This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that first established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction, breaking the barrier between genre fiction and the serious novel of ideas. Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.
©1962 Philip K. Dick; (P)2007 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Dick is entertaining us about reality and madness, time and death, sin and salvation....We have our own homegrown Borges." (Ursula K. LeGuin)
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
This is one of those weird, unsettling novels that spins your brain in six or seven different directions.
I read this PKD masterpiece almost two months ago, but only just recently returned to review it because after finishing, I wasn't ready to review. After I read more of him, I realized that even when he is messy, strange, disjointed and sometimes yes >>touched<< Philip K Dick is one MuthaF'er that definitely can write and can definitely write his readers into circles. He bends time, switches alliances, inverts us until we find we don't recognize our own reflection or past.
Reading 'The Man in the High Castle', I was reminded of a time when I was in High School in Germany. At the time, I was very flexible (think Abraham Lincoln meets, falls in love, and produces offspring with Gumbi) and decided to jump/fall/roll off the high dive platform with both legs wrapped around my head while standing on my hands.
I rolled forward spinning head-chasing-ass (my knees were my axis of rotation) until I hit the water. At that moment my legs seemed to float from my head to their normal bipedal position, but my legs seems to not exist in a normall sense and I had no sense of North, South, Up or Down. It was embryonic and yes probably moronic, but it is exactly how I felt putting this novel down.
Anyway, a fantstic dystopian/alternate history novel that if possible should be read with Philip Roth's also brilliant The Plot Against America. At least that is how I feel now about reading him then, but time has moved on, and I might just be remembering wrong.
The powerful ideas of this weirdly compelling novel were expressed in an almost telegraphic narrative style, blowing my thoughts in so many different directions that I felt like a wind vane in a tornado. There are multiple principle characters, each with a completely different world view, cultural background, and plot line. One minute you’re inside the head of a Nazi racist (in this alt-history novel, the Axis powers won WWII), the next you’re following a Jew who is hiding his identity and trying to live a normal life in the Japanese-controlled western U.S. Another character is an antiquities dealer making a living off his wealthy Japanese clientele, which requires him to outwardly adopt their mannerisms if not understand what really makes them tick. I thought of him as the “Vichy” collaborator, the Captain Renault of this story. Following these and other characters through their lives gives the author, Philip K. Dick, multiple opportunities to throw out marvelous observations on everything from bigotry to craftsmanship to women’s clothing.
These characters are placed in a setting that allows for critiques of current events, and Dick is clearly concerned with the major events of his day (1962), particularly the Cold War. He skewers the space race as a political smokescreen meant to distract the public from real problems. The annihilation of all humankind courtesy of nuclear weapons is also clearly on his mind.
But this novel is also oh-so-meta. It seems that nowadays every book, movie and TV show (especially the TV shows) are constantly breaking the fourth wall and winking at the fact that it knows it is a TV show and it knows you know it is a TV show. But back in the early ‘60s this must have been a very strange, almost revolutionary concept. I suppose this is one of the major reasons the book won a Hugo. The eponymous man in the high castle is the author of an alt-history novel in which the Allies won WWII and all of the characters are reading the book and interpreting it in their own way. This sort of self-aware writing creates in me a not unpleasant sensation of looking over my own shoulder, watching myself read, feeling myself actively thinking about how Dick managed to create this complex hall of mirrors and keep it all from shattering.
But alongside the many brilliant ideas and passages in this novel, there were some notable failures as well. Many times I felt like the characters’ reactions to things were very unrealistic. This kept me from empathizing very much with any of them. But a bigger problem for me was the pervasive referencing of the I Ching throughout the narrative. Nearly every character consults the I Ching in order to decide what to do next. This reminded me strongly of Nova by Samuel R. Delany, in which characters were constantly consulting Tarot cards. I have heard anecdotally that Dick consulted the I Ching while he wrote this book. I didn’t know that at the time I was reading, but for this reader the frequent I Ching references felt like an intrusion from the outside world, possibly an obsession of Dick’s, into the narrative. In other words, breaking the fourth wall in an unpleasant way that didn’t add anything to the story. Instead, these references now feel anachronistic and ultimately led me to give the novel four, rather than five, stars. [I listened to this as an audio book narrated by Tom Weiner, who did a credible job of reproducing the affectless voices of the characters along with all their various accents—Japanese, German, Italian.]
I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. At times, the names of places, persons, and historic events were confusing, but not so much as to spoil the story. I imagine the book would be much more enjoyable for someone who knew more about World War II. I certainly knew very little about it prior to the book but still had a lot of fun listening to it.
The reader was OK. The voice acting of the different dialects, especially Japanese, at times were on the verge of being comical. Still, I've heard worse. Overall, the reading is very much listenable, and the great story-telling makes up for any negative points in the reading.
This engaging novel was spoiled for me by the reader's almost unendurable monotone. There was a little intonation, at the end of each sentence, the last word falling in pitch. Each sentence the same. It's evident in the sample, check it out.
I looked forward to when he would put on an accent, just for a break.
Make sure you can listen to this guy before you get this book.
This was an excellent example of Dick's preoccupation with the nature of reality. I thought it was interesting, but the narration was simply too brisk and monotone for me to enjoy it, although the German pronunciation was well done. Owing to its rushed narration and relatively complex characterization and themes, I would recommend reading the book instead.
