The Man in the High Castle, a Review

Amazon Prime Video version

The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick and a television series (2015-2019) now on Amazon Prime Video. It is an American Dystopian alternate history thriller.  I’ve avoided reading the novel because it reportedly is similar to what I write and I didn’t want to inadvertently copy PKD’s work. After finishing If I Should Die, I took an opportunity to watch the series. I’m told the show is only loosely based on the novel. In this review I tried to keep spoilers at a minimum, but there is at least one. You may wish to skip that clearly marked section. 

Image shows a view of The Statue of Liberty and the New York Skyline. The statue wears a red Nazi sash and instead of a torch her upheld hand is in a German salute. The cover is an Amazon Original, The Man in the HIgh Castle.

The Set Up 

In The Man in the High Castle’s world, Giuseppe Zangara assassinated the United States President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. That sets up a situation where Axis Powers won World War III. Including Washington D.C. being turned into “The District of Contamination” by a Nazi atomic bomb.  

An aging Hitler still runs the Reich which rules Europe west of the Urals and the continent of Africa. It also occupies the portion of the United States that lies to the east of the Rocky Mountains, an area called the Greater Nazi Reich (GNR). Japan rules Asia and the section of the United States west of the Rockies, the Japanese Pacific States. The Rockies are a neutral zone. 

Image of the United States of America shows the eastern portion of the US in Red with the German cross over it. The rockies are gray, indicating the neutral zone. And everything west of the Rockies has a Rising Sun indicating the Japanese Pacific States as described in The Man from the HIgh Castle.

The story takes place in 1962 in locations in the United States and Germany. Former Americans in German and Japanese territories are attempting to adjust to their status as citizens of occupied territories as are the Occupiers who are all very far from their homes and bases of support.

The Plot

A major thread throughout the television program  (SPOILER ALERT) is the existence of reels of film that show an untold variety of outcomes of the war on parallel worlds. In some of the films the U.S. is victorious. In other films the outcomes are much worse than our story’s world. Some characters wish to protect and hide the films. They believe the information could help them free themselves from their occupation. Others characters want to destroy the films. And the Nazis scientists are experimenting with a way to move between the worlds. (END SPOILER ALERT).

There are many plot holes, impossible, and improbable situations. Once I got past the my mindset that the occupation of the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the way the story says, few of the holes and improbabilities bothered me. 

Be aware that there are cultural and historical  inaccuracies that could detract from your enjoyment if they are part of your mindset or culture. 

The Pacing and Sets

Overall, the story pacing held my interest. There is plenty of action and intrigue and danger. Warning: there are explosions and violent deaths, in my opinion they were handled pretty well. But if violence isn’t your thing, this isn’t the show for you.

The settings ranged from stark to opulent. Both the pacing and the sets (locations) worked well for me.

The Characters

The book cover for The Man in the High Castle has a female standing profile in the center with a Japanese man and a man in the uniform of a Reich officer flanking her. Behind them are two flags that represent the two occupied territories of the former United States of America.
The Man in the High Castle is available as an ebook, paperback, and audio book on Amazon and other retailers.

 The characters are diverse. There are multiple factions from underground rebels who seek to restore American freedom to former Americans being assimilated into their occupiers’ cultures. There are opportunists and there are sympathizers. Some have very clear loyalties. Some appear to switch sides. And some play all sides against each other. 

In this televised series, there are several interesting and strong female characters. And you know I liked that. 

What fascinated me the most about this show were the characters. Loyalties were divided, often within families. Betrayals and reversals and reversals of reversals happened. There were characters I grew to love who spiraled destructively and characters I hated that I grew to understand. For me, this is great story telling. 

The Man in the High Castle

The show was dropped by Amazon Prime after four seasons. I imagine production costs were reason enough but according to some sources there were “creative differences” also. 

I made a purposeful decision to not read the book before writing My Soul to Keep. Will I read the book? Absolutely, but I’ll still wait until after I’ve finished the Fellowship Dystopia series. There are enough similarities between the two stories that I don’t want to risk confusing myself. Do I think having watched the show will alter how I approach the third book in the series? I doubt it. In my opinion, there’s a huge difference between the foreign occupation in The Man in the High Castle and a take over from within like the one in the Fellowship Dystopia.

Also there’s a big difference between writing for television and writing a book. Besides with two books written, I’m pretty deeply immersed in the world of the Fellowship. Some of the critiques of the televised series will influence me in that I’ll try to avoid similar inaccuracies.

Do I recommend watching the show? If you love thrilling, alternate history with a science fictional bent…you will be hooked by the televised series of The Man in the High Castle.

Have you watched The Man in the High Castle? What did you think?

Image Credit: Middle image is by RedFoxJinx, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Story Time Reviews “Lost Girls” by Jane Yolen

Story Time Reviews is a blog series that offers reviews of stories both read and read aloud. Today Story Time Reviews “The Lost Girls” by Jane Yolen is a 1999 winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and a retelling of Peter Pan—with a twist. It originally appeared in the short story collection titled, Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

The colorful, multi-image cover of Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen is the original book in which Lost Girls by Jane Yolen appeared

I read it in the short story collection, Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories.

The Story

In this story, Peter Pan has spent years since the original Wendy recruiting more and young girls. These girls are then pressed into a life of service to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys in Neverland. They serve the boys food and do all the cleaning while the boys get to fight the pirates.

And life in Neverland would have continued this way forever, but Peter recruited Darla. And Darla teaches the Wendy’s they can demand equality.

The Author

Photograph of Jane Yolen

Do I really need to tell you who Jane Yolen is? If you’re not into children’s books or Science Fiction and Fantasy, probably no. For the rest of you, here’s a brief summary of who Jane Yolen is.

Born on February 11, 1939 in New York City, Jane Hyatt Yolen was the first born of Will and Isabel Yolen. 

Her mother, a social worker, quit working jobs outside of her home after Jane was born. But she did volunteer work, wrote short stories that didn’t sell and crossword puzzles and acrostics that did.

During his lifetime, Her father was a police reporter, a café journalist, a publicity flack for Hollywood movies, and a Second Lieutenant who was wounded in WWII. It’s no wonder that Jane was “writing up a fury” by the time she was thirteen.

Jane received her BA from Smith College in 1960 and her Masters in Education from the University of Massachusetts in1976.

She is a celebrated author of more than 375 books and stories. No, celebrated isn’t the right word…she has rightfully won more awards than I knew existed. Jane describes herself as a poet and a journalist/nonfiction writer who, to her surprise, became a children’s book writer. Jane also writes fantasy novels, many of which could be considered for children, but adults enjoy them as much as children do.

If you want to know more about Jane, I encourage readers and writers to visit her website. I love one piece of advice that Jane offers at the end of her