Monday, January 6, 2020

The Man in the High Castle

The inspiration for the Amazon Prime Video series of the same name, this Phillip K. Dick novel is an alternative-history account of life in America if the Germans and Japanese won the Second World War, with the former occupying the northeast portion of the United States, the latter holding the west coast, and the southern states ruled by a Vichy-esque government, with the central portion independent. The story begins with Robert Childan, owner of an antique shop, paying attention to his mail, while the Jewish Frank Frink, his surname formerly Fink, consulting the I Ching.

Nobusuke Tagomi, a high-ranking Japanese trade official, consults the Taoist Book of Changes as well, with the Swedish industrialist Baynes reading coded material regarding the execution of the Final Solution to the African Problem, which occurred over fifteen years. Frank Frink’s ex-wife, Juliana, studies judo, with the aging and dying Nazi Martin Bormann in charge of the German-occupied portion of the former United States. Her former husband has recently been fired by the Wyndam-Matson Corporation, and Frank unsuccessfully attempts to get his job back. He consequentially attempts to get into the business of peddling jewelry, and is fascinated by a Mickey Mouse watch.

One of the main events that led to the downfall of the United States was the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt before he assumed officed, with several “weak” Presidents serving in his place, the country remaining isolationist, and the Germans and Japanese thus defeating them in World War II. Popular is the contraband alternate-alternate-history novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abendsen, the titular character, where FDR only serves two terms as President, one of his brain trustees Rexford Tugwell succeeds him, America enters World War II prepared, and history turns out differently than in our real life.

Meanwhile, television is revolutionizing the world, the Nazis have advanced in aerial transportation with rocket ships and even flights beyond space, and Juliana develops a relationship with Joe Cinnadella. One interesting aspect of Dick’s magnum opus is that he doesn’t entirely depict the Germans and Japanese in black-and-white terms compared to the Allies of the Second World War, and notes that the British were just as guilty as atrocities. In Abendsen’s story, moreover, he notes that America resolved its racial issues in the 1950s, and has a cold war with Britain instead of Russia, with the Soviet Union collapsing early.

Ed McCarthy and Frank Frink form a jewelry shop, with Reichs Chancellor Bormann dying and having Joseph Goebbels succeed him, some initial turmoil arising amongst the Nazi High Command, who turn against their allies the Japanese, given their greater tolerance of people such as Jews, Frank himself arrested due to his Semitic heritage, and the Nazis plotting Operation Dandelion, an attack on the Nipponese Home Islands. In Grasshopper, moreover, Jiang Jieshi (or Chiang Kai-shek, depending upon your preferred style of Chinese), remains in control of China, establishing a business relationship with the United States.

The novel concludes with Juliana meeting the eponymous Man in the High Castle, and while the human-interest elements are somewhat bland, the story is generally enjoyable, with The Grasshopper Lies Heavy actually being better than real-life history, although it’s somewhat unlikely the Nazis would have won the Second World War since in reality, they lost an overwhelming amount of their force to the Soviet Union on the eastern front, and I think America’s role in the conflict is overrated, with whoever was President at the time likely being insignificant. Alternate-timeline buffs and those with a general interest in history will be the ones most likely to enjoy this book.

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