Early 2015, Amazon released a pilot episode for an original series based on “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick. The pilot, which borrowed its title from the book, became Amazon’s most-watched pilot episode ever, and was picked up for a ten-episode season. The remaining nine episodes were released, binge-ready, in November 2015. I learned of the book through reading about the Amazon series, and while I’ve not had the chance to watch the series, I’ve managed to dig myself through the novel.
“The Man in the High Castle” is set in 1962, in an alternative universe where The Axis won World War II, and Earth is split between the victors: Germany controls Europe, Africa, half of South America and the East coast of what was once the United Stated. Japan dominates Asia, the other half of South America, the North American West coast, and Alaska. Canada, for some weird reason, is still Canada.
The book features several different characters, both German, Japanese, and all the people stuck in the middle. And every character is connected somehow. Either by meeting physically, through prior relationships, or through their shared interest in the book “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy”, by Hawthorne Abendsen. The book describes an alternative universe where the Allies won World War II. Yes, there is an alternative universe book inside this alternative universe book. That’s inception for you!
The vast amount of people in the book raise a challenge for a simple mind like mine. While Dick tries to get us under their skin, the book isn’t really long enough for him to really dig deep. We mostly touch lightly on the surface of each character’s personality and story before we’re hastily brought back to a known character, or presented with a entirely new one. One possible exception might be a Japanese officials epiphany in the park, where we’re allowed to follow him for quite a while.
Philip K. Dick’s work has been praised by many and he was awarded the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Novel for “The Man in the High Castle”. Personally, I was left with the feeling that, with the incredibly fascinating scene Dick sets, this book could have been so much more engaging. Dick made himself an amazing universe to play around in, but failed to make any good use of it. It’s not that I was ever truly bored when reading it, but I never had a hard time laying the book down either. Perhaps I was hoping to read something else than the book actually was. It’s a little bit like going to see The Exorcist thinking you’ll see a comedy: You’ll be entertained for two hours, but as a comedy, that movie really sucks.
Amazon has announced that a second season of their original series based on the book will be released in 2016, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if someone is working on a movie adaption in a coffee shop somewhere in LA as you’re reading this.