am 26. Januar 1998
Alternate history...Philip K. Dick style.
What does that mean? Well, basically, if you think that the characters in this book seem a little out of place, keep reading, and you may find YOURSELF out of place.
On the surface, it is the usual time-shifting novel...FDR was assasinated in 1936, and as a result, the United States lost WW II. Twenty years in the future, when the novel takes place, Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire have occupied the United States and imposed their brand of culture on their respective halves of the American populace.
But this book really isn't about alternate time lines...its about alternate realities. Things are not as they seem...characters' true identities are hidden, and their moralities are tested. It's about the nature of the true state of the universe, Eastern religion, and the I-Ching. When Philip K. Dick is at his best, his characters question their own existence, and it soon follows that the readers do the same.
So when you come to the end of the book, hopefully, a number of things will happen:
Number 1: You'll instantly re-read the ending.
Number 2: You'll throw the book against the wall and exclaim "that's it?"
Number 3: You'll probably re-read the ending again.
Number 4: You'll swear that you'll never read another Philip K. Dick novel.
Number 5: Later, you'll think a bit about the book, and realize that the novel wasn't really about what you thought it was.
Number 6: You'll read it again. And again...
This isn't your typical sci-fi novel. The story doesn't wrap-up into a neat little package. Like Eastern religions, time is not linear, it is circular, and that is the reality of the book.
Alternate histories are so commonplace in sci-fi today, that it is important to look at this book as the one that really started it all. A completely original masterpiece...even the followers can't keep up.
am 8. April 2015
Eine Welt, in der die Nazis und die Japaner die Welt unter sich aufgeteilt haben, ist als Setting erstmal ganz spannend, aber nun auch nicht SO originell. Dicks „The Man in the High Castle“ holt aber erstens viel aus der Idee raus und ist zweitens aus eigenem Recht und unabhängig vom Setting große Literatur.
Der erste Punkt ist dabei verblüffend gut gelungen. Das Buch baut eine überzeugende Welt deshalb, weil alles, was beschrieben ist, aus unglaublich präziser Beobachtung extrapoliert wurde. Die Charakterisierungen des NS als Idee und System, die Dick seinen Figuren in den Mund legt, sind sogar für heute Verhältnisse wunderbar konzise und poetisch zugleich – und das bei einem 50 Jahre alten Forschungsstand. Dick hat hier wunderbar hellsichtig analysiert und war deswegen in der Lage, eine überzeugende Welt zu skizzieren, die einem gelegentlich den Atem stocken lässt. Dies gelingt auch deshalb so gut, weil er Spiegelungen vornimmt, die seine Welt glaubhaft erscheinen lassen und dabei doch ausreichend exotisch bleiben: Wenn er zum Beispiel beschreibt, wie die Deutschen ihren Teil der USA mit massiven Finanzspritzen wieder aufbauen, um die Wirtschaft in ihrem eigenen Interesse wieder zum laufen zu bringen, so bringt die Nähe zum Marshallplan die nötige Bekanntheit des Vorganges; die Idee, das Rommel als Militärgouverneur diesen Vorgang von New York aus geleitet hat, verleiht ihm allerdings die nötige Exotik.
Und hier beginnt langsam der zweite Punkt, das literarisch famose Verwirrspiel, dass die Welt des Buches mit der Realität des Lesers verschränkt. Denn in dieser Welt existiert ein Buch, das eine alternative Welt beschreibt, in der die Alliierten den Krieg gewonnen haben, womit der Leser sich zum ersten Mal ertappt fühlt – und einer von Dicks Charakteren analysiert die „cheap tricks“ mit denen dieses Buch seine Spannung generiert, und der Leser fühlt sich zum zweiten Mal ertappt. Und ab da kann man nicht mehr anders, als ständig sowohl das Buch, als auch im direkten die eigene Realität zu analysieren. Wenn er beschreibt, wie die Briten nach dem Krieg für ihre Kriegsverbrechen zur Rechenschaft gezogen wurden und die absolute Überzeugung der Charaktere, dies sei zu Recht geschehen, greifbar wird, dann kann man nicht anders, als seine eigene politisch-historische Prägung zu hinterfragen. Was in anderen Büchern nur ein Setting, ein semioriginelles Worldbuilding ist, das ist bei „The Man in the High Castle“ ein Instrument, das im Gehirn des Lesers herumfuhrwerkt.
