Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Man In The High Castle!

I've been meaning to read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick for many years and have finally gotten around to doing it. It was at once what I expected and very surprising as well. Residing now comfortably in the 21st Century it's probably difficult if not downright impossible for most folks, save those of us of a certain age, to comprehend the impact of World War II. Now it's just another of those dusty historical events, shoved together with "The Great War" and "The War Between the States". It's been long enough that some of the old poison which invested the enemies of WWII with such awful power has returned to the public discourse. The hatred of the "other" rules the passions of too many people in our society and that hatred will ultimately destroy our society as it did the society of Germany overcome by the Nazi dogma. 

On the off chance you don't know about The Man in the High Castle, the story takes place in an alternate United States which is no longer united. When FDR was assassinated the whole of history was altered and the result was that the Nazis won the war and eventually conquered the Eastern half of the continent. The Japanese took control of the West Coast while in the Rocky Mountains a fragile territory exists not under the control of either foreign power. We follow several characters who are trying to live and prosper in this strange old world of 1962. The story tracks an antiques dealer, a jewelry maker, his estranged wife who teaches judo, a trucker with a dark mission, a venerable Japanese representative, and a mysterious Swede who has a secret that will shake the planet. The titular "Man" from the title is a mysterious figure who wrote a book titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which is a bit of a sensation where it can be sold. It is banned in Germany-controlled regions. It speaks of a world in which the Allies won the war, and the Axis was defeated.

Published in 1962 (the same year it is set) the novel won the Hugo for best novel in 1963. It is of course one of the great classics of science fiction. I've bought it a few times over the decades, but only now have I successfully read this rather short novel. The fault is entirely mine. Dick said he was inspired to some degree by Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore which speculate about a United States in which the Confederacy prevailed. I cannot recommend this novel enough. It shows what life is like under a government which as policy enslaves part of the population and routinely murders others. The utter nihilism of the Nazi philosophy is laid bare, and we get a peek into the foul world such hatred brings to one and all. 

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  1. In the '80s there was a novel called SS-GB by Len Deighton in which Britain has been conquered by the Nazis but Deighton was a thriller writer and I don't think he intended SS-GB to be a science fiction novel despite using the idea of alternate history. It's actually pretty ridiculous that Japan and Germany could have conquered the USA - in fact it was America's entry into the war that sealed the fate of the Axis powers because America's huge economy could afford to keep producing planes, tanks and ships as well as having a large population of fighting-age men and America was separated from both Germany and Japan by two massive oceans - the Germans couldn't even invade Britain which was only 20 miles from the European mainland so how would they conquer America 5,000 miles away? Same applies to the Japanese.

    1. The chances of actual military invasion is exceptionally remote. But the paranoid citizens among my fellow citizens imagine they are being "invaded" every day by peoples they don't approve of. I have a theory that the United States of today would not be the stalwart ally it was in WWII. The leadership is too cowardly. We're lucky to have Biden right now, but ridiculous people keep trying to rise up the chains of command.