Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

Today is the the day I’ve been waiting for for months – the release of Amazon’s series based on The Man in the High Castle!  My obsession with this as-yet unreleased series started several months ago…

I’ve been listening to the Sword & Laser Podcast for about two and a half years, and it long been apparent that The Man in the High Castle was the favorite novel of Tom Merritt, one of the podcast hosts.  I quickly came to respect the tastes of Tom and Veronica, and added The Man in the High Castle to my ever growing “to read” list.  It was probably doomed to remain on that limbotic list indefinitely, but then Amazon posted the pilot for their upcoming series as part of a test program to see if they wanted to finance the rest of the series.  I’d been curious about the book, so I figured I’d watch the first episode.  By the halfway point I knew it was going to be good, but by the end I knew it was going to be phenomenal.  So Phillip K. Dick’s classic alternate history jumped to the top of my stack because I just couldn’t wait until November to see how the story was going to end.

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Swag from the Comic-Con Premier event for the Amazon series.

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The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history about the United States if Japan and Germany had won WWII.  The plot centers around a woman named Julia who finds a book about an alternative history of the United States and goes on a journey to find the author.  The novel also has several subplots involving the political officials representing Japan and Germany, as well as Americans who are trying to find their place in society several years after the war.

What I’ve come to find about the works of Phillip K. Dick is that he tends to have amazing concepts and world-building, but less interesting characters and plot.  The concept for The Man in the High Castle is brilliant, and presents an incredibly well thought-out alternate history.  The characters are strategically placed in occupations that perfectly show the workings of this alternate society, and the characters themselves have very interesting and distinct desires.  The ending of the novel, however, feels a bit anticlimactic after the buildup and suspenseful plot that leads towards the end of the book.

Which is perhaps why I’m so excited for the Amazon series.  I was able to go to the High Castle Panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, which has only made me more excited for the show.  Based on the two episodes I’ve seen so far, the series is attempting to be faithfully painful to the world created by Philip K. Dick, while creating the sorts of story lines and drama that are more successful for a visual media.  The sets, costumes, and acting are all amazing, and they have perfectly created the world that PKD envisioned in his original novel.

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The novel is a classic example of alternate history, and although I wasn’t overly excited by the ending, I still think it is well worth reading.  While I believe the adaptation will create a more exciting plot and explore the characters more deeply than in the original book, I still think it was an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating read.  It isn’t my favorite novel of all time (sorry Tom!), but I’m very glad I read it.  I think this is the sort of novel that anyone can read and enjoy, and I’m excited that it may find a larger audience with the Amazon Prime series release.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

  1. “although I wasn’t overly excited by the ending” — the ending, in its non-action sort of way, was SPOT on. The creation of something new — looking forward rather than into the past. The simple act of making something new. Way more literary than it seems at first glance… beautiful. So yeah, disagree with you on that point.

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    1. I agree that the ending is very literary, and does something different than most books. I guess I felt that the entire story leading up to it was headed somewhere else, so the ending didn’t feel as though it flowed from the rest of the book. Disappointed was probably too harsh of a word – it just didn’t feel as though the story was completed when it was over. Which, I suppose, was sort of part of the point, but it left me wanting more story to feel satisfied.

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      1. But many of his books follow this pattern — the end of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the source material for Bladerunner) has a character discover a frog which he thinks is real, but, it’s mechanical… like all the other animals that inhabit the earth. PKD makes these simple gestures profoundly meaningful in the context of his narrative. It IS a culmination, it is not something tacked on at the end, it is profoundly connected to his purpose and goal…

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      2. I also read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I agree it is the same sort of ending – it emphasizes the point he is making, but feels sort of disconnected with the other events in the story. It wasn’t so much the frog and the discovery that it wasn’t real, but more the events surrounding his catching the frog that seemed out of place. With High Castle, I felt like the story was building to a more dynamic conclusion. I agree that the ending did suit his purpose of discussing truth and reality, I think I just felt like I wanted more to happen when we got there. Honestly, I think my feeling of disappointment stems from the fact that I really enjoyed the book as a whole, and I wanted it to keep going. I suspect this is the sort of book where I’ll appreciate the ending much more on a re-read, because I will be able to explore his concepts more thoroughly and be less focused on plot.

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