You, dear reader, will likely have inadvertently stumbled across genius science-fiction author Philip K. Dick – even if you’re not a literary nut. You see, several of his books have been adapted into acclaimed films, including: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Truman Show, and A Scanner Darkly.
To our surprise one of his lesser known texts, The Man in the High Castle (1962), has recently been adapted into a TV series. Produced by Ridley Scott, no less! This has brought the novel back into the public conscience for the first time since the 1960s, which has boosted sales and helped develop Dick’s name as a sci-fi genius capable of the most outstanding ideas.
The Man in the High Castle
It’s one of his less flamboyant novels; you won’t find flying cars, robots, dramatic technology, or Harrison Ford running around swearing in existential dismay. No, this is a consideration of an alternative history – what would have happened if the Allies had lost the Second World War?
To take on the topic, Dick went on an insane history binge session by reading loads of books about WWII and other stuff. He dosed up on Taoist philosophy and went the route of an Implicit Overlord, which leads to a far more subtle book than you’d expect given the subject matter. You won’t find lamentations on humanity, dramatic car chases, or characters dropping to their knees and screaming “NOOOO!”. It’s almost entirely free of emotive scenes describing chaos and unpleasantness, which is what makes the book the intelligent piece of writing it is.
The author decides the world would have been divided between two Superpowers in the form of Germany and Japan, the former ruling Europe and Africa with the latter governing Asia. Japan’s rise has seen the use of the I Ching (the legendary Chinese book of foresight) in society, and the book’s central characters refer to it regularly as a coping mechanism for their existence within a totalitarian society.
This, however, is one of Dick’s favourite themes – the nature of reality. By referring to the I Ching, the characters appear to search for a better future and question the illusory nature of existence. Who would have thought science fiction could be so meaningful, huh?
The arrival of Amazon Prime’s well received pilot episode should see the book find a new audience. Shortly after it began airing, we saw one guy our age reading the novel on the tram into work one morning, so it’s clearly had the desired effect for a new generation of readers.
It’s certainly Philip K. Dick’s best novel, too, and by quite some distance to be honest. Whilst he was capable of coming up with the most startlingly brilliantly high concept ideas, we have found his other writing to not be as compelling as you’d expect. But with The Man in the High Castle, Mr. Dick produced what you could well describe as a masterpiece for all to enjoy. In our era, it also has a chilling and timely quality to it.