The International Writers Magazine: Favourite Books
The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle has long been one of my favourite Philip K Dick novels and probably one his most fully realised works. I was happy to discover that it has been adapted by Scott Free productions for Amazon Prime in the USA as a TV series. First showing Jan 15th 2015.
Certainly the idea is so rich in detail it would be wasted as a single TV drama. Directed by David Semel from a script by Frank Spotnitz, it stars 'Game of Thrones' star Alexa Davalos and Luke Kleintank.
The novel was first published in 1962, it won a Hugo Award (1963) whilst World War Two was still fresh in everyone’s minds. It was quite controversial back then to imagine Germany and Japan winning the war and dividing the USA into two halves down the middle. Japan gets the West, Germany East. Dick never really understood the amazing results of the re-industrialisation of Japan post-war so he imagines the Japanese side as low-key, hardly the major economic force it has become in cars and electronics. The German side is all about industry; slavery has been reintroduced and is grim indeed for all the world under German control. Whilst a power struggle goes on back in Germany certain individuals are keen to wrest all of the USA into Germany’s grasp. There is a resistance in the Rockies; a vast border area between the two sides, trusting anyone there is another matter.
Philip K Dick’s heroes are very laid back. The idea is powerful enough – so it never really needed action heroes. The subtle twist is that there is a subplot where he imagines the impossible that America won the war via an underground novel call ‘The Grasshopper lies Heavy’ that the German’s have banned.
Still from The Man in the High Castle Series 1
Main characters reply on the I-ching to make important decisions (shades of Dice Man) and the few Jews left in the USA hide under assumed names. The Japanese trade commissioner Nobusuke Tagomi begins as a minor character but is drawn into the story as events unfold. Frank Frink, a war vet, makes forgeries of iconic Americana for Wyndham-Mason Corp, but later starts a jewelry business making original work that is in demand, possibly a dig at Japan of that time where only copies of everything American were made. Juliana, a Judo instructor is the heroine desperate to meet the author of ‘The Grasshopper…’ novel Hawthorn Abendsen who lives in a High Castle in the free zone of Colorado. Robert Childan is the man who owns American Artistic Handcrafts and tries to adapt to his new masters ways - hiding his contempt for them. Mr Baynes is a Swedish industrialist with a sinister secret.
It’s all very complex and I don’t want to get into the plot here - especially as one should take a look at the book prior to viewing the pilot. Either way I can't wait to see it soon and see how they adapt. Early feedback is good, especially for the look and feel of the series. *Dick did plan a sequel but couldn’t face the terrible task of getting into the head of Nazi’s again – despite two tries at it – both ending up as quite different stories. Two Chapters of the sequel were published in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick (ISBN 0-679-74787-7)
Alternate history is a fascination for me. In 2013 I published my own take on revisionist WW2 history with ‘The Repercussions of Tomas D’. The story of a boy going back in time inadvertently becomes simultaneously the greatest traitor or hero in British history depending on your point of view. Built around the fear of the German’s being more advanced in atomic weaponry than they actually were – based upon information gained under torture Tomas is used ruthlessly to alter history forever and halt the war in 1941.
Tomas’s heart is also split in two between the girl he leaves behind and the one he meets in London during the Blitz. Like Philip K Dick, the fun in writing such a tale is researching what is known and fact and then imagining a different world 70 years later – one where poor Tomas’ girlfriend Gabriella wakes up to the day after he leaves.
The Man in the High Castle was a success in the USA and it's on Amazon Prime over here in the UK . Speculative fiction is fascinating because the more you research it – the more you realise that history rests on a pinhead. Things could go a different way with a change in the weather, a late train, a malfunctioning pistol… the past seems solid to us – but it is all chance it seems, every bit of it.