It took me a long time to come around to appreciating the virtues of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the classic Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Since the film has gone from being critically plastered to critically overpraised, those real minor virtues tend to be overshadowed by imaginary major ones. I still think it’s a great setting for a movie rather than a great movie in itself, but it has this much going for it — Scott’s adaptation left out so much of what made PKD’s novel great that a more faithful adaptation could be filmed and hardly anyone would be the wiser.
So I’m not entirely dismayed to hear that Ridley Scott is overseeing production of a mini-series based on another seminal PKD novel, The Man in the High Castle, but I’m not all that happy, either. It’s one of the all-time champs of the alternative history subgenre, set in a world where the Third Reich and Imperial Japan have divided most of the world between them, and America has been balkanized into a collection of puppet states and ineffectual enclaves. (This Wikipedia entry has a pretty spiffy map laying out the power blocs in this alternate universe.) It’s a cerebral book, with multiple plotlines converging in a search for the author of an alternate-history novel that upends PKD’s scenario, scandalizing readers (and enraging the Reich) by showing a world where the Axis powers were defeated.
That search, which includes at least one undercover assassin, could be used to make The Man in the High Castle into a straight-ahead action flick, much as Blade Runner turned its source novel into a hunt-the-androids video game, which would be a shame. On the other hand, I’d love to see who gets cast as Juliana Frink, one of the few truly engaging female characters PKD ever set to paper.
One element likely to get lost in the wash is the presence of the I Ching as a guide to life. At the novel’s close (which is too open-ended to qualify as a true ending) Juliana consults the I Ching and learns that she is living in a false reality — as is everyone else in the story. We won’t need to consult the oracle to see if Scott’s Castle is equally false.