The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“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 archtype; 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.”
If Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been assassinated in 1934 instead of dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945, what would the world look like? Do our lives, our futures, hang on the shoulders of one man? The New Deal that gave Roosevelt so much power, so much influence with the American public, would not have been possible if presented by a different man, a less sure man, a man more willing to make deals to pass the legislation even if it guts the intent of the program. The American people have probably never trusted a politician as much as they trusted FDR. So if we remove him from history during those critical years in the 1940s when the world went mad, what would happen?
Philip K. Dick is going to tell you.
The Pacific States form a new country called The Pacific States of America and are controlled by Imperial Japan. A Rocky Mountain States is formed as a buffer between The Reich Controlled East Coast of America and the PSA. Europe is under the management of the Reich. The Soviets were completely destroyed by the Reich, and most were exterminated. A cold war has sprung up between the two remaining superpowers: the Japanese and the Reich. Adolf Hitler has descended into madness…batshit crazy madness... not the garden variety I want to rule the world madness.
”Old Adolf, supposed to be in a sanitarium somewhere, living out his life of senile paresis. Syphilis of the brain, dating back to his poor days as a bum in Vienna...long black coat, dirty underwear, flophouses.”
There is this interesting film called Max starring John Cusack from 2002 that was directed by Menno Meyjes. It discusses the possibility of what would have happened if Hitler had been accepted as an artist. Would he have channeled his anger into something more edifying than world destruction? I know that others, besides myself, must have watched that film, but they seem to be few and far between.
Noah Taylor plays the young, frustrated Hitler.
Martin Bormann has been in charge of the Reich, but with his death a power struggle has broken out between Joseph Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, and Hermann Göring for the ultimate leadership. The thought of those men surviving the war gives me a chill. Hitler may have brought the vision, but these were the men who implemented it.
Robert Childan owns an Americana antique business on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. The Japanese are avid collectors of old American gadgets, comic books, and toys. He used to run a bookstore, but found that dealing in Americana was much more profitable. He isn’t an expert, which as the story unfolds, creates some issues for him. People don’t mind paying exorbitant prices as long as what they buy is legitimate. He meets a young progressive Japanese couple who want to discuss a future based on the book by Hawthorne Abendsen called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which presents an alternative reality where the Axis lost and the Allies won. It is still different from our present day, but certainly more recognizable than the dystopia of The Man in the High Castle.
Philip K. Dick is having a bit of fun writing an alternative reality which includes a novel about alternative reality.
The young couple are very disappointed to learn that Childan has not read the book. They assumed that any “American” would want to read this book. They were also disappointed that Childan, when pressed for his own philosophical take on this life, mouths the platitudes of the controlling governments because he thinks that is what his potential clients want to hear. I expected more from one of my own kind, a retired bookseller, but in his defense he doesn’t want unwarranted attention. He doesn’t want change as much as he wants to be safe. “What they do not comprehend is man’s helplessness. I am weak, small, of no consequence to the universe. It does not notice me; I live on unseen. But why is that bad? Isn’t it better that way? Whom the gods notice they destroy. Be small . . . and you will escape the jealousy of the great.”
Mokkei Tiger from the 13th Century
Childan does get a glimmer of a lost past that might be reclaimed by the future when he holds the Frank Frink jewelry collection in his hands. Frink has recently left his work of employment, where he made replica guns from America’s past (for those Japanese collectors), to start his own business designing and creating original jewelry. To Childan the jewelry is much more than just pretty bobbles to adorn women’s throats, fingers, and wrists. It represents the American ingenuity that used to determine the fashions, trends, and innovations that led the world.
Meanwhile, Frink’s ex-wife, who lives in the RMS, has taken up with a truck driver who is not who he says he is. He has an agenda involving The Man in the High Castle. The man, Abendsen, who has taken the world by storm with his book depicting a different outcome from the war.
The I Ching plays a pivotal role as characters use I Ching to make decisions. Dick also used the I Ching to determine the twists of the plot as he was writing it.
Having difficulty making decisions? Do you find that most of the time you make poor decisions? Turn your life over to the I Ching. Your future will no longer be your fault.
This book convinced me of the viability of this alternative reality. I certainly would have read more about this world that Dick created. The ending is open because Dick had always planned to write a sequel, but he couldn’t progress on the second book because he couldn’t stand the thought of going back and reading about Nazis. I’m in the same boat recently with all the history channels that I normally watch suddenly becoming obsessed with everything Third Reich. This is disturbing to me because programming is based off viewership, and obviously they have determined that people are tuning in to watch Nazi documentaries more than other much more fascinating time periods of world history. *Sigh* I don’t know what that means!
Amazon has recently filmed the pilot episode of a new series based on The Man in the High Castle. The episode is available on streaming. I read this book another lifetime ago, but wanted to refresh my memory before watching the pilot episode. I’m glad I did as much of my memories of the book had eroded into snippets of disjointed pieces. There is much more in the book than what I’ve discussed, but I hope what I have decided to highlight will encourage more people to read this novel of science fiction that also can rest comfortably on the same shelf as literature.
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