The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

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.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

These are the two covers that 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 Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The cover on the left is 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.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Penguin came up with a number of relatively relevant covers. The one on the left 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 Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Two more recent Penguins. The one on the right is particularly evocative, and replacing the stars with swastikas is a nice touch.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This pair 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.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

More of the same.

Scott Dutton

Scott Dutton is a graphic designer and illustrator with experience in marketing, publishing and information design
  1. Allyn Gibson left a comment on February 17, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Excellent cover design. If only his publishers would use something like that.

    I have the Vintage edition (the last row, on the right), which I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out.

    I also have a SFBC hardcover edition, which has a completely different cover. I think it has a finned rocket ship.

    I really like the new Penguin cover for the UK market, with the American flag.

  2. Frank C. Bertrand left a comment on January 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I have the old book club edition (second row, left) which is quite marked up by now. But a most intriguing post, actually getting into what the book cover/jacket design and layout connotes to potential readers. Similar to the kind of stuff discussed in the best PKD fanzine going, PKD Otaku…

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on January 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Frank. Your considerable contributions to PKD’s appreciation are well known.

  3. F2 left a comment on January 17, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Very nice. Wish your cover was the one in print… it looks way cooler.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on January 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm

      That’s kind of you to say. Thank you.

  4. jitender kumar left a comment on December 16, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I want to know more information about his books and read them, too. He was a good writer and philospher.

  5. Michael J. McNeil left a comment on July 6, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    I’m glad to discover that I’m not the only person who thinks that most of the cover art has sucked for most of the editions of this masterpiece. I’ve been waiting years for someone to issue a decent-looking edition. The original hardcover from Putnam is passable (mostly because it’s so simple), and I like the Penguin UK “swastika flag” design, so naturally Penguin shortly replaced it with a similar but much less striking design, quite possibly to remove the swastikas, a symbol which PC types now feel is so intrinsically awful that no one is supposed to reproduce it anywhere nowadays, no matter what the circumstances or context. The others you reproduce just look terrible, and your design is a vast improvement over them.

    • Scott Dutton left a comment on July 7, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Michael. Glad you like the work.

  6. […] Image Credit: Catspaw Dynamics […]

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