'The Man In The High Castle' by Phillip K Dick

Sunday 5 August 2018

In Phillip K Dick’s ‘The Man In The High Castle’ an alternative history is explored as Dick examines an alternative America in 1962. Presenting a history where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are in power follows an amazing idea, but this incredible concept just doesn’t see the return within the novel.

For me the idea was more interesting than the characters, their stories and their development. I was desperate to love it but it just didn’t happen. For one of the shortest books i’ve read this year it took me the longest to read.

An image of the book the man in the high castle by phillip k dick on typewriter teeth laid flat so spine is visible

'The Man in The High Castle’ has been criticised for its lack of character development and I think this is why I struggled to connect with the book, as if it needed more tension, development and political intrigue for the plot to stand up. Within the novel, antiquities tie characters together, Frank Frink creates fake American antiques, Robert Childan sells them to Japanese collectors and Mr Tagomi buys them.

Although within the dense pages it revealed the horrors of the reality of this alternative history, the lack of connection to the characters or even a want for them to succeed kept me from being gripped by the story. This feeling brought about the realisation that Phillip K Dick had created people not heroes, just scared people overwhelmed and doing their best in a situation they were not expecting. As a reader I think I was expecting a driving heroic force fighting to change their present, but what we got was people just trying to get through life.

The Man in The High Castle by Phillip K Dick on Typewriter Teeth on a wooden background next to a cup of tea

The paralleling story line between Frink’s ex wife Juliana and Joe an Italian truck driver in their search for the author of ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ is what drove me to keep reading the book. The cult book is an obsessive point for many in the novel, a book that describes an alternative history where the allies won the war but Britain came out with all the power. This story is where most of the action is alongside Mr Tagomi getting caught up in a nuclear threat in the Japanese Trade centre.Yet within all of this action there is ‘I Ching’ a Chinese divination text that influences the characters decisions.

Although most of the characters use I Ching to make decisions this is also replicated in Hawthorne Abendsen’s writing of ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ as he admits to Juliana it influenced his writing just as Phillip K Dick used it to write ‘The Man in The High Castle’. Which then leads to the thinking of how the story and characters could have developed without the use of I Ching, or if it could have influenced in a different way.

The Man in The High Castle by Phillip K Dick on Typewriter Teeth

In most novels the setting serves for the plot to take place, but in ‘The Man In The High Castle’ it is as if the plot and story only exist to explore the setting. But what it did do is help shape a new form of science fiction and realistic, albeit tedious, exploration of alternative history. Could I Ching have developed the characters and story in a different way? We will never know.

Have you read it? What did you think? Or buy your copy here and let me know!

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