Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle is considered one of Phillip K. Dick's classic works and is now a series produced by Amazon.  I've watched up to around the fifth episode, and they have all been pretty good, and now it looks like it's going into a second season.  The Man in the High Castle is an dystopian alternate history SF tale in which the Axis powers won WWII.

The first episode opens in 1962 in NYC as a young man, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is watching Nazi propaganda in a movie theater.  He's given a note in the theater by a mysterious figure.  As he exits the cinema we see that he's in the middle of Times Square and also we get to see how this alternate history has changed from our current world.  Oddly it has a retro 50s or early 60s feel to it, which totally works for the nature of this series.  Also early into the first episode you can feel the oppression and paranoia, which only increases as the series goes along, which are elements in most of Dick's work.  There's a dystopian scary feeling to the world similar to George Orwell's 1984, but also you feel the totalitarianism of the new government.  Perhaps these chilling portrayals in the film hit closer to home because at one time we, as a nation, actually experience some of that during WWII rather than the more fictional nature of Orwell's story.

 From the cinema Joe goes to find a factory and we find out he has volunteered for a yet unknown service as a truck driver.  Within this scene we see how oppressive and untrustworthy everyone is of each other.  Who do you trust in this society?  Joe and his contact eventually trust each other, and as Joe begins to drive away their plot is found out and troops are quickly dispatched there to stop the plot unfolding.  Joe escapes.

The story shifts to San Francisco known now as the Pacific States of America and occupied by the Japanese.  Evidently now the United States is divided into three distinct zones:  The Nazi zone, a Japanese zone, and a neutral zone.  The Nazis and Japanese are, of course, allies, but even there you get the inkling that even they are distrustful of each other.  In this second part of the story we meet the female lead, Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) as she is taking a martial arts class.  We get to meet some of her family, and later she meets with her sister.  While on the street her sister gives her a satchel, which she describes as a way to freedom right before she is gunned down in the street.  Juliana flees to her home, where we also meet her boyfriend, Frank.  We find out the package that her sister has given her contains a film.  Juliana watches the films, but it doesn't make much sense to her.  Her sister was going to meet with someone to deliver the film, now Juliana has taken it upon herself to find and deliver the film.   Her destination is Canon City in the neutral zone.

By now Joe is on the road, and we find out that he is going to the same location.  You can pretty much guess that these two protagonist will cross paths and meet.  Within the first episode we learn something about this alternate society, what the quest is for these two characters are, but yet there are still many unanswered question still left up it air.  It's hard to tell if Joe is a good guy or bad.  Is he involved in something to overthrow the current status quo or what are his motives.  We learn within the first episode that both have parts of a film created by the man in the high castle, but what is it, who is he, and what will it be used for?  How will these two character learn to trust one another in this environment?
The series starts out well, and has continued that way.  I'm on the fifth episode so far.  It has good production values, and has kept the suspense high with plenty of intrigue, good characters, and has good dialogue and a script.  This is the way I wish more Sci-Fi books to film translations would continue, and I hope Amazon continues the trend or someone else will follow in their footsteps.  (The SyFy Channel should be taking a few notes on this too.)  That said, I'm also wondering what Amazon will do with the series.  For now you have to be an Amazon Prime member to watch it or buy an individual episode off their site to watch.  I'm wondering if they'll allow Netflix (their closest competitor in the movie biz) to show the series, or Hulu, or if they'll want to prioritize the film just for their own customers.  I assume at some later date they'll issue this on a DVD set.  Either way, it's a pretty good series.  One that I think and hope others will emulate whenever they think about producing a SF story.  I've got the book as well, but haven't read it, but since I've gotten engaged in the series, I pulled it out the other night so that I can give it a read.  If you enjoy other types of SF stories like say Gattaca, Predestination, or say, Minority Report that aren't space opera, you'd probably enjoy it as well.


At 7:14 AM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

PKD’s prose could be clanky, to put it kindly. He typically was racing a deadline, which probably accounts for that. He was an idea man though, and his tales always have something to offer. I have his complete short stories and a couple of his novels but I haven’t read this one or seen the adaptation.

I suppose we’ve all contemplated alternate histories. What would the world be like if Gavrilo Princip had missed Franz Ferdinand? What if Booth’s derringer had misfired? An Axis victory is a particularly scary one.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

I'd have to agree, Richard. I've always found Dick to be a bit difficult to read due to his prose, clanky or clunky, it just doesn't flow as well as some other authors, at least to me. I'm curious to see how The Man in the High Castle reads as a book, as the only other novel I'd read from him is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

I guess science fiction is based on the what-ifs, and alternate history is just another sub-genre of that. Going into the second season based on just one book, I think this might be padding the success somewhat. I hope they can maintain the same caliber of storytelling as they did with the first season though I'm not going to be around for it, unfortunately as I just had signed on for a free trial of Amazon Prime. The series for some might come off perhaps a bit too dramatic or soap opera-like, but it didn't bother me. Series creator Frank Spotnitz, known for his work on The X-Files, will return as executive producer for the ten-episode second season along with Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Isa Dick Hackett.

That said though, if Amazon has a hit with the series who could blame them for pushing it out even further to a third season or so on? I guess you could take ideas from the book, and tell stories that Dick only commented upon, but didn't embellish while keeping in mind his ending, whenever that's planned.

Evidently the series differs from the book. Here's an article from Salon magazine which talks a bit about that:

I'm pretty sure there are a bunch of other articles on the web either praising or condemning the series.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

Yeah this series has been getting some very good reviews and the premise sounds intriguing. I didn't know it was based of a PKD novel, thanks for pointing that out.

I've only one book by him, (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) and found it hard going. So I'm glad to hear from you and Richard that it wasn't just me. I've got another novel by him waiting in the wings, but I think I might take in some Scalzi or maybe some Asimov next.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Do Androids was a bit of a struggle for me too Roman, having never read PDK before, and I was anxious to read it because of Blade Runner. I was surprised. I've just started reading The Man in the High Castle and it's a bit easier going than Androids, perhaps because I was aware of Dick's writing style beforehand. I think he was trying to emulate other writers of the day or that proceeded him like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, in that they used a lot of first-person, sparse prose.

Another thing about PKD though is sometimes he seems to dwell on some expositional plots that, for me, aren't as good as some of the other plots and I wished he'd move onto other parts of the novel (but that can be any author really). But also I assume from what I've read a bit about him is that he did take a bunch of drugs at the time, so perhaps some of his books were written in that, shall we say, enlightened state. :)

But from having read a bit into The Man in the High Castle, it reveals that rather than Frank and Juliana being lovers (boyfriend/girlfriend), they are ex-husband and wife. Sometimes it is finding these extra tidbits that helps understand the film adaptations, and makes them fuller. I tend to read more than one book at a time, perhaps that comes from my comic book days, but it works for me, though makes going through a novel slower at times. I'm also reading Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song, and it's great!


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