In the US: Free to stream on Amazon Instant Video
In the UK: Free to stream on Amazon Instant Video
Packing more great, mind-warping ideas into even one short story than many authors achieve in their lifetime, Philip K Dick is (rightly) considered one of the best science-fiction authors who has ever lived. However, his stories can be hard to adapt. Even some of his easier, longer novels, such as Through A Scanner Darkly, which could be taken more or less straight off the page, still needed some imaginative thinking to depict faithfully and the end result, with its massively downbeat ending, still wasn’t the most accessible of works.
Most of his stories, however, are shorter and involve small people in the midst of big ideas, making them much harder to adapt. Much of Blade Runner’s source, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, actually revolves around the protagonist’s efforts to please his wife by purchasing a real, rather than synthetic sheep as a pet – and the problems of having children in a radioactive environment, thus necessitating his lead codpiece. Total Recall, based on We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, involves a man discovering that he’d inadvertently saved the world from alien hamsters, while Minority Report is more an intellectual exercise about how predicting the future can affect that future – as well as future predictions.
Dick’s Hugo Award-winning The Man In The High Castle is as similarly reality- and identity-wiping as the rest of his work, detailing an alternative reality in which the Nazis and the Japanese win the Second World War and take over the world. The two empires partition the US, and the book details the alternative history and examines how Americans, as well as their rulers, live in this reality. 'The Man In the High Castle’ is an author who suggests that this is an alternative reality and that history is actually something completely different – although in true Dick fashion, reality turns out to be more fluid and unreliable under both the characters and readers’ feet. Similarly to Dick’s other stories, there’s little plot per se and much of the focus is on smaller characters with small concerns, such as how to run their business to appeal to the new Japanese rulers and how marriages are affected.
Nevertheless, for the past few years, attempts have been made to turn The Man In The High Castle into a TV series. The first efforts started in 2010, backed by the BBC and Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott. When that fell through, Scott turned to the Syfy channel in 2013, bringing on board X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz. And when that never happened, Scott went to Amazon where finally he got some traction.
There were three big questions at this point, of course. The first was how to turn such a plot-free and inconclusive but much-revered and also potentially inflammatory source into a multiple-episode TV series. The second was whether Spotnitz, who’s been producing hackneyed action scripts for shows such as Strike Back, Hunted and Transporter: The Series for years now, was someone who still had the skills to adapt it. And the third was whether Amazon, very much the also-ran in online programming compared to Netflix, could produce something genuinely good (Transparent apart).
While we don’t quite have the answer, Amazon so far only giving us a pilot episode, it’s fair to say that Frank has shown us the way and given us potentially Amazon’s first genuine series to match House of Cards. Here’s a clip:
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