The Man in the High Castle (and competition time!)

When I heard that Philip K. Dick ‘s “The Man in the High Castle” was coming to TV, I was trepidatious. Film versions of PKD’s work have been hit and miss, from the rather hammy “Total Recall” with Arnie, to the seminal scifi-noir “Bladerunner”. When I heard that Ridley Scott, Bladerunner’s helmsman would be in the director’s seat, I was very pleased. “Bladerunner” had a profound influence on my sense my sci-fi aesthetics, and no doubt on the works of many subsequent sci-fi directors and artists. As a writer on Chinese culture, I can’t help but also highlight the technical expertise and style that Chinese Cinema’s Godfather, Run Run Shaw, brought to the project.

If the hundreds of pop-up adds, posters, and other adverts haven’t clued you in to the premise, imagine a world where Germany and Japan won WWII, and America is occupied. Imagine that a single person can glimps an alternate future, and is trying to bring it about.  Rather than go in to a full review of this now classic piece of speculative fiction, or spoil any of the upcoming TV spectacular, I just wanted to comment on a few things to look out for.

In the novel, the characters who live in Japan-occupied regions consult “the Oracle” in all decisions of life, big or small. The wisdom of the Oracle is even instrumental to the final crunch in the story. Here is a quote from Frank Fink’s point of view.

Random, and yet rooted in the moment in which he lived, in which his life was bound up with all other lives and particles in the universe. The necessary hexagram picturing in its pattern of broken and unbroken lines the situation. He, Juliana, the factory on Gough Street, the Trade Missions that ruled, the exploration of the planets, the billion chemical heaps in Africa that were now not even corpses, the aspirations of the thousands around him in the shanty warrens of San Francisco, the mad creatures in Berlin with their calm faces and manic plans – all connected in this moment of casting the yarrow stalks to select the exact wisdom appropriate in a book begun in the thirtieth century BC. A book created by the sages of China over a period of five thousand years, winnowed, perfected, that superb cosmology – and science – codified before Europe had even learned to do long division.

This of course is the 易经 “Yi Jing” or 周易 “Zhou Yi”. Known as the I-Ching in the West, or the Book of Change, it is an ancient book of Chinese philosophy based on the concept of Ying, Yang and the five elements. Here, its cultural spread to Japan is examined, and to a certain extent, used as a point of ridicule.

Even writing in the 1950s, PKD clearly distinguished Chinese culture from Japanese, with Chinese culture pervading the novel in the subtlest of ways. Frank likes to smoke T’ien-lai cigarettes, 天籁 or “music of heaven”.  Later in the story Paul Kasoura talks to Robert Childan about a piece of original American jewelry, citing the Chinese concept of 悟 “Wu”.

“The hands of the artificer,” Paul said, “had wu, and allowed that wu to flow into this piece. Possibly he himself knows only that this piece satisfies. It is complete… By contemplating it, we gain more wu ourselves. We experience the tranquility associated not with art but with holy things.”

I have to say, that this concept, to me is truly present in books. And whilst “The Man In the High Castle” airs on Amazon this weekend. I do urge my readers to find a copy of the original story, and I cannont recommend the current edition by the Folio Society any more highly. Not only is it a wonderfully set and unabridged version of Philip K Dick’s tale, but it is presented quarter bound in cloth with printed and blocked Modigliani paper sides, blocked slipcase, with an introduction by Ursula Le Guin and illustrations by Shanghai born artist Shan Jiang, making it a wonderful artefact beyond just holding words.

I am very lucky to be able to let one of my fans win a copy of this beautiful book, in association with The Folio Society.  To make it even more special, they have arranged for it to be personalized by the artist.

Entry is very simple. Just be sure you’re following both @xuetingni and @foliosociety, retweet and favourite the following tweet.

Winners will be drawn randomly at midnight on Sunday, and contacted next week!


The competition will not be open to employees of Folio Society, or contributors to Snow Pavilion. We use physical “list and dice” to randomly choose a winner. The judges’ decision is final. There is only 1 copy of the book available. No cash alternative will be offered.

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