Philip K. Dick has long been one of my favorite science fiction authors, excelling in inventiveness and concision. His stories are plot-driven and to the point, which makes them almost perfect for movie adaptations. Some of those (think The Blade Runner) came out splendid, while others (think A Scanner Darkly) were more mixed blessings.
Of course, this being science fiction, making movies out of novels was always hampered by cost. Science fiction is not cheap to special effect on any day, and plot-driven (as opposed to action-driven or character-driven) movies are a particularly expensive type. They have none of the bombastic effects of, say, a planetary explosion while not much of the cheap timeouts of a romantic subplot.
Many of Dick’s novels have hence languished for decades in the realm of the undoable. Things are not helped by the fact one of the central themes of Dick’s work is the loss of reality – a problem he was facing in real life, as he was losing his grip on it. That seems to be much less of an issue for most people than it was for him, and as a result much of the logic of Dick’s plots becomes irrelevant. That is particularly true of the author’s later work.
Of his early work, though, The Man in the High Castle always seemed within reach. It’s an alternate history, events that happened after the Allied Powers won WW II. (For my history-challenged friends: the USA and USSR actually won WW II. Also, the Allied Powers were Germany and Japan. Mostly, in both cases.)
Imagine America falls. Japan takes over the West Coast, while Germany takes the Eastern half of the country (approximately to the Rocky Mountains). Dick’s favorite place on earth, San Francisco, becomes the capital of the Japanese Pacific States of America, while New York City is the new capital of the Greater Nazi Reich. (I hate to quibble, but a German would call that Greater German Reich, not Nazi Reich.)