What if the Axis had won the Second World War?



Philip K. Dick is not my favorite science fiction writer, but many of my favorite science fiction movies—Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, Next and The Adjustment Bureau—were based on his ideas.

I did greatly admire and enjoy his novel, The Man in the High Castle, which gives the Dickian imagination free rein but has a more coherent plot than many of his other stories and novels.

The setting of The Man in the High Castle is a 1962 USA which has lost World War Two and been partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, with the Rocky Mountains serving as an unoccupied neutral zone.

There are two plots.  One involves high-level Japanese and German officials conspiring to avoid a nuclear war between the two superpowers.  The other involves ordinary Americans trying to survive in Japanese-occupied San Francisco and one of them traveling to the neutral zone in search of “the man in the high castle,” author of a novel in which the Allies won the war.

Amazon Prime has started a series based on the novel, which incorporates most of the material in the novel, but which branches out to include Nazi-occupied New York and the Reich itself.

I subscribed to Amazon Prime mainly to watch this series, and Seasons One and Two have been well worth it.

In the Amazon series, the man in the high castle is not a novelist, but a collector of newsreels from alternate realities, including, but not limited to, our own.  Hitler is obsessed with acquiring these newsreels, as is the anti-fascist resistance.

The most interesting characters are Oberguppenfuhrer John Smith, the top SS officer in New York, and Inspector Takeshi Kido of the Kempeitai in San Francisco.  They’re both ruthless killers, but idealistic and honorable according to their own lights, and willing to take risks for the greater good as they see it.

What’s most interesting is the series’ depiction of life under Nazi and Japanese rule.   The producers evidently did much research into Nazi ideology and Japanese culture, and also Albert Speer’s architectural ideas.

The scenes in New York and Berlin show how easily the most appalling crimes and practices become normalized.  For example, one of the missions of the public health service is to put to death all “useless eaters”—people with genetic or other incurable diseases.   This includes Smith’s teenage son Thomas, who is diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

The scenes in San Francisco show what it would be like for white Americans to live under colonial rule and be treated as a member of an inferior race.

If you have a valid credit card, you can get a free 30-day trial membership in Amazon Prime and watch both seasons free.   The offer is worth taking up if you are interested in alternative history science fiction or in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.


The World Turned Upside Down by Adam Kirsch for The New York Review of Books.

In Season Two, Amazon’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’ Is Newly Relevant by Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic.

Inside ‘The Man in the High Castle’ Season 2: A Cautionary Tale for America by Matt Wilstein for The Daily Beast.  [Added 12/27/2016]

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