As you may have gathered, I love Fantasy and Sci Fi, particularly the classics, so when I was browsing in my local bookshop and saw a copy of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle I had to get it.
It’s been on my radar for a long time now. I probably read my first of Dick’s books nearly 30 years ago when I was devouring SF at the rate of 3 or 4 books a week. I never got to this one, only because it never happened to be in the library when I was browsing. I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep around then and loved it. I’d seen Bladerunner (which is based on Do Androids Dream…) at an all night showing in the Bloomsbury theatre in 1987. I loved that too, and I’ve watched it many times since. There’s a a lot of differences between the book and the film but I was happy to judge them separately, something you also need to do with Man in The High Castle.
For the record I think the two series of The Man in the High Castle are excellent, some of the best TV I’ve seen this year, but if you were expecting the book to be the same you would be disappointed. The premise is the same, a version of the world in the sixties where the Nazis and the Japanese have won the Second World War, the Eastern states of the US are under Nazi rule, the Pacific states under Japanese rule with the neutral zone, a kind of no man’s land, in between. The story however is very different. In the TV series there are a number of plotlines that interweave and there’s a lot of action, political intrigue, resistance fighters, Yakuza, assassination plots, spies etc. It is complex but basically standard cause and effect. Things happen, characters face danger and peril, they take action, conflict is resolved. Like I said, it’s good TV.
With the book it can almost feel like nothing is really happening. There are some of the same characters, and they do some of the same things, but it’s not as dramatic, at least not in an obvious sense. There is a similar thing with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Bladerunner. The movie is much more linear and complete than the book. The thing is with Philip K. Dick is that his books are often about more than the obvious plot. Do Androids Dream is a story about a detective hunting down a group of rogue simulants but the book is really about the nature of humanity, the central question is “What does it mean to be a person?”.
The Man in the High Castle is a book set in an alternate reality where the Allies lost the war. The ‘Man’ referred to in the title is an author who writes a book about another alternate reality where the Allies won the war. It is world within world, reality within reality and Dick challenges us to consider the nature of reality itself. In this case the central question is “What does it mean to be real?”
It’s a great book, just don’t expect the TV series.