The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick and while this nov­el is sup­pos­ed­ly his break­through work, The Man in the High Castle is my least fa­vorite of his works. The ba­sic premise is that the United States of America and Britain lost World War II and now the USA is split be­tween Imperial Japan and the Third Reich.

The book is sort of bor­ing be­cause it con­cerns it­self so heav­i­ly with a rigid sense of “place.” On the West Coast, Japanese are high-place and white folk are sec­ond-hand to that. On the East Coast, white folk have it a bit bet­ter, but are still sec­ond-hand to Aryans. Africa has been to­tal­ly razed, The Nazi econ­o­my is in sham­bles be­cause they are fo­cus­ing on their space pro­gram in­stead of cre­at­ing sta­bil­i­ty on earth. The Japanese are stum­bling along, decades be­hind German sci­ence, and al­though they are eco­nom­i­cal­ly quite pow­er­ful, they don’t use their lever­age for any­thing use­ful. Basically the whole world is go­ing to hell, but do we read about that? No. Instead we get in­ter­minable con­ver­sa­tions about peo­ple wor­ry­ing about their pet­ty prob­lems and be­ing quite self-con­scious. All of these peo­ple have no re­al sense of con­trol in their lives, so they use the I Ching to pre­dict their fu­tures.

Featured promi­nent­ly in the book is an­oth­er book, called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is a book whose ba­sic premise is that Japan and Germany lost World War II and now Britain and the United States have split the world. In this book the USA has tak­en the best so­cial­ist ideas from the Third Reich and in­cor­po­rat­ed them world­wide, so for in­stance, Chinese peas­ants get tele­vi­sions to as­sem­ble that then start teach­ing them how to read, write and oth­er stuff.

So in this fic­tion­al book about los­ing the sec­ond World War to Germany and Japan, is a fic­tion­al book book about Japan and Germany los­ing the sec­ond World War to us. And then it turns out the man who wrote the book ac­tu­al­ly used the I Ching to write it. This is the same I Ching that con­trols the ac­tions of every oth­er char­ac­ter in the book.

I guess one read­ing of the nov­el is that the I Ching rep­re­sents the au­thor, Dick him­self, which is all post­mod­ern and meta and shit. Probably cool when it first came out, but sort of passé now. Plus, the book was bor­ing. Reading about two guys tak­ing out a loan or a chick do­ing laun­dry isn’t very ex­cit­ing. All the good stuff hap­pens be­hind the scenes, and I found that frus­trat­ing. I’d rather have seen a col­lec­tion of his short sto­ries on the Top 50 list than this book.

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