PKD is known for his ephemeral, quasi-spiritual stories that are set in the future. With the Man in the High Castle (MITHC), we get an alternative history that is firmly rooted in reality. This seems to be an exploration by Dick into the human spirit and experience. The author strikes an interesting nerve by forcing Western (particularly, North Americans) into musing what it'd be like to be one of the least powerful nations in the world.
In my humble opinion, this is the best of dick and could easily be enjoyed by non-PKD and/or non-Sci-Fi fans.
I loved the story, but it was tough to follow at times. I didn't like the reader at all, especially when he did accents. For a lesser story I probably would have given up, but this was such an interesting concept that I kept going. At one point I had to go back an hour or so to re-listen, because I'd lost track of all the characters.
In the end it was worth it. The ending was kind of open-ended, but I liked it that way.
I’ve tried to finish this book four or five times and never made it. Tom Weiner’s narration makes this book unlistenable; his attempts at accents set the standard for bad narration!!!
The story is one of PKD’s classics. I’m going to buy the paperback so I can enjoy the story and find out how it ends.
I read this and enjoyed book ages ago, but this narration made it impossible to finish. The book deserves a much better reader!
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I found this one to be a fascinating example of what can be done with alternate history. Not only does Dick build a plausible world-that-might-have-been, but he uses it to grapple with deeper themes, like the human prejudices and biases that drive history, the way the human mind understands reality and its shifting realities-within-realities, and the concept that there's some deeper underlying meta-truth. Like with other PKD works, there's a sense of a brilliant mind finding so many connections, that what he ultimately wants to say feels a bit scrambled, but that's part of the fun of reading him -- you have to think about what he's after. This may well be one of his more coherent books, even if the I Ching supposedly helped him write it.
Anyway, the setup posits that the Axis powers won World War Two, and that it's now the mid-1960s. The US is split into three parts, one controlled by the Reich, one controlled by the Japanese, and the Rocky Mountain States an independent buffer country. The Nazi empire continues to be driven by a frenzied vision of mastering the universe, which has led to rocket planes and space exploration, but also seems to be splitting from political infighting (Hitler has gone crazy from syphilis and has been quietly committed). Meanwhile, Japan, under its veneer of formality and emotional guardedness, is starting to have a few (rather understandable) doubts about where the new world order is headed.
Living in this alternate North America are several different characters, whose psyches reflect some of the larger currents of the world, from a shopkeeper who wonders if all the American cultural artifacts he sells to Japanese collectors are real (and, indeed, what "real" means), to a Jewish artisan in hiding, to an agent from Sweden who isn't what he seems, to a Japanese official who frets over the karma of his actions. There are so many clever ideas and sly little touches, I can't begin to cover them all, but I liked how PKD explored race and racism, shallow cultural appropriation by hipsters (with Americans as the victims this time), the way people unconsciously absorb whatever historical narrative they've been given. That so many characters consult the I Ching for guidance seems strange at first (and possibly a sign of Dick's impending loopiness), but it takes on an interesting meta significance.
Key to the novel is a story within-a-story, a fictional alternate history novel in which the Allies *won* WWII. Being banned by the Reich, this work has attracted a lot of readers and provokes interestingly different reactions from characters. Yet, it’s not the same as our history. What does that mean? Since this is a PKD work, reality blurs once the story unveils its author, the titular man in the high castle.
As with others novels by Dick, the plot is probably the dullest part, just a rough scaffold to hang his cerebral explorations off of. If you dislike mindf---ery, the “unfinished” feeling of the ending may put you off. And anyone who really doesn't know much about WWII history will probably be confused -- Dick relies on the reader’s being able to tell real and alternate events apart. But, those issues aside, if you want to explore one of science fiction’s most interesting minds, this is certainly a great place to start.
"A good story, iffy narration"
Philip K Dick is revered in SF circles - this book is a multiple award winner - rightly so as his stories have great power and imagination. I confess however that I find him to be quite a difficult read as his prose tends to be a bit disjointed, and he lacks a consistent narrative drive. The stories are however terrific, which is perhaps why they make such good movies ("Blade Runner" is a case in point), and for the same reason, I thought his books might convert quite well to audio.
Unfortunately the narrator here lacks a consistent pace and his rhythm is all over the place - he is forever putting the stress on the wrong part of the sentence, sometimes even of particular words; and his characterisation is a bit wooden to say the least.
All that said, this is a terrific book - intriguing, imaginative and very thought provoking, and I enjoyed it a lot, narration notwithstanding. I would be quite happy to recommend it, but would urge would-be buyers to listen to the sample narration first to make sure they are happy with it.
The book was- like all Phillip K Dick's books- very good. I would have enjoyed it a lot had it not been for the terrible reader. He kept accenting the ends of words, it reminded me of a bad star trek fan making fun of William Shatner.
"Good but not great"
Probably the best story by Mr Dick however not the best narration. Tom Weiner's voice certainly was not the best I have heard and did detract from an excellent book.
"Most powerful serious sf book I have read in years"
This is an established classic I had been intending to read for years but never got round to it. It finally came to the top of my to read list and I now feel like an idiot for having left it so long. One of the real heavyweight works of science fiction that makes you think and keeps you thinking about it after you've read it, and more than a little bit disturbed by some of the ideas.
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