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Four Novels of the 1960s : The Man in the…

Four Novels of the 1960s : The Man in the High Castle / The Three Stigmata…

by Philip K. Dick

Other authors: Jonathan Lethem (Editor)

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8571715,992 (4.35)8



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The alternative history premise is fully realised and yet somewhat misleading: the central concern isn't to understand or even explore a United States which lost WWII. This is consistent with the imagined future of Electric Sheep, as well, and it makes for a distinctive style of verisimilitude. Plenty of detail and thought went into the worldbuilding of each novel, such they are not disappointing.

Then, too, PDK tells his story from ground level, from the perspective of several key characters, and their specific concerns. The story isn't space opera, there are few if any descriptions of the yawning panoramic world upon which actions take place. Salient detail comes out readily enough, though, and so perhaps that much more realistically. Info dump tropes are skillfully avoided, as well. Cannily enough, PKD doesn't use this as a cheat: that is, there's also a story arc that benefits from the perspective of the chosen characters, the world they're in, and which plays out very well -- he's not simply pretending to tell a tale as a way of hiding his world building from too-close examination. The reshaping of American culture under Japanese domination, for instance, is a singular achievement, made evident in how recognisably American characters think and act differently than they do today.

The fact PKD used the I Ching to plot the novel takes a metanarrative turn in the denouement, and it's not only clever: it's appropriate.

PKD offers up yet another version of his inquiry into authenticity, in juxtaposing his alternative history with our own, and both of these against the second alternate history presented in his fictional novel-within-a-novel.


Synopsis | In 1962, the United States are carved into occupation zones by the victorious Axis Powers: Japan controls the western reaches, Germany the eastern and southern. The world has been remade, as well, a Nazi Holocaust in Africa and Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean drained for farmland. Imperial Japan imposed caste system in South America, and a traditional Japanese social hierarchy prevails in the Pacific States of America. The Rocky Mountain States serve as a buffer between the PSA and the Nazi east. Bob Childan owns an American antiques business, and his relationships link Japanese trade official Tagomi, metalsmith Frinks, neutral trade emissary Baynes, and reclusive author Hawthorne Abendsen. The novel features two books-within-books: the I Ching, and Abendsen's novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (itself a WWII alternative history).


I'm quite familiar with Ridley Scott's Blade Runner: inevitable then as I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that I would mentally compare the two while reading. Rather than pretend, I did so deliberately and hoped this approach would free me to read future PKD novels without distraction. I think it worked.

There's a lot to like in each presentation. Unsurprisingly there are elements of the novel missing from film, others are altered. Scott omits explicit references to Mercerism; radiation fallout from World War Terminus (regulars and "specials"); the second bounty hunter (Phil Resch) and his alternate police headquarters; theme of world's physical decay and resulting kipple; the conspiracy linked to the Buster Friendly Radio Show; and, Deckard's spouse and their extensively described homelife, including ownership of android animals (the eponymous electric sheep), reliance on the Penfield mood organ, and the important glimpse into apartment living.

Scott's presentation (screenplay by Hampton Fancher & David Peoples) also makes many changes, including to the Rachel character, simplifying her Voigt-Kampff scene and her corporate strategy; the number of replicants on the loose (six in the novel, accounting for confusion in the movie with only four, perhaps five); the opera singer Luba Luft conflated with the dancer, Pris; and the theme of the unicorn and origami is only hinted at after stripping references to the Electric Toad at novel's climax. J. F. Sebastian seems based upon the "special" John Isidore, whose mental and perhaps physical abilities are affected by radiation sickness, but Isidore has important subplots separate from the hunt for replicants. Sebastian has none.

In the novel, they are not called replicants, but andys, or -- once, by Isidore -- constructs. In the screenplay, the term replicants appears in a second (fictional) dictionary definition of android. Evidently Scott honed in on the term for the film.

I'll watch the film again, definitely. It will also be worth re-reading the novel, and not feeling the need to compare the two visions, point for point. But first: more PKD.


I've read A Scanner Darkly, and later screened the Linklater film. I knew from Scanner that PKD's writing was better than much Golden Age scifi: more atmosphere, more ambiguity between what happened on the page and its significance for the reader, more emphasis on what goes on in the reader's own head. All of this is fully realised in Electric Sheep (1966), written seven years before Scanner (1973).

Reviewing the LOA chronology, I am surprised to learn how many novels PKD wrote, at some points writing more than one novel a year.


To be read:
UBIK ( )
2 vote elenchus | Jun 10, 2016 |
TMIHC - Exhilarating premise, but unfortunately the rest of the novel fails to live up to it. ***

TSPE - I thought this started a little slow, but finished strong. By the end I was having trouble keeping up with everything that was going on - but that was because there were several layers of meaning involved. ****

SHEEP - This was the strongest yet in the volume. A long day in a terrible alternate world. May need to re-watch Bladerunner. The writing was uneven at best. ****

UBIK - Matrix-y time travel, decades earlier. Predictable at the finish, but enjoyed regardless. **** ( )
1 vote kcshankd | Dec 24, 2015 |
I love these Library of America volumes, but they do make me cheat a little on my Goodreads lists. I just finished _The Man in the High Castle_. What a trip. ( )
  JoePhelan | Dec 14, 2014 |
The Man in the High Castle
This is a mind bender of a book. You may occasionally feel that you’ve wandered into a house of mirrors. This alternative history is set in the Pacific States of America and the Mountain States of America, formerly part of the United States before its defeat in and partition after the Second World War. The cast of characters includes a very nervous dealer in authentic “American traditional ethnic art objects,” including Mickey Mouse watches, old comic books, and some recently manufactured civil war weapons, one of the makers of the newly minted but made to look old Colt .44s, his ex-wife, the head of the Japanese Trade Mission in San Francisco, the Reichs Consul in San Francisco, a spy, an assassin, and the author of a book (banned in the United States and throughout Europe) called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternative history in which the United States and Britain won the Second World War. What all these disparate characters, with the exception of the Reichs Consul, spy and assassin, have in common is the Yi jing. Thanks to the hegemony of Japanese culture they all constantly consult this ancient Asian text for oracular guidance about what they should do next. And they have need of all the guidance and wisdom they can get because a change in power in Germany has brought the world to the brink of war again.

The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
The earth has become so hot that the government is drafting people to colonize Mars. Barney Myerson has received his draft notice, and he’s desperately trying to get himself declared exempt. Mars is a desert exile. Colonists live in hovels, futilely attempting to grow hybrid vegetables. The most popular escape the grinding monotony of existence is through the use of the hallucinogenic drug Can-D and your Perky Pat layout. Perky Pat is a fashion doll with a boyfriend. She has even more stuff than Barbie™. Take Can-D and you experience her rich and relaxing life back on earth and at the same time a mystical union with your fellow colonists. It’s almost a religious experience. Barney knows all about it; he’s the Pre-Fash consultant at Perky Pat Layouts headquarters in New York. He also knows that part of the income for the firm comes from the illegal drug trade in Can-D.

Barney’s boss has his own worries. An intersystem ship from Proxima Centauri has crashed on Pluto, and from its wreck were rescued rich industrialist Palmer Eldritch and “a carefully maintained culture of a lichen very much resembling the Titianian lichen from which Can-D is derived.” – pages 24-247 in 4 Novels It looks like Perky Pat Layouts is about to get some stiff competition, from a company who advertises "God promises eternal life. We can deliver it." But Palmer Eldritch has brought more than lichen on his return voyage.

It is impossible to predict what will happen next in Dick’s fascinating down-the-rabbit-hole tale of adventure, tension, and a reality that’s constantly being twisted in unexpected directions and peppered with theological, metaphysical, and ontological puzzles. Is what’s happening to the characters a drug induced hallucination? Is it just a bad trip or a hostile take-over from another star system? And who’s behind it, a millionaire do-gooder, or a god or a devil disguised as him? And can they ever possibly escape?

Do androids dream of electric sheep?
On an Earth devastated by W.W. T. (World War Terminus), the atmosphere poisoned by its dust, the most desirable possession for the remaining humans is a pet. Your status among your neighbors is determined by the size of the animal. If you own a horse, or a sheep, instead of a cat your self-esteem is greatly enhanced. And if you can’t afford a live animal, perhaps you can make do with a life-like mechanical one. Rick Deckard, a contract bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police department owns an electric sheep, but he’s a bit ashamed of it. He wishes he could afford a live one, and then opportunity comes his way. He has a chance to track down and retire a group of eight illegal immigrants – escaped slaves from the colony on Mars, humanoid robots, Androids that looked and spoke exactly like human, smarter than human, but without empathy. Rick must “retire” them using his gun before they kill him.

It is impossible to guess where Dick will take you as a reader, all expectations of where the plot is heading or what the characters will do, are relentlessly burst in a series of surprising shocks.

Starting off with the same premise as Alfred Bester’s novel The Demolished Man Dick imagines a future in which the main threat of industrial espionage comes from psychics who can read your mind and sell the results to your competitor. In this future, where privacy can be thoroughly breached a very wealthy business tycoon murders a business rival. Unlike Bester’s war of wits between murderer and detective, Dick takes the reader on a roller coaster ride through alternative shifting realities where nothing is certain, time seems to be regressing, and only the all-purpose spray-can of the miracle product Ubik can save a person from an agonizing death. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to obtain when someone or something is working very hard to keep it away from you. ( )
1 vote MaowangVater | Sep 20, 2014 |
For me PKD is to science fiction something like what Graham Greene is to political fiction, or Evelyn Waugh to satire. They are not master stylists, taking the novel form in new directions, nor are they masters of the social canvas or creators of an array of multi-faceted, psychologically complex characters, and they are not even consistently great storytellers. They descend to the workmanlike and sometimes even the clumsy, in prose, characterization, and plotting. But they are still the best at what they do, putting their stories at the service of ideas that go beyond genre fiction’s often limited reach. Dick’s the one who challenges you to think: how do you know what’s real? If your brain is tinkered with enough, if your world is technologically modified enough, where’s that line between living and dead things, between fantasy and history, between real and unreal? It’s gone, a vanishing point. What happens to human life at such a point? What happens to nature? It isn’t pretty. (And yet it's not exactly catastrophe either. In his world, we just keep bungling on somehow).

To understand the relevance of this, just take a look at the edges of bio-science, and robotics, and psycho-active drug research today. There are plenty of well-funded people working diligently to take us well past the vanishing point, and Dick, of course, was warning that it’s quite likely we won’t even know when we slip across that invisible line forever. In fact, so busy fooling around with our shiny little gizmos, we don’t seem to know or even care how much real complexity we’ve already lost. Certainly we’re doing all we can to reduce the vibrant, incomprehensibly complex sophistication of natural systems to the level of our own vastly inferior, sometimes outright cheesy simulacra, and in that sense, we already live in Dick’s world.

( )
1 vote CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
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A collection of four signature works by the visionary science fiction writer includes the titles, "The Man in the High Castle," "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch," "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," and "Ubik."

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