Vintage Vision: Art, Germany, and Japan REVIEWING The Man in the High Castle

Welcome to another review! It has been a while since I reviewed a classic novel, and I's about time we get back to putting our bifocals on. Let's check out today's focus on Vintage Vision. This is a Philip K. Dick novel, and so far the newest book included for Vintage Vision on this blog.

The Man in the High Castle

Author: Philip K. Dick
Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi/Alternate History
Year: 1962

The Man in the High Castle


It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war -- and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo-Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.


This book is an alternate history novel that tries to show a world that could have occurred if World War II did not go the way it did. So basically, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was assassinated, leading the Great Depression to continue when World War II is starting. Germany and Japan quickly get ahead in their military efforts, with Germany conquering Europe and Africa, while Japan takes over Eastern Asia and Oceania. Finally, Japan invades the West Coast of the U.S, while Germany simultaneously invades the East Coast. After this change, Japan and Germany become the leading powers of the country, splitting it up into different territories. Japan takes over the Western coast, changing it to the Pacific States of America. The northeastern coast and other northern areas are known as the United States of America and are controlled by the Nazis. The southern east coast and other southern areas are known as "The South", which works with the Nazis as a puppet regime. In between those two Eastern countries and the Pacific States of America is an area called the Rocky Mountain States. This section is a neutral buffer zone that includes most states west of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, over until the end of Texas and straight up from there. So Minnesota and Wyoming all fall within the Rocky Mountain States. Canada is independent. Hitler is alive, but very sick and many Nazi German politicians are vying for his place of power. The Germans have also stretched their reach beyond Earth, having colonized the Moon, Mars, and Venus. 

Most of the story takes place in San Francisco. Chinese people are treated like second-class citizens. Black people are slaves, although this doesn't actually take very much forefront in the novel, despite being a defining feature of the shift in history. The main story is about a man who owns an antique shop, at a time when the Japanese value American artifacts and culture as foreign novelties to enjoy, instead of as actual cultural items of any significance. After being contacted by a Japanese official, this man, Bob Childan, tries to find a suitable piece to sell to the Japanese man named Tagomi, which will be a gift to a Swedish official. Another man, Frank Frink, was fired from a metalworking company that supplies counterfeit antiques. They make replicas of original items, such as old guns, to put into the antique stores for sale. Frink goes into business with a friend to make original jewelry, and he decides to blackmail his former company for funds, due to the counterfeiting. Another character present is Frank's ex-wife Juliana, who works in Colorado and gets romantically involved with a truck driver who is Italian. This is basically the story of Americans trying to find identity and purpose in a time where their lives are no longer what they used to be. They are no longer the dominant demographics in their home country. 

Something interesting about this book is it doesn't actually focus a lot on the elements of slavery or Nazi rule in Nazi controlled areas. It introduces slavery and shows a snippet of it in San Francisco within society, but then it veers completely away from it and focuses on the stories of Childan, Frink, and Juliana, while also veering into the political intricacies and power bids of Germans and Japanese during political shifts. We get little views of life in the Pacific and venture slightly into the Rocky Mountain States, but beyond that we don't see a lot of daily life elsewhere. 

Books and texts are used heavily as plot points and framing devices within this novel. A popular, though contested, novel that is widely read within this book is The Grasshopper Lies Heavily. It is a novel presenting an alternative history to the events leading to life within this novel. Within it is closer to what actually happened in our reality (yet still different enough to also be an alternate history for us), is complete fiction in this alternate reality. In Grasshopper, the Allies won the war instead of the Axis Powers. This book is banned in Nazi run countries, but it is widespread in the Pacific states and is a major topic of discussion among characters. Another text, the I Ching, is a Chinese classic that is employed cosmologically, as a kind of fortune telling text for characters. It is used by everyone in the Pacific States to try and determine what to do and what choices to make in their lives, regardless of who they are. The Japanese use it and so do the Americans. It is referred to heavily. 

An important thing to note for those who are interested in this book, is the use of racial and ethnic slurs. These are used on occasion and I just want to put in a slight disclaimer in case anybody wants to read it and would need to be prepared for that. This book is interesting and at times confusing, but it is very thought-provoking. I think this is the kind of novel that requires re-reading, close-reading, and discussion to get the most out of it. It is a kind of mirror through which to look at ourselves, our history, and our cultures. This was a very well thought out and researched novel. 

There was recently a television series adaptation made based on this book, but I haven't seen it and so I'm not going to talk about it. I'm kind of curious as to how they adapted it so maybe in time I'll take a gander at it. This is the second Philip K. Dick novel I have read, the first being Ubik. I want to read more of his works and short stories, which have spawned many film adaptations including Minority Report and Blade Runner. Both works I've read have forced me to stop and reflect and really look close at what I'm reading, which is something that I think science fiction should accomplish very often. It should make you pause and think about where you are in your life, what you're doing, and what society is doing. It should make you challenge your perceptions of the world and encourage you to look at things differently. That is something this novel excels at. This is not a passive read and I don't encourage anyone to read it who just wants something light and fun. This is not that kind of novel at all. 

In the end, this book threw me for a loop. There were times I was very confused and there were other times I wanted to know more about certain aspects that the book would not provide more details about. There was a lot to unpack and I still don't feel like I got everything after this first read-through. In a few more years, I may revisit it to see if I can glean more out of it than I initially did. I give The Man in the High Castle a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯✯.

This concludes another review here at The Real World According To Sam, where I bring the books straight to your screen and even provide my own two cents about them.