Aber das Buch ist, wie gesagt, auch völlig OHNE das Setting literarisch ein Genuss. Die Frage nach dem Sinn und Zweck der eigenen Existenz, der eigenen Handlungen, vor allem des eigenen Scheiterns und der eigenen Ohnmacht vor den höheren Gewalten – das wird von Dick so elegant, so schlank, so filigran durchexerziert, dass man nie wie so oft das Gefühl hat, hier eine vergleichende ethische Studie zu lesen, die bloß zufällig Romanform angenommen hat, sondern man ist wirklich jeweils in der Gedankenwelt und dem Wertesystem der Figuren gefangen.
Das Buch entlässt einen mit dem rasenden Wunsch, mehr von den Menschen und von der Welt zu erfahren. Gott sei Dank ist das nie geschehen. Das Buch besticht durch seine formvollendete Eleganz, keine Gramm Fett beschwert die Geschichte. Jedes Mehr hätte das Konstrukt vernichtet, und jede weitere Ausarbeitung hätte die Gefahr der Banalisierung beinhaltet – wenn man die ersten Kapitel der (glücklicherweise!!) verworfenen Fortsetzung liest, merkt man das sofort.
Klassiker werden oft nur gelesen, weil sie Klassiker sind. Danach nickt man anerkennend mit dem bildungsbürgerlichen Kopf und hat seine Pflicht getan.
Dicks High Castle ist anders. Dicks High Castle muss man lesen, weil es einem auch 50 Jahre später noch in den Hintern tritt.
am 4. Mai 2011
Philip K. Dick is a master of unconventional sci-fi and fantasy genre, and those qualities are clearly exhibited in this work. It is set in 1960s America in a world in which Germany and Japan have won the World War II. US and the rest of the world are divided between those two superpowers, and we follow lives of several ordinary Americans who try to adjust themselves to this reality. The characters in the novel are fully developed in a manner that we've come to expect from Dick's later novels. Their personal struggles are intertwined with the new geopolitical power plays. The title of the novel refers to the sobriquet for Hawthorne Abendsen, a fictional writer of the book "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" which forms a story-within-a-story and a sort of MacGuffin for this novel. This fictional book will also be at the center of the denouement of this novel, and may provide the clue for what this novel was all about.
The Man in the High Castle is another brilliant and thought provoking novel. It is an engrossing and fun read as well, and a true classic of science fiction.
am 15. Mai 2000
The Man in the High Castle is Dick's masterpiece. Along with VALIS and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it completes the trilogy of the author's essential works. A must read for Dickheads or for anyone who considers himself a serious fan of science fiction. Dick was clearly influenced by two earlier works of alternative history, Sarban's The Sound of His Horn and C. M. Kornbluth's "Two Dooms". In turn, The Man in the High Castle has influenced any number of later works, not just Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream and the novels of Harry Turtledove, but Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven as well.
This is a very complex, suspenseful novel, consisting of four main plot lines and a host of characters whose lives sometimes interact. Don't expect any slam-bang pyrotechnic action here, despite the novel's provocative premise. It's more a slice of life tale, showing that even after a catastrophic defeat, life in America would go on. Dick is very good at detailing the nuances of life in Axis-ruled America. For example, at one point as an aside, it is pointed out that after the Nazi pograms, the only surviving prewar comedian is Bob Hope, and even he has to broadcast out of Canada. Also, an unintended irony for a novel written in 1962 is Dick's conjecture that if the United States had lost WWII, we would all be listening to Japanese audio equipment and driving German cars now. The author achieves the near impossible feat of actually being even-handed towards the Nazis without glamorizing them. He describes them at one point as Neanderthals in white lab coats, technological geniuses who have drained the Mediterranean and are conquering the Solar System, yet are morally bankrupt. Dick is much easier on the Japanese, depicting them not just as benign conquerors, but almost like a group of tourists, just off the latest JAL flight headed for the souvenir stand at Disneyland. Only in one brief instance when Juliana Frink reminiscences about conditions in San Francisco immediately after the occupation is their wartime rapacity even hinted at.
