The man in the high cas­tle

Time to find out if Ama­zon Prime know Dick.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews - Dave Golder

re­leased OUT NOW! 2015 | N/a | avail­able to stream Cre­ator Frank spot­nitz Cast alexa dava­los, luke Klein­tank, ru­pert evans, ru­fus sewell

Alternate his­to­ries – es­pe­cially ones in­volv­ing Ger­many win­ning World War Two – are old hat in science fic­tion lit­er­a­ture. The idea’s gone from high-con­cept to pure pulp. TV has been slow to em­brace the sub­genre, but now we may have the show that’ll de­fine alternate history on TV, and it’s as far from pulpy as you could imag­ine; showrun­ner Frank Spot­nitz has man­aged to pro­duce a show even more dour than his pre­vi­ous hit Mil­len­nium.

It’s adapted from Philip K Dick’s The Man In The High Cas­tle, a book set in 1962, af­ter World War Two was won by the Axis pow­ers and the United States has been carved up be­tween the Nazis and the Ja­panese. (We’re not sure what the Ital­ians ended up with – the Isle of Man?) Life un­der fas­cism is hardly go­ing to be laugh-a-minute, of course, but it’s ac­tu­ally about a laugh a sea­son at the cur­rent rate.

The world-build­ing is su­perb. Part of the fun of the se­ries is see­ing a ’60s Amer­ica where Nazi rule means rock ’n’ roll never hap­pened, hem­lines stayed low and the teenager hasn’t been in­vented. Some of the Nazi-fied cityscapes are a lit­tle on-the-nose, but the de­pic­tion of life in this world is of­ten re­mark­ably sub­tle and fully-re­alised.

There is a sci-fi story here, but it’s pretty much con­fined to the sea­son fi­nale. The se­ries is more of a Cold War thriller in a world that never was. With Hitler ail­ing, the un­easy truce be­tween the Ja­panese and the Nazis is threat­en­ing to crum­ble into World War Three. Mean­while, an Amer­i­can couple ek­ing out an ex­is­tence un­der the Ja­panese, Ju­liana and Frank, ac­ci­den­tally be­come in­volved with the re­sis­tance, who are smug­gling il­le­gal films cre­ated by a mys­te­ri­ous in­di­vid­ual: the man in the high cas­tle.

It’s im­pec­ca­bly acted and packed with vivid, multi-lay­ered char­ac­ters, gut-wrench­ing twists and dark, dark mo­ments of hu­man mis­ery. The sea­son does sag in the mid­dle slightly, as the plot loses di­rec­tion and be­comes de­pen­dent on handy co­in­ci­dences and Ju­liana and Frank re­peat­edly declar­ing their love for each other in scenes of sob­bing in­ten­sity, then bug­ger­ing off to pursue their own agen­das. But the first three episodes and the fi­nal two are all of solid five-star qual­ity, so you can hap­pily for­give the mid-sea­son pad­ding.

Dick tried to write a se­quel, but only com­pleted two chap­ters. Read them in The Shift­ing Re­al­i­ties Of Philip K Dick (1995).

Ei­ther the truck was on fire or there was a big or­angey, yel­lowy thing on the loose.

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