1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 176: The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

While Philip K. Dick may best be remembered for his novel Do Android Dream Of Electric Sheep (the book which the film Blade Runner was based on), it is perhaps the Hugo Award-winning novel The Man In The High Castle that is his best work, and it is certainly the one that earned him his reputation as one of the premiere writers of science fiction.   The novel takes place in America during the early 1960’s.  The twist though, is that Germany and Japan have won WWII and America has been split in two, one portion being occupied by the Japanese, the other being occupied by the Germans.  This may not seem like an original setting today, but a work of this kind had not been done yet in 1962, so it was a very fresh notion at the time.  The action of the novel takes place in the Japanese-occupied portion of America, and oriental culture has taken fast hold of society.  The I Ching (which was borrowed by the Japanese from the Chinese) is as common as the Bible and many seek its advice in daily matters.  The Germans are of course plotting to take over American completely, and space travel has been put into high gear with landings on both the moon and Mars (though televisions are not yet common place in this world).  The novel follows a host of characters as they work their way through this imagined world.  It employs Hobbesian theory in many respects and deals with themes such as censorship.  It is interesting to see America as the colonized and not the colonizer.  The cultural osmosis that occurs is also interesting to read, and though pragmatically such a colonization of America is unlikely to say the least, Dick allows the reader to suspend their disbelief.  I think this book could have said more though.  There seems to be something lacking in this book.  I think examining a world where America didn’t turn into a colonizer would have been interesting.  How would Korean and Vietnamese history have played out without American interference?  What would be the alternate history of the middle east?  Dick suggests to us a radically different world, and though his narrative in compelling and interesting, it seems as though he has left out volumes worth of material.  I believe people generally see the Allies victory as “the good guys one”, and while I agree that the Nazi regime is certainly the epitome of evil, I don’t believe that American foreign policy to be entirely altruistic.  America is a colonizer and as such can themselves been seen as the bad guys.  Vietnam is a clear cut example of this.  The UN ordered that national elections be held, but the American forces forestalled said elections because of the strong support of the communist party.  Regardless of what political party would have won, the Vietnamese people had a right to self government and the United States spent better than a decade killing people whose only desire was self-government.  How many Vietnamese are dead because of the war that America created?  Did the Nazis kill as many Jews as the Americans did Vietnamese?  These are some hard probing questions that I would like to see examined.  How would world history have turned out had American not been in a position to deposit troops all over the globe?  The Man In The High Castle is a great work, and one worth reading, but I believe Dick evaded some of the hard questions.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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