minerals, ore, etc back. The Japanese are second-rate to all this, but are still mighty, in the Pacific regions at least. And herein lies the crux for the Americans, and the American audience for this book. The USA has been split in three ways. The western sea-board is Japanese, the Eastern side is Germanic, and the middle ~ basically the dust-bowl and some mountains ~ is what's left for the 'free' Americans. In all these areas people live as they can, and most harbour grudges against one or another side. We'll meet those people in a minute, but let us finish off by mentioning that race is an issue here, as some Americans can savour the Japanese more than others, and Germany, after they dammed, drained and made arable the entire Mediterranean, then practically obliterated the 'negro' from Africa, just as they did the Jews from Europe, and the residents of the new world's agri
      cultural capital, The Ukraine. That, and the fact that this is a wholly earth-bound narrative, set sometime in the 1960s (or thereabouts), is nearly all we need to know. So, we have our shark in a tank. But what is it all about? There, the title gives us the full intention ~ something about living people not being able to conceive of being dead, isn't it? To see what the full meaning and intention of Philip K Dick is here, we must turn to the characters, and the (at times, very tenuous) links between them all. Robert Childan runs an emporium selling various items of historical interest ~ the corporate Japanese are dead keen on Americana as decoration for home and office. We first see him fending off a client chasing up a Civil War recruitment poster, of all things, but he can get his hands on a lot ~ Mickey Mouse watches, guns, famous vehicles (at a push), etc. Frank Frink is a worker in a factory that actually creates some of the armaments and so on that Childan sells ~ their illegitimate side, at least, is a fine touch in faking memorabilia. He is a bit lazy, and so gets the sack, and his story arc is to get involved with an ex-colleague, and make and sell *real* American handiwork ~ something that has disappeared from all common perception ~ in the way of hand-soldered silver jewellry. Frank is also missing his wife, who has hitched up with an Italian man in a truckers' diner, for the time being. They will be slowly travelling the country, and talking a lot about the situation, the back story of this alternate world, and a certain topic we shall come to soon. Childan's client, a Mister Tagomi, is high up in the occupying forces, as it were, of the Japanese. He has important dealings with more important men from his home-land, and a mysterious visitor from abroad ~ seemingly from the Germanic Scandinavia. What their business is together must be explored by reading the book, not this website. The jewellry makers successfully create a portfolio, and Childan ends up trying to introduce the concept to a pair of Anglicised Japanese who may be a lead-in to a major new market. Or may, however, have a fine line in embarrassing him. And that, bar the exciting tease than one (or more!!) of these people is (or are!!) not what they seem, is that. Character summarised for you. And, unfortunately, plot. For the majority of the writing here is a discussion, either in the form of conversation or interior monologue, of the repercussions for the thus-divided, losing, America. (Britain gets nare a mention, but that is not at all why this review is so negative.) While the plot strands come together (mostly reasonably), they are merely there to shed light on the background to the premise of the story, while failing to hide the fact there really is very little story indeed. While Dick here is never exactly repetitive, he could have been a lot more concise about the way various characters have biases towards the pioneering (but genocidal) Germans, or against the invading, conquering, insulting (in their opinion) 'Japs'. Many of the plot threads serve to reveal whether these characters' presumptions and feelings were right or not ~ hence, perhaps, the slightly thriller-ish strand of the mysterious European with his news. The focus at times for many of the characters here, and the main factor in the story arc of Juliana Frink and her new man, is a samizdat book, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" (don't ask), in which the revolutionary author proposes an alternative world, one in which Europe and America won WW2. This enfolding of the concept within itself must have been blindingly revolutionary to some in 1962, as very post-modern and novel, but in conception at least it fails. The pointed return to the concept of "Grasshopper" shows that while that book is just as poorly written as "Castle",
      it at least has a concrete plot. There is also another book used heavily by Dick here, one which lends a suitably alien feel to much of the Japanese American parts. The Japanese seem to have concurred with the Nazis that all religion must be banned, and so the I Ching, or the Book of Changes has become the mental panacea for many characters, as they use it to divine their future, or help them analyse their own thoughts. This might still be one of the plus points for The Man in the High Castle, but again is over-used. To prevent this from becoming a hatchet job, there must be mention made that the writing style is really quite easy, Dick's ideas and alternative reality very well thought out. The book is short enough to not outstay its welcome, and there is always a feeling that some engaging material might be just around the corner, which will make the whole reading of it worthwhile. It is just that Dick seems to have got so hung up on the concept, he failed to put much in that is worthwhile, which is a shame, as this must be summarised as a failure, both in the writing and in the way of an entertaining read. It's generally thought of as one of Dick's better novels as well, but this certainly will not be coming to a cinema screen near you soon. Two stars, as this is not a hateable book, but no recommendation. Like the shark, it just doesn't move. Now that would be a piece of modern art...

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        14.08.2000 22:48
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        Philip K Dick’s science fiction classic is set in an alternative world. Here, the Axis powers won the Second World War, and for a generation have divided the USA between them. Japan controls the West, based in Dick’s home California, and is relatively benign. The Nazis control the Eastern US, Europe, and have plans to turn on their former allies. In this disturbing world, Dick uses his usual device of showing normal people, trying to live normal lives. He combines the extremes of enemy invasion and global power-struggles with relationships and earning a living. At one point, the Japanese consul sees our version of the American city, and is shocked by the noise and pollution. The uncertainty over what is real is shown by the ‘Man in the High Castle’ himself, a writer describing a world in which the Allies did win the war. This subversive figure, living in the neutral zone, becomes the target for the characters’ hopes. Strong on ideas, this is classic PK Dick at his best.

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        23.07.2000 23:27
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        This is amongst author Philip K Dick's finest work, detailing an alternate history in which the Allies lost the Second World War. The Nazis have occupied the East Coast of the United States, and the Japanese control California. In the neutral area between the two states, an underground author writes his own vision of reality, "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy", an alternate world in which the Allies won the Second World War… In the Japanese zone, the characters' lives are heavily guided by the I-Ching, and it's said that Philip K Dick himself consulted the I-Ching to guide the book's plotline. There's a strong feeling throughout the novel that the characters realise that they're living in a reality that is somehow "wrong", and this is implied by ambiguous passages from the I-Ching throughout the story. It is really this, rather than the alternate history described in the book, which is the subject – what is the nature of reality? As ever, Dick's characterisation is very good, and this is an extremely strong story, obviously deserving of its Hugo award. The struggles of the individual characters are well explained, without the need to overdo descriptions, so the story is well expressed from a personal perspective. The book is currently available in Penguin Books' "Essential Penguin" series.

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