brian 's Reviews > The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
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Jun 12, 2012

really liked it

the plot is simple enough: an alternate history detailing what would've happened had the axis powers won the second world war. thankfully, there's very little of that obvious government intrigue and new-world-order shit that lesser writers focus on -- rather, Dick's obsession is the spiritual life of the individual in a totalitarian society told in the form of a wonderfully messy jumble of ideas and ruminations on race and history and human connection and destiny. in fact, i think dick's ideas are so powerful, they somewhat take over the novel... his characterizations, on the other hand, are not as strong as they could be; as a result, they're crushed under the weight of plot and idea...

imagine a hybrid of, say, Philip K. Dick and Richard Yates? he'd pump out a few of the greatest novels ever written. that said, i expected a novel of utter strangeness and great ideas and got it; what i didn't expect was such a human and humane one.

well, there's only so much to say, best to read these passages:

on the Nazi leaders of America:

"Their view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there, but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. ...It is their sense of space and time. They see through the here, the now, into the vast black deep beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life; there was once only the dust particles in space, the hot hydrogen gases, nothing more, and it will come again. This is an interval, ein Augenblick. The cosmic process is hurrying on, crushing life back into granite and methane; the wheel turns for all life. It is all temporary. And they - these madmen - respond to the granite, the dust, the longing of the inanimate; they want to aid Natur.... And, he thought, I know why. They want to be agents, not the victims, of history."

And there's an obsession with objects in the book... with the spiritual 'life' of objects. check this passage:

She said, 'what is "historicity"?'

'When a thing has history in it. Listen. One of those two Zippo lighters was in Franklin D. Roosevelt's pocket when he was assassinated. And one wasn't. One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object ever had. And one has nothing .... You can't tell which is which. There's no "mystical plasmic presence", no "aura" around it...

A gun goes through a famous battle, like the Meuse-Argonne, and it's the same as if it hadn't, unless you know. It's in here." He tapped his head. "In the mind, not the gun"'

good shit.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Pinky Nice review, Brian.

The thing that has stuck with me about this novel is the reflexive trick where a writer in the novel is imagining a world where the Nazis didn't beat America. I'm a sucker for that kind of meta-fictional juggling, which Dick pulls off with ease. But you nailed it: his is a humane, not merely an intellectual, game. We're not simply victims of historical forces, nor should we fall into the dangerous mythologizing trap of imagining ourselves the agents, but the force of the critical imagination -- to reflect on, and think beyond, our place in history, the historicity of our world -- that's a real hopeful, political humanism (that maybe is less visible in many of his other, often more paranoid fictions).

brian   absolutely, mike. when that concept was first introduced (the novel within the novel of 'our' world) i was certain it was gonna go in one of many possible horrible directions... nope. dick pulled it together and created out of it something both playful and profound... no small feat.

and all i'll say regarding your bit on victims and/or agents of history is 'yup'... no point in elaborating on something you stated so perfectly.

i'm currently reading isaiah berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox, his famous essay on Tolstoy's philosophy of history... Dick had to have read that, huh?

message 3: by David (new)

David This book is a masterpiece. Definitive proof of Dick's greatness.

And while we're on the subject I reccomend "The Penultimate Truth" and "Flow My Tears the Policeman Said" as well as "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (whose tone is rather different from "Blade Runner.")

Wolfgang Kolb Reality...what is it in reality? Victors get to write the history after all, right? Certainly a nice iceberg of a story. Semantics in deep play along with metaphysical context. Great passage about the lighters, one which gets to the core of what Dick was truly playing at; context, point of view versus that of "true" reality and outcomes. The Man in the High Castle is a must for all lovers of Dick and SF for sure!

message 5: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Great review, Brian.

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