Several other reviewers here appear to be put off that the novel didn't live up to the action and dramatic tension hinted at in the synopsis above or the 1964 Popular Library cover with its map of the United States superimposed by Nazi and Imperial Japanese flags. When I first read it back in 1964 at age fourteen, I felt much the same way. On rereading it in 1988, however, I saw it for its true worth, an existential novel of the first order (ranking with the best of Camus or Sartre). It represents the fullest flowering of Dick's most consistent theme: What is reality? The provocative setting of an alternative universe where the Axis has won World War II and now occupies a defeated and humiliated America is merely a sensational back drop for Dick's real theme: how can we be sure of what is real? Thus the seemingly minor scene involving two Zippo lighters is actually the key to understanding the whole novel. One is merely a minor collectible, the other is priceless, Mr. Wyndam-Matson tells his mistress. What's the difference? The one was the actual lighter FDR was carrying when he was assassinated in 1934. But how does he know it is real? Well, he has a paper that certifies it is. But how does he know the paper is real? And so on. Likewise, the emphasis on the Japanese obsession with collecting authentic relics of America's prewar past is a symbolic of the authenticity which all the novel's characters are seeking in their own diverse ways. The anticlimactic and ambiguous ending also only serves to re-enforce what Dick was trying to say. In retrospect, he couldn't have ended it any other way. To neatly wrap things up would only subvert the novel's whole premise.
am 3. Oktober 1999
Philip K. Dick is not, unfortunately, for everyone. What concerns him as an author are not the things which concern most people: questions on the nature of reality, on what makes us human, on how people deal with a universe which feels, fundamentally, wrong. In this book many of the characters feel like they are living in the wrong universe and at the wrong time -- they live in Japanese-controlled California in a universe where the Axis has won World War II. How they react when they learn of a book, itself an alternative history, supposedly based on the I Ching, where the Allies win WWII, and how that fact changes their lives is the focus of this book. No, aside for the death of one individual, not much happens, on the surface. This book isn't about history, per se, it's about people. Highly recommended.
am 3. Mai 2000
First off, I would just like to comment that I have never really liked the fact that SFWA requires that a writer be alive in order to be given the title "Grand Master". Philip K. Dick died in 1982, and was a realitivly young 54 at the time of his death. They almost didn't quiet make it in time to give the Grand Master award to Alfred Bester. They didn't make it in time for Dick, like Theodore Sturgeron, Henry Kuttner and John W. Campbell, as well as others. Phil Dick should be should be made a Grand Master of Science Fiction postumously. The Novels and Short Stories that Dick produced in his lifetime are some of the best SF ever written.
The Man in the High Castle is not your average SF novel. In some ways, it isn't an SF novel. It is set in an alternative history, which is about all that makes it SF except for the way it tells the story. If it was not written by "an SF author" it probably would not be considered SF by most people . But it is SF cause it deals with large ideas that most other literature wouldn't touch with a ten foot poll. Basically, it deals with a concept of what the future holds of humanity. The world it is set in is very alien to us. Nazi's -- pretty much nothing more than evil space aliens. Of course, evil space aliens that we are all too familure with. (Lets hope they remain nothing more than evil space aliens of literuture too. Once was one too many times for us as a species to play around with things like Nazism.)
In the end, the story line kind of just ends. It ends with a esoteric view on things in the book. A world where Nazi's and Japanese are competing in a Cold War that threats to flame into a hot war at any moment. Which all just acts as a backdrop... Ideas, the stuff of SF. Nazi's and Japanese Facists in control of the United States and most of the world... and it isn't even the point of it all. The novel is more about people trying to make their way in this world... and some how we might just make it through a lot of hash odds and make it all work out in the end.
The novel has a very cautious, but in the end, extreamly optimistic view of the human race and what the future holds for us. The novel, like our real lives, does not tell us what that future holds... just that if we play our cards right it can be a better place.
Philip K. Dick holds a unique vision of the world we live in. It might be bad, but even in the pits of hell a seed can take root that changes everything.
am 29. April 2000
Philip K. Dick, as some reading this might be aware, was a science fiction writer whose stories served (loosely) as the basis for the films "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." His short fiction exemplifies the maxim that science fiction is a "literature of ideas." The "idea" behind "The Man in the High Castle" is that of the alternative history: the Axis powers actually prevailed in World War II, and modern-day America (meaning, in this case, the 1960's, when the book was first published) has been roughly split into two spheres of influence, German and Japanese.
