My family started binge-watching The Man in the High Castle last night, and I’m going to predict right now that it will be a major breakthrough for Amazon. (If you haven’t heard of it yet, you can find the television series online here.) The first few episodes make it clear that while the show will be drawing characters, elements, and an overarching alternate historical narrative from Philip K. Dick’s 1962 book, it will not be adhering at all closely to the plot-line. If you are the sort of person who cannot enjoy a movie based on a book unless the former remains true to the latter, it may be best to avoid the book entirely in favor of the television series. For the rest of you, I’d like to talk a bit about the book.
On the surprisingly lengthy list of alternate histories based on Axis victory in WWII, this is one of the best early stories. Don’t take my word for this, though, no less an authority than Harry Turtledove has personally vouched for this book.
…coming into prominence during the decades following the end of the Second World War were stories in which the Axis won…. Three of the best of the earlier ones were Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn, C. M. Kornbluth’s great novella, “Two Dooms,” and Philip K. Dick’s Hugo-winning novel, The Man in the High Castle.
Upon reflection, I suppose the Hugo award speaks for itself, as well.
Of all the early alternate history stories, this one feels the most chillingly realistic. It is difficult for Americans to contemplate what we would be like as a conquered people, and how little white America would really have to change in order to adapt to Nazi racial purity laws. (World War II predated Loving v. Virginia by two decades, after all.)
What has all this to do with freethought? Perhaps not much. But then again, perhaps the entire point of the book is to contemplate what it would be like to live in a world where freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and even freethought itself have been fully eradicated.
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