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Rereading The Man in the High Castle

Posted by on December 6, 2010

The first time I read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle was back in high school before the first movie based on Dick’s works, Bladerunner, came out. With the recent publication of his third wife’s memoirs during the period when he wrote The Man in the High Castle and the announcement that Ridley Scott would be producing a 4-part mini-series based on the book for the BBC, I thought it was a good time to reread the book.

As with many of Dick’s works, the main themes of The Man in the High Castle deal with reality and identity. In the alternate universe of the book set in the early 60s when the book was written, Japan and Germany won World War 2, and the U.S. has been split between the two powers. In the book within a book, an author in Cheyenne, Wyoming (the man in the high castle) has written a novel of a world where the Allies won the war. Interestingly enough, this reality is also different from ours since Churchill remains in power 20 years after the end of World War 2, and the U.S. is a close ally with mainland China and Chiang Kai-Shek who won the civil war with Mao Zedong.

I appreciated the book much more upon its second reading because much of the book is set in San Francisco. The first time I read the book, I had only visited San Francisco for a day on a family road trip. Now, I’ve lived in the S.F. Bay area for almost 20 years, and I have more empathy for the scenes set in the city. In the intervening years, I’ve also had a great interest in books and movies depicting the highly influential events and characters of World War 2. Dick does a great job of extrapolating the political intrigue and competition that would have occurred if the Axis powers had won the war much like how Russia and the U.S., once allies, engaged in a long cold war.