How pleasantly surprising, then, to discover that this central "idea" is nothing more than a backdrop; that while plot and characters are certainly shaped by the imagined circumstances, the actual concern of the book is not the situation but the people within it. As a result, rather than reading as a description of an alternate reality, we are treated to a full experience of lives in a world that differs profoundly from our own. As a result, this novel is more than just science fiction. It succeeds in transcending the genre ghetto and meriting consideration among the best of modern writing.
Examples of how carefully, and how well, this book was thought out are too numerous to list, but one example: the titular "Man" is an American maverick writer of an alternative history in which America and its allies prevail in World War II. How simple, how convenient it would have been to have this alternative-history-within-an-alternative-history perfectly reflect our own reality. But it isn't so; the imagined history is completely different. Brilliantly conceived and executed, this is a truly rewarding book.
am 27. November 1999
How does one even begin to describe this amazing book? As others have pointed out, there is little in the novel by way of plot or action, and I would also add that as a literary stylist P.K. Dick was no Marcel Proust. The ending of the book is deeply flawed, in my opinion, and gives one the impression that P.K. Dick simply ran out of steam and didn't quite know how to end the story.
...And yet...and yet..."The Man in the High Castle" remains a work of rare genius, despite all of the flaws within it. Very rarely does one came across a book so thought provoking, so moving, so well endowed with insight into the natures of men. P.K. Dick might as well have been writing a critique of the America or the Soviet Union of his own day, for all the insight he brought to bear in this alternative history.
Dick's description of life as a citizen of an occupied country rings with an accuracy that is usually possible only for one who has experienced the humiliation of subjection oneself. Robert Childan might as well have been an African-American or an Indian living under the Raj, and his feelings towards himself and his masters would have been little different. If the America of the present day or the India of the British colonial era hardly seem the moral equivalent of what life might have been like under the Japanese, it is only because those whose tales are told are the conquerors', not because of any moral superiority inherent in Anglo-Saxon life.
Dick's gives an indication of how many Japanese of the WWII generation must feel about the United States' post-war occupation and its eternally self-serving justifications of its own actions. If the Co-Prosperity Sphere was a sham, what are we to make of America's occupation of the Phillipines after that country's war of independence from Spain? How to reconcile America's support for the French colonial presence in Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s with its avowed mission to halt Japanese colonial expansion in the late 1930s? What can explain away American support for Jonas Savimbi, Mobutu Sese Seko, Fidel Marcos and countless other unsavory, thieving butchers the world over? Could it be - Heaven forbid! - that for all the brutality of the Japanese' campaigns in East Asia, we have been every bit as immoral as they were? "The Man in the High Castle" dares to say "Perhaps so," and it is for this heretical notion that it deserves a 5-star rating and more.
am 25. Januar 2000
It is easy to see why so many readers have a probelem with the ending of this book. I, too, found it rather unsatisfactory. The dillema with conceiving such a story is that there perhaps can be no satisfactory end. The meagre handful of frightened and unorganised disenters left under German and Japanese co-rule could not plausibly have risen up and struck back. So the ending we are ofered is somewhat ambiguous. It reflects the hopes of the individuals under oppression. Individual psychosis. Unfortunately, and darkly, the note is not bright. The sinistry of the preceeding events, the situation that continues to escalate beyond the final page, clouds any hope for change. However, the striking inversion of one of history's most pivotal periods offers much to contemplate, and the display of the characters' unspoken racism is so subtle, it would seem, to themselves, but to us the readers... so tragic. In this, there is little hope. A great rot is infecting the human race in this world. There is surely the question: what of the evil in world war do we inherit in our world. But Dick convinces us that the way things could have turned out would have been infinitely worse. I have not come across anything quite like this before, and it has fuelled my urge to read more of Dick's work. The Man In The High Castle also works as companion to Radio Free Albemuth, in that a similar scenario occurs. (Don't expect much of a soul-satisfying ending in that one either).
am 4. Januar 2000
Granted, Philip K. Dick fans will love this book no matter what. And it's aclaimed by others, but if you are looking for a STORY.... well you are in for a disapointment. It has a resonance, a feel that is dark and impressive, but there is no story. How can this be a classic for some people? Obviously it's 'feel' is so strong, that people love to return to it over and over again. But it lacks true writer's 'craft'. It has no structure, and you will want to throw the book against the wall when you finish. I just love some of Dick's stuff, but if you looking for a story, this isn't it. Atmosphere? Yes. Story? No.