Uncanny Valley Digest: PKD’s Man In The High Castle

My copy, with notepad.

Our Phil Dick discussion taught me the difference between a raven and a writing desk. I learned some things about The Man In The High Castle that refreshed and corrected my perspective on this novel’s place in Dick’s canon. I knew that the novel won him a Hugo award, but was under the misapprehension that the Hugo award was later in his career. All wrong. He won the Hugo in 1963, after writing Time Out Of Joint, but before every other notable title in his opus: Palmer Eldritch, Game Players Of Titan, Now Wait For Last Year, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time Slip. Books considered Dick’s masterpieces came in the wake of this book, not the other way around. Well, I didn’t know, so there.

Sample of Ted Hand’s PKD Tarot & I Ching

And that’s why it was a godsend to have Phil Dick scholar and metal guitar player David Gill in the house. (He didn’t pick up his guitar during the discussion, which must have taken a lot of restraint.) Also we were lucky to be fortified by Dick scholar via a unique perspective on mysticism and occult knowledge, Ted Hand.

(Do not miss Ted Hand’s PKD Tarot Deck!)

Adding some science fiction literary backbone was the forthright Meg Schoerke, Professor of Literature, and instructor of the Science Fiction survey course, at San Francisco State University. Composer and filmmaker Nowell Valeri was there, with his trusty, insightful cinema aesthetic and musical mind. I was again in the greatest of company.

The notes!

Gill: Dick moved to Point Reyes, finished Time Out Of Joint, wrote a bunch of mainstream novels that got rejected. So he helped Anne Dick sell the jewelry she was making. (This gives some perspective into his vivid renderings of Frank Frink’s jewelry making business.) It was the golden age of his marriage to Anne, their one happy year. He wrote this book to bullshit his way out of helping Anne with the jewelry business.

Meg: A James Joycian stab at a mainstream sci fi.

Gill: Winning the Hugo for High Castle gave him lots of confidence and subsequently produced some of his best works. Then he wrote Palmer Eldritch, Game Players Of Titan, Now Wait For Last Year, Martian Time Slip. Biographically, it’s a fascinating work to understand Dick’s development as a writer and the books it helped him produce.

Who were the other nominees at the 1963 Hugo Awards?

  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick [Putnam, 1962]
  • Sword of Aldones by Marion Zimmer Bradley [Ace, 1961]
  • A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke [Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962]
  • Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper [Avon, 1962]
  • Sylva by Vercors, translated by Rita Barisse [Putnam, 1961]

Also, the 1963 Hugo’s were presided over by toastmaster Issac Asimov. So yes, I can see what Dave means about the confidence booster. Dick beat out Arthur C. Clarke, and Asimov is the MC for his award. He’s in white male heaven. HA! Dave is sure that if Dick didn’t win this Hugo, he wouldn’t have produced his masterpieces.

This was Dick’s breakout novel, him trying to do more serious, but he’s within the sci-fi limits. He’s not content to do pulp.

Gill: “It seems like he doesn’t understand how heavy handed his style is. There’s a weird sex scene in Three Stigmata that has the word ‘greenless.'”


Also, a word from Dave, reporting something Dick said about Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land: “You could roll a joint in that book, and you still wouldn’t get off.”

Back to Dick’s literary aspirations and High Castle
At this time, Anthony Boucher is Dick’s friend and kind of mentor. A literary scene guy who takes Dick under his wing. A “greatest guy of all time,” kind of guy. (and Herb Hollander, the record store owner.) But that and the move to Pt. Reyes changed him into a class-conscious Dickensian character, gross. He styled himself a Bohemian Berkeley dude who – first change he gets – guns for the life of a country squire. Leaving Cleo for it. He yearned to be the next cigar smoking, hard drinking Thomas Pynchon or John Cheever.

Suhail: Why is this book different (better?) than a lot of his others? Is it science fiction? Yes, German automation culture. An alternate present, set and written in 1962. Not exactly an alternative history or future, but an alternate reality.

Suhail: Dave is this his template from that letter…? Start out with the sub character, then next character is the absolute rock bottom, then jump and introduce an apex character 3rd.

Gill: Yes. Childan, then Frick, then Tagomi.

Dick’s paranoia themes and post WWII America.
Meg: Dick’s paranoia themes were contemporary. Sci-fi had a resonance to mainstream literature of the times.

Gill: The Philip Roth comedian…the ennui and the paranoia after WWII. We won the war, but we lost our souls.

Meg: It was contemporary literature’s big thing. Orwell’s 1984 already spearheaded it, in a way. Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion’s essays that capture the paranoia of he Mansons, John Cheever, Hunter S. Thompson’s new journalism.

Gill: Dick’s wife Cleo suggested Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, about the horror of that obsequiousness to corporate culture. Another book suggestion. A novelized biography of PKD, called I Am Alive And You Are Dead, by Emmanuel Carrere.

Gill: If there are other realities, what makes this one the real one?

A Comparison To The TV Series
Ted: It is certainly not a novel about resisting Fascism. There’s no underground organizing going on like in the TV show. All of the fascist life is shown, not told. That’s part of the book’s power, part of what makes is sufficiently uncomfortable to read, it’s a view of fascism from the inside out. Naked uses of power. The consequences of making social mistakes are dire.

It’s more of a novel of occupation, where the TV show is a story of resistance. There is zero talk of a resistance movement in this book. In the novel, it’s a picture of fascist society from the inside out. It’s creepy.

Other cinema suggestions, based on how this novel works: Meg suggested “A Face In The Crowd,” starring Andy Griffith in a chilling role of a political sociopath who cons his way to the top. This film predates Network, and is in some ways about the power of media and politics. Also Scorsese’s “King Of Comedy.”

More On Dick’s Style And Background Knowledge
Dick’s obsessive reading streaks. Did he know about Niels Bohr? Was Dick part of the avante garde of the alternate realities theme? It’s so mainstream now, it’s almost trite. But in 1963?

Click image to go to their shop.

Meg: He gets the Japanese concept of Otaku, collector’s fetishism.

Gill: A Delany essay about genre differences. Fantasy, sci-fi, journalism, etc. And in this essay he puts alternate histories/futures in the sci-fi genre. It reminds me of The Simulacrum, another multi-foci novel, with a different character’s perspective per chapter.

Dick wrote a couple of chapters of a sequel to this novel, and always wanted to make a sequel.

Gill: It is kind of prequelesque.

Ted: Dick employs what I call a “theophany of the glimpse.” You always only get a glimpse of the world at a time. A gnostic approach. This world is unreal, and there is a real world we are acquiring information from in glimpses. For example, he has a light touch with world-building, and leaves the rest to the reader’s imagination.

Meg: I loved the street names and place details. But the tweaks like, ‘Was there a police station at Kearny?’ ‘No.’

A Key To Interpreting This Book
Gill: At PKD festival 2012, Lawrence Rickles said: “Psychoanalysis is the opposite of Nazism.”

A very provocative insight. Where Nazism was a total lack of looking inward. The freedom offered by the Nazi’s was the freedom from being free, the freedom from having to think for yourself or make choices.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy || The Man In The High Castle
Seven syllables each. It’s the “If the Allies had won” book in his “If the Axis had won” book. A self-referential mirror point, making the whole scenario, all of the people reading it and discussing it, a mirror of us reading and discussing High Castle. Dood.

Magnifying glass not included.

Live Reading Notes
p.3 sex and women are gross. That’s Phil for you.

p.5, 86,88,90,136,218, etc. Lots of note-taker’s writing style. Clipped incomplete sentences strung together to sound proficient, succinct, edgy. Like a crime noir affectation.

p.8-9: Co-Prosperity Movement, like the equal rights and civil rights movements.
Colonization: Germans went to space, didn’t even make TV, just kept the rocket aerospace automation thing going. Japanese went to South America. They split the U.S. at the Rocky mountains.

p.9: “Ogres” passage, a reading.

p.10-11 Dick’s hexagram experiences as fodder

p.12 What’s wrong with a mushroom collecting woman, dood? Frink has adoration and contempt for Julia.

p.18 Poetic ciphers as secret messages to elude Reich monitors. Poetry as spy code.

p.19 The I Ching tells him Baynes is a spy.

p.22 Race-charged. Inhabiting Childan.

p.26 Slaves, dissing “a black.” Jeez, dood.

p.30-31 Race-charged cafe scene.

p.32 “Cynics with utter faith” paragraph. Idealism and frontiers, in satire. How the German Reich perpetrates evil.

p. 33 The evil victors. Syphilitic Hitler, Nazi incest sickness.

p. 37 German psychotic streak, via race.

p. 38 “Their basic madness is believing they are godlike.”

p. 39 A classic table-turning conspiracy Dickian moment, playing to the Jewish conspiracy proclivities of the Nazi evil.

p.44 The American souvenir industry bubble may burst. (p. 140)

p.59-61 The farce of authenticity. “Historicity” sham. (p. 136 again, What’s real? More good PKD. PKD projecting his sexual hangups. Sex and women are gross. FDR was assasinated, that’s how the U.S.A. lost.

p. 68 A Reich value. “Of what use is a newborn baby?” He doesn’t pull any punches about how nasty the German victors are – murder the aged, ethnically cleanse Africa in 15 years, also the champions of space travel, technology, and pharmaceuticals. Everything with a use, a function.

p. 71 Race-charged German superiority. Also “her shift at the judo parlor.” More of that midcentury modern misogyny. I thought she was an instructor, not a happy endings masseuse.

p.75 It’s 1962. Joe’s 34, and 1945 was 17 years ago.

p.76, 79 The cruelty of the Brits, when they knew they were losing. Like Dresden [in real life]?

p. 77 Race-charged Italian stuff.

p.80 Instability of the Reich fascist government now that its founders are dying off.

p. 82 Increased racism is one of Germany’s contributions to the world order.

p. 84 Creepy, Joe’s treatment of Juliana.

p.85 Oswald Spengler’s physiognomic flair

p.92 The genocides were economic catastrophes. Only German tech holds their economy together.

p. 99, 102 More of Childan’s nervousness to please the Japanese. That white shame rendered vividly.

Don’t squint. I typed it up.

p. 103 Is this even sci-fi?

p.122 Novelists and their tricks.

p.127 Kids like that.

p. 129-31 Frink’s obsessiveness. There’s a feeling Dick is writing about one of his own relationships.

p.141 Graft-gift. His interpretation of Japanese culture. How accurate?

p.142 Good scene of Frink and Ed in the truck.

p.148 Dick talking to the I Ching: “At last.” “What a relief!”

p. 158 Two paragraphs, culminating in: “Dilemma of civilized man; body mobilized, but danger obscure.” NAILED IT!

p.168 Aura art talk. Authenticity and “historicity” problem rectified by Frink, with original jewelry.

p. 172 It’s unique, the Japanese man says in praise, so you must mass produce it. Heh. Everything goes to market right away in PDK. Like in Palmer Eldritch.

p.174-6 Great character moment. Subtle mind of conqueror.

p.192 Original Sin means everyone will do some bad in life. Can’t help it.

p. 201 There’s our dark haired girl! Libidinous, even! (p. 247 also)

p.204-5 Juliana defeats Joe, the undercover assassin. Powerful scene, vivid, curious, memorable.

p.217 If someone else finds the way (not you), at least it means there is a way.

p.222 San Francisco setting. Well, the Embarcadero freeway is gone now! “A lot of people think it stinks up the view.” HA!

p.233 Germany is about to do to Japan what it did to the Allies and Africa.

p.235-6 What do we do about the admixture of good and evil?

p. 241 Racist by accident.

p. 245, 238 Written by the I Ching. That book is this book!

p. 247 Germany and Japan did lose the war, by the self-destructive countries they became after defeating the Allies.

See you next time for Cordwainer Smith, the brilliant eccentric.

Thank you for reading. Reading rules!



About Suhail Rafidi

Suhail Rafidi is a novelist and educator whose works explore the destiny of human values in a technological landscape. You can find him on Twitter, too, @shelldive.
This entry was posted in Authors and Writing, Bar Code Scanner Land, Book Reviews, Books, Science Fiction, Sociey and Culture, summer reading, uncanny valley and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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