Rezension von Daniel Spichtinger

Dick, Philipp K.: The Man in the High Castle. Penguin 1962.

General Information on the Author

Philip K(indred) Dick was born on December 16, 1928, in Chicago. He was the son of Joseph Edgar, a government employee, and of Dorothy (Kindred) Dick.
Dick hosted a classical music program on radio, worked in a record store and later attended the University of California. He graduated from Berkeley in 1950. Besides his occupation as a writer he was an occasional lecturer at California State University. He defined his political attitude as being "anti-war" and "pro-life". Consequently, he was active in drug rehabilitation and an anti-abortion activist. Dick married five times and had three children. The author died of heart failure following a stroke in California in 1982.


Dick wrote more than 40 novels, the best of them probably being "The Man in the High Castle", "The Three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch", "Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" which was filmed as "Blade Runner" in 1982. Furthermore, the short story "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" was filmed as "Total Recall" in 1990.
The central problem in much of his writings is how to distinguish the real from the unreal. Dick stresses the importance of emotion which, for him, makes humanity human. This emphasis is usually contrasted with the technological environment of Dick's worlds. The typical Dick novel is set in a technologically advanced near-future America, which is somehow falling apart. Dick once said:
" I want to write about people I love and put them into a fictional  world...because the world we actually have does not meet my standards."


Philip K. Dick received the Hugo Award for "The Man in the High Castle" in 1962 and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for "Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said". Additionally he was guest of honour at the Science Fiction Festival in Metz (France) in 1978. The Philip K. Dick Award has been created by Norwescon, a science fiction convention in Seattle, and is distributed annually.

Source: Contemporary Authors (CD-Rom Version)

The Man in the High Castle (Content)

In The Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick depicts a world where the Nazis have won the Second World War. I was, in the beginning, sceptical if an American Science Fiction author would have enough knowledge of and insight into the Nazis to portray a world ruled by them without using cheap chliches. As I continued reading, I soon found out that I need not have worried. Astonishingly, Dick manages to describe a world which is "both entirely recognizable and utterly unimaginable" as the New York Times Book Review puts it. It seems quite realistic that the Nazis could have pursued gigantic projects like draining the Mediterranean to make farmland after their "Endsieg". And, from what we know about the Holocaust, it seems "logical" - in a perverted sense of the word -  that they could have exterminated the whole African population on that continent. Furthermore, the fact that consumer industry is neglected in favour of these projects also conforms with what we know about the third Reich.

Dick seems to have grasped many key elements of the structure and organisation of the Nazi empire and also of their mentality. One of those key elements is the Reich's constant need to expand and to be in a state of war. Hitler gave the people employment in weapons factories; the whole economy was streamlined to prepare for war - without it, the economy would have collapsed. In The Man in the High Castle the need to expand has resulted in the building of vast rocketships to explore and colonise other planets within the solar system. Even in the "real" third Reich, Werner von Braun laid the foundations for future space flight. While the colonisation of other planets is relatively peaceful, some radical factions within German society have more sinister plans to ensure the expansion of the Reich, as we are to learn in the course of the story. They have come up with a plan, codenamed "Operation Dandelion" to annihilate the Japanese home islands by using nuclear weapons. Here Dick got another thing right: The National Socialists use a typical euphemism as a code name for their operation. The use of euphemistic words and phrases was widespread in Nazi terminology: the extermination of the Jews was referred to as "resettlement in the east", subversive elements often did not survive the "special treatment" they were given by the Gestapo, the Ministry of Propaganda  the was also called "Ministry for the Enlightenment of the People" and, as is widely known, the phrase "Labour makes free" was affixed on the entrance gates to various concentration camps.

Dick also aptly describes how the various departments, ministries and agencies of the third Reich plot against each other. Again, this was a salient feature of the structure of Nazi society. Hitler in fact encouraged rivalries, for example by giving two people overlapping responsibilities, so that he could retain absolute control. Furthermore, by doing so he wanted to ensure that people from different organisations would not join forces to overthrow him. When he felt threatened, Hitler very quickly took away all powers from the respective organisation. This was the case with the so called Röhm Putsch, which was instigated by Hitler to get rid of Röhm and which, in terms of power, rendered the SA irrelevant. Its place was taken by the SS.

The book also portrays German paranoia in connection with the Jews. Although they have murdered most of them, the Nazis still feel threatened by them. When a passenger of one of the modern German planes sees a basketball stadium he says:" It if it was designed by a Jew." (44)
In the book Dick takes this scene to give his view about the National Socialist worldview:

"Do they ignore parts of reality? Yes. But it is more. It is their plans...The conquering of the planets. Something frenzied and demented, as was their conquering of Africa, and before that , Europe and Asia.
Their view; it is cosmic. Not a man here, a child there but an abstraction...They see through the here, the now, into the vast deep black beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life...It's all temporary. And these - 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 the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness."(45)

But there are more things other than the portrayal of Nazi society that make the book exceptional. One of them is the way in which Dick plays with various levels of reality. It speaks for Dick's sense of irony that he invented a book within the book, called The Grasshopper lies Heavy, which depicts a reality in which Germany lost the war, but which is still very different from our reality. We only get to know parts of the reality depicted in Grasshopper. From what we are told by various characters, the British beat Rommel in Africa and then unite with the remnants of the Russian army to defeat Hitler at Stalingrad. In the USA, Tugwell, who became president after Roosevelt, orders the American Fleet out of Pearl Harbour and so it is not destroyed by the Japanese attack in 1941. As Russia never gains much power in this reality, the USA and the British divide the world amongst themselves after the war. Eventually the United States and the British Empire go to war and Great Britain finally wins. The Grasshopper lies Heavy is written by an author called Hawthorne Abendsen. He is supposed to be living in a fortress, referred to as The High Castle, because his book is banned in German zone of America and he is in danger of being assassinated. In reality, however, Abensen has given up his fortress and now lives in an ordinary house with his wife and children. One can only speculate how much similarities there are between Abensen and Philip K. Dick. It is interesting to note that we meet the man in the High Castle only on the last pages of the book.

This brings us to the ending which is one of the strangest I have ever read. Firstly, it does not provide a conclusion to the story. The Japanese, for instance, have been informed about Operation Dandelion but it remains unclear if they are able to take effective counter measures. Only the moral choices the characters make provide a framework which holds the various plot lines together. These important moral decisions are:
· Childan's refusal to sell authentic American artwork as trinkets.
· Juliana's decision to kill Joe, whose mission it is to assassinate Abendsen.
· The attempt to warn the Japanese of the planned annihilation of their home islands, which is successful.
· Mr. Tagomi's decision to kill German thugs to save a life and his refusal to extradite a Jew to Germany.

Secondly, the end of the book is noteworthy because it shows the all pervading influence of the I Ching. Not only did Philip K. Dick use this oracle to determine the behaviour of his characters at crucial plot points, but it turns out that Abensen also used it to write The Grasshoper lies Heavy. In a sense it was the oracle itself which wrote these books, thus acquiring a life of its own. When Juliana asks it what we are to learn from the book the oracle again answers with the powerful hexagram Inner Truth. The conclusion Juliana draws from this hexagram are even more astonishing:

"It's Chung Fu", Juliana said. "Inner Truth...And I know what it means."
Raising his head , Hawthorne scrutinized her. He had now an almost savage expression. "It means, does it, that my book is true?"
"Yes," she said.
With anger he said, "Germany and Japan lost the war?"
Hawthorne, then, closed the two volumes  and rose to his feet; he said nothing.
"Even you don't face it," Juliana said. (247)

Here, the characters have arrived at the conclusion that their reality is non-existent, or at least that there are other realities which are as real (or unreal) as their own.

Finally, there is a point about The Man in the High Castle which should be criticised, namely the portrayal of the Japanese. While the Germans are seen as technologically superior but morally inferior, Dick depicts the Japanese as a highly spiritual but technologically less advanced people (they have no rocketships) who, despite their formality, behave in an honourable way. This is, to a certain extent, true. However, Dick neither take the massacres of Chinese civilians nor the sometimes very cruel treatment of prisoners of war into account. Surely, these things cannot be compared to the holocaust but generally it is true to say that Japan has not tried to face and to deal with these atrocities and thus it is important not to forget that these things happened.