The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

I’ve bought this book a while ago, since before I knew that Ridley Scott was working on a TV series based on it. Since the pilot was released on Amazon, Marie borrowed and read it before she started to see spoilers on her social network. Since she read it, we watched the pilot. Since I watched the pilot, I started reading the book in the evening. Since I started reading the book (and it is sci fi/fantasy), I finished it sometime in the middle of the night.

This is why I don’t read science fiction anymore.

Most movies (and I’ll assume this TV show) based on Phillip K Dick are usually loosely based on his books and short stories, where the core ideas (or, more likely, one or two of them) are kept and most of the storyline is not. From the pilot it is clear that this will follow that trend.

I mention this because I find it interesting that when this is done to nearly anyone else’s work readers are angry that either it doesn’t hold true to the original (in the case of contemporary writers), or they clearly list it as an adaptation (in the case of classic writers such as Shakespeare). The only common exception I can think are movies based on comic books—but the source material itself is inconsistent and full of reboots and retellings.

My only real criticism of the book is the use of the I Ching which I found frustrating and boring. After all, you are talking about someone who used to publish “horrorscopes” in college — horoscopes with unfortunate fortunes. This scientist has never taken kindly to that sort of mysticism.

“Spoilers” follow

Every master of classic science fiction has a signature that they’re known for: in Isaac Asimov it is direct character-based plots that drive a large scale goal with societal implications; in Ray Bradbury it is almost a more horror-genre happen to be set in a dystopian future; in Arthur C. Clarke is the story as a vehicle to carry a hard-science idea usually with an idealistic, utopian, or transcendent ending; in Robert A. Heinlein it was a pure individualistic adventure story carrying a social or political theme. With the exception of Bradbury, all were strong liberals though not lock-step, probably due to their depression-era upbringings.

Phillip K Dick is no exception. Because of his popularity in movies, even those who have never read him should be aware that his main themes are reality and identity. Since both are informed by perception, he works base themselves on the consequence of that being manipulated.

If you know this, as I did when reading the Man in the High Castle, then I guarantee that’s the biggest spoiler of the book I can give you. Far more than watching the pilot to a TV show based on it. The pilot spoiled one minor character, this knowledge revealed most of the ending prematurely even in my sleep-deprived brain.

The reason I got the book was because I wanted to show Marie a classic science fiction book I didn’t already own (my books are buried in the back of storage) and this was his first Hugo award winner. Even despite knowing the ending, I still had to mull over parts of it after I finished.

Case in point, my criticism above? It made perfect sense when I figured out that Phillip K Dick used the I Ching when writing the book. In fact, when you think about it, knowing Phillip K Dick, it had to be that way.

When you understand that, you understand why this is a great piece of science fiction, well worthy of Dick’s signature. As Marie texted me after she finished the book:

I finished the book! I feel more confused now than when I started it. It is a total mind fuck.

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