My life in outer space

The Man in The High Castle – Philip K Dick (1962)

The Man in the High Castle

This is possibly the most fascinating and interesting alternate history novel of the Twentieth Century, set as it is in a world where World War II was won by the Nazis and Japan. It works in the main because Dick has avoided the cliche of going into extreme detail about the differences and concentrates on the lives of his creations in this odd alternate USA.
The plot revolves around a handful of loosely connected characters, most of which are not what they seem, but this fits nicely in with Dick’s perennial theme of the fake.
Frank Frink, for instance, at the outset of the novel works in a company where he produces fake antiques for sale due to the lucrative demand from the occupying Japanese for original antique American handicrafts (such as .44 revolvers and Mickey Mouse watches). Added to this, Frink’s name is really Fink, and he has had surgery to hide the fact that he is a Jew.
Having left his employment, Frank sets up a business with his co-worker, Ed McCarthy, making contemporary American Folk Art, based on Ed’s designs. (i.e. ‘real’ artifacts)
Robert Childan is not pretending to be anything he is not, although he runs a business dealing in ‘genuine’ US artifacts, many of them supplied to him by Frink’s employers.
One of Childan’s customers is Mr Tagomi, a Japanese businessman, who is seeking a gift for a new client.
This client is a Mr Baynes, ostensibly a Swedish businessman on a trip to discuss mould-injection processes, although in reality he is a German Counter-Intelligence agent on a mission to warn the Japanese of German plans to bomb their home islands.
Frink’s ex-wife Juliana, is a judo instructor who meets up with an Italian truck driver, Joe, who moves into her apartment and her life and persuades her to take a trip to meet Hawthorne Abendsen, the author of a banned book called ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’.
Both ‘Grasshopper’, which is set in a universe where the Axis powers lost, and the I-Ching run through the MITHC like a thread. It should be noted that ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ does not depict our reality since one aspect of it talks of Hitler’s trial, something which obviously did not transpire in our timeline.
The Italian, Joe, himself is a fake since in reality he is an agent on a mission to assassinate Hawthorne Abendsen.
At the time of writing, Dick, it appears, was heavily into Oriental philosophy and employed The I-Ching to determine the plot of The Man in the High Castle, and explained
“I started with nothing but the name, Mister Tagomi, written on a scrap of paper, no other notes. I had been reading a lot of Oriental philosophy, reading a lot of Zen Buddhism, reading the I Ching. That was the Marin County zeitgeist, at that point; Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. I just started right out and kept on trucking.” In the event, he blamed the I Ching for plot incidents he disliked: “When it came to close down the novel, the I Ching had no more to say. So, there’s no real ending on it. I like to regard it as an open ending”.

“Hour 25: A Talk With Philip K. Dick”. philipKdick.com. Formerly posted at http://www.philipkdickfans.com/frank/hour25.htm.

There are strange connections between these characters, such as those between Mr Tagomi and Frank Frink, who never meet. Mr Tagomi buys a piece of Frank’s jewellery from Robert Childan (who was initially planning to swindle Frink and McCarthy) who has discovered from a Japanese client that the jewellery contains ‘wu’ or inner truth.
This leads Mr Tagomi, meditating on the jewellery, to shift temporarily to either the ‘grasshopper’ world or our world, a world where the San Franciscans are not deferential to the Japanese.
Later, Frank Frink is arrested when the authorities find out he is a Jew, but he is unexpectedly freed by Mr Tagomi, who orders his release merely to make a point to the local German authorities.

Highly recommended.

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