The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

February 14, 2009|In General

My favourite novel was written by Philip K. Dick and first published in 1962. The Man in the High Castle won the 1962 Hugo award, the Oscars of science fiction, for best novel of the year.

The background of the story’s events is based upon what would happen if Germany and Japan had won the Second World War. They divide up the United States, with Germany east of the Rockies, Japan to the west. Through the eyes of a number of characters we see what happened to the world in this alternate reality 20 years after the war ended.

Below is my idea of what would make a good cover for the book. I designed the first version of it a few years ago, and it was done in response to a number of covers that said little about the content and tone of the book.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Using an alternate reality has become a staple of science fiction, good and bad, but Dick used it not for the “Oooo, what if…” factor, but to comment on the state of American society as he saw it then. And as such, the book may use a speculative element, but I’ve always thought it does not truly fall into the science fiction category. So when I see it being marketed to a science-fiction-only audience with imagery and design that excludes anyone outside that genre, I don’t think it’s doing the book’s potential readership a service to understand its value.

I drew upon the language of military maps that we’ve all seen in historical documentaries and I combined it with the Taoist symbol (yin and yang). The I Ching plays an important part in the characters understanding that the world should not have been the way it is. The symbol also shows the ‘dance’ America’s occupiers are locked in, and it roughly shows the border between their territories.

The world is in decay, hence the aging of the image.

Below is the back cover for my version. After that, we’ll look at some of the published covers over the years.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

While Dick is better known for being a middle-aged man with a greying beard, this photo of him was on the back cover of the first edition of the book. I thought it good to show Dick as he was when he wrote it.

Other Covers

Various editions of The Man in the High Castle

The first two covers introduced me to the novel. The one on the left says a lot about Japan, while the one on the right is all about the Nazis. Trying to capture the message of the book without talking about the many dualities, the Japan-Germany one being only the most obvious, doesn’t really work.

The second pair begins with the original hardcover edition released by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1962. The one on the right is a paperback from the late 1960s. I didn’t see this one until after I had come up with my design.

Various editions of The Man in the High Castle

Penguin came up with a number of relatively relevant covers. The first one most likely capitalised on the resurgence of interest in Dick’s writing after the release of Bladerunner in 1982. The movie by Ridley Scott was loosely based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Like many, this was my introduction to Dick’s work. The last one is particularly evocative, and replacing the stars with swastikas is a nice touch.

Various editions of The Man in the High Castle

This group tells me I’m going to be reading something very science fiction based, and perhaps it will be trippy and surreal. If I’m buying it based on the cover, I’m going to be disappointed with what I read inside, and if I might be interested in what is actually in the book, these covers certainly don’t give me any indication of it. In fact, they’ll push me away. The only way these covers succeed is if I already know what I’m looking for. It is self-referential marketing to people who are already buying this kind of book.


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