Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

216363It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake. (synopsis from Goodreads)

Rating: 1/10

Overall: Couldn’t finish it.

Yep. I hated this book. And this saddens me, since this was my first Philip K. Dick that I’ve read and it doesn’t really make me want to read more. So before people decided that I should be skinned alive and burned at the stake, let me explain myself.

Alternate history narratives bore me.

I wasn’t aware that this would be the case until I began reading one. I never read one before, and now I get why. I appreciate learning from the past, but I don’t really see the benefit of contemplating what it would be like if a certain thing happened. I can’t help but think, “Yeah, but it didn’t happen, so…”. I think it’s important to realize how certain things might have been different if a certain outcome had occurred, but to dwell on it seems silly. It’s like saying, “Oh, this country would be better off if JFK had lived.” Yes, this might be true, but to dwell on an ideal universe in which his assassination didn’t happen doesn’t seem like the most useful thing to do  since that is something we cannot change.

Now if we are talking about a piece of legislation, then I can see the benefit  since legislation can change. But to dwell on something that can’t be undone seems counter-productive.

I guess what it comes down to is that I can see the benefit of alternate history narratives to an extent, but I feel there are better ways to examine our decisions and grow from them. I believe there is a better way of learning from history than to dwell on the “What ifs”.

I couldn’t stand the dialogue. 

I realize that America, in this book, is run by the Japanese. But does that mean that everyone speaks in broken English, even those whom I assume are native English speakers. While I can understand why some of these characters speak this way, it becomes difficult to read when every character does it, even when it seems like they shouldn’t. It also doesn’t help that it is inconsistent as sometimes they speak this way and sometimes they don’t at random.

I also couldn’t help but wonder if any of these characters were actually speaking Japanese. It would make sense that in almost 20 years, many people would end up speaking Japanese more often than English, since the Japanese are in charge of everything. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. It almost feels like nobody in this book ever speaks Japanese since the majority of the dialogue is in broken English. This makes no sense to me.

The thing about writing books in which people speak multiple languages is that you need to make it clear what they are speaking at any given time. At times, situations occurred in which I figured they would all be speaking Japanese, but the dialogue was still written in broken English. I don’t remember a time in which anybody was stated as speaking in Japanese, which makes no sense.  All that needs to be done is to state they are speaking in Japanese and then write the dialogue in non-broken English. This would make it easier to read, as well make the world he’s created seem a little more realistic to me. As it is, it just comes off as poorly written, and frankly, a little confusing.


These were my main complaints about this book that caused me to give up. I know that many will disagree with me on both of these issues (especially my view on alternate history narratives) but I’m sure we can agree to disagree.

While I greatly disliked this book, I’m not totally ready to give up on Philip K. Dick quite yet. He has such a large body of work, there has to be something I would like, right? If you have any suggestions as to which of his books I should try next, let me know.


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