Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

In a world where the Axis powers won W.W.II, Germany rules Europe and Japan Asia and the Pacific and they split the United States. Then, as in the Cold War, Germany and Japan rival for world domination. But the playground is the U.S. rather than Germany. The Man in the High Castle takes place in Japan-controlled San Francisco and the neutral Rocky Mountain States between the Pacific States of America and the East Coast of America. Germany plans to subdue Japan by creating an incident in the Rocky Mountain States, but a faction within the government sends a spy to warn Japan. In this world Germany’s final solution in Africa wipes out the continent and the country continues to persecute the Jews throughout the world, the remnants fleeing to the Rocky Mountain States and the Pacific States of America. The I Ching, the oracle that has replaced Christianity and the horoscope in the Pacific State of America, guides the masses in their decisions and through the ancient Chinese scripts answers their questions about life and death and the vagaries of living. This ancient scripture consumes the people’s imagination. In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick created a world where the power players have shifted roles but familiar brinkmanship and subterfuge remain.

The World in The Man in the High Castle

Within the novel is another book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abendsen, the man in the high castle. This novel within a novel delineates an alternative history to the one above. What if Germany and Japan lost W.W.II? Not a Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Not the victory of the communists in China. Rather, The Nationalist defeats the Communists in China, establishes a right-wing regime and allies with the U.S. The British retains most of its empire and continues to expand its dominance. Indeed, a Cold War develops between the U.S. and the U.K. with the latter eventually dominating the former. What is interesting is that this alternative to an alternative isn’t our history. So even with Allies victory, many scenarios can play out.

Dick’s comment on the Nazis is thought provoking.

“They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate — confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.”

The Man in the High Castle is not just science fiction, but a thought-provoking look into the nature of humanity. Of course, as with other works of Dick, the cultural nuances and biases of the 60’s rear their heads throughout the novel. Nevertheless, a novel worth reading.

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