The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Man in the High Castle is probably the finest and certainly the most influential alternative history novel ever written, evidenced by its Hugo Award for best novel of 1962 and allusions to it in subsequent alternative histories. It is set shortly after an Axis victory in World War II, which led to partitioning of the United States into the German-controlled eastern region, the Japanese-occupied West Coast, and a buffer zone in the Rocky Mountain states. In contrast to the brutal Nazi regime, Japanese control is more cultural and economic in nature than military or political. Japanese bureaucrats eagerly consume the cultural treasures of the country while Americans study the I Ching and artificially darken their skin.

The novel opens with a telephone call from Nobusuke Tagomi, a bureaucrat in the Japanese occupation government, to Robert Childan, an American antique dealer. Tagomi wishes to purchase a gift for a visiting Swedish official. This official is in reality Rudolf Wegener, a German agent. Wegener’s mission is to prevent a surprise nuclear attack on the Japanese home islands by enlisting covert Japanese support for Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo.

A second strand in the narrative web of the novel begins when Childan is told that one of his antiques is counterfeit. The informer is Frank Frink, a Jewish refugee from the east and a former employee of the Wyndam-Matson Corporation, a manufacturer of counterfeit antiques. His visit to Childan’s store is part of a scheme to start...

(The entire section is 629 words.)