A review of the novel “The Man In The High Castle” by Philip K Dick

I decided to read this 1962 novel after the success of the Amazon television series of the same name broadcast in 40 parts between 2015-2019 even though I never viewed the series. It was immediately apparent to me that Dick’s books are generally better on the screen that on the page – think of “Total Recall”, “Minority Report” and especially “Blade Runner”.

The central proposition of the novel is intriguing and imaginative: the Second World War was won by the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy and, after the war, the USA is divided up between the Germans and the Japanese with a buffer region in between. The eponymous male lives in the neutral buffer zone and has written a novel, called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”, which postulates a world in which the Allies won the war but not quite as we know our history.

The problem with Dick’s novel lies in his execution: it is very slow with only a couple of action sequences, it is full of extraneous detail about the making and sale of metalworks, it imbues mystical powers to an ancient text called called “I Ching” and one of the metal pieces, and the conclusion is anti-climatic and leaves important loose ends. At various points – and especially in a nine-page interlude towards the end – I felt that the author was under the influence of drugs.

Although Dick died young (he had a stroke at the age of 53), he was a prolific writer producing 44 published novels and approximately 121 short stories. The recurrent themes in his work included alternate realities and drug abuse. He won the Hugo Award for “The Man In The High Castle” and he was hailed as a genius in the science fiction world, but he was a flawed genius and this novel is not one that I could recommend. 


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