Fascinating alternate history

Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered states. In his later works Dick’s thematic focus strongly reflected his personal interest in metaphysics and theology. He often drew upon his own life experiences in addressing the nature of drug abuse, paranoia and schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences in novels such as A Scanner Darkly and VALIS.

The novel The Man in the High Castle bridged the genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning Dick a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963.  Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a novel about a celebrity who awakens in a parallel universe where he is unknown, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel in 1975.  “I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards”, Dick wrote of these stories. “In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real.”  Dick referred to himself as a “fictionalizing philosopher.”

The following Dick novels and short stories were Hollywoodized onto the big screen:  “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep” was the inspiration for the movie Bladerunner.  “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”  inspired the movie Total Recall with Arnie.   The newly release movie The Adjustment Bureau is based on the Dick short story “Adjustment Team”.

The Man In The High Castle takes “What If” fictional military history into an amazing new realm.  When I read this novel I could not stop thinking about it for months.

 

Plot summary:

Giuseppe Zangara’s successful assassination of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1933, led to the weak governments of FDR’s Vice President John Nance Garner and of the Republican John W. Bricker in 1940; both politicians failed to surmount the Great Depression and maintained the country’s isolationist policy against participating in the Second World War; thus, the U.S. had insufficient military capabilities to assist the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, or to defend itself against Japan in the Pacific.

In 1941, the Nazis conquered the USSR and then exterminated most of its Slavic peoples; the few whom they allowed to live were confined to reservations. In the Pacific, the Japanese destroyed the U.S. Navy fleet in a decisive, definitive attack on Pearl Harbor; thereafter, the superior Japanese military conquered Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania by the early 1940s. Afterward, the Axis Powers, each attacking from opposite fronts, conquered the coastal United States, and, by 1948, the Allied forces surrendered to the Axis.

Japan established the puppet Pacific States of America out of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, parts of Nevada and Washington as part of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The remaining Mountain, Great Plains and Southwestern states became the Rocky Mountain states, a buffer between the PSA and the remaining USA, now a Nazi puppet state in the style of Vichy France. Having defeated the Allies of World War II and won the war for the world, the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, as the resultant superpowers, consequently embarked upon a Cold War.

After Adolf Hitler’s syphilitic incapacitation, Martin Bormann, as Nazi Party Chancellor, assumes power as Führer of Germany. Bormann proceeds to create a colonial empire to increase Germany’s Lebensraum by using technology to drain the Mediterranean Sea and convert it into farmland (see Atlantropa), while sending spaceships to colonize Mars and other parts of the Solar System in the name of the Reich.

As the novel begins, Führer Bormann dies, initiating an internal power struggle between Joseph Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Hermann Göring and other top Nazis to succeed him as Reichskanzler.

 

 

A story within a story.

Several characters in The Man in the High Castle read the popular novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen, whose title, putatively, derives from the Bible verse: “The grasshopper shall be a burden” (Ecclesiastes 12:5). It is a novel within a novel, wherein Abendsen posits an alternative universe where the Axis lost WWII (1939–1948), for which reason the Germans banned it in the occupied U.S., despite its being a widely-read book in the Pacific and its publication being legal in the neutral countries.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy postulates that President Franklin D. Roosevelt survives assassination and forgoes re-election in 1940, honoring George Washington’s two-term limit. The next president, Rexford Tugwell, removes the U.S. Pacific fleet from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, saving it from Japanese attack, and ensuring that the U.S. enters World War II a well-equipped naval power. The UK retains most of its military-industrial strength, contributing more to the Allied war effort, leading to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s defeat in North Africa; a British advance through the Caucasus to guide the Soviets to victory in the Battle of Stalingrad; Italy reneging on its membership in and betrayal of the Axis Powers; British armor and the Red Army jointly conquering Berlin; and, at the end of the war, the Nazi leaders — including Adolf Hitler — being tried for their war crimes; the Führer‘s last words are Deutsche, hier steh’ ich(“Germans, here I stand”), in imitation of the priest Martin Luther.

Post-war, Churchill remains Britain’s leader; and, because of its military-industrial might, the British Empire does not collapse; the USA establishes strong business relations with Chiang Kai-shek’s right-wing regime in China, after vanquishing the Communist Mao Zedong. The British Empire becomes racist and more expansionist post-war, while the U.S. outlaws Jim Crow, resolving its racism by the 1950s. Both changes provoke racialist-cultural tensions between the US and the UK, leading them to a Cold War for global hegemony between the two vaguely liberal, democratic, capitalist societies. The British Empire eventually defeats the US, becoming the world’s only superpower.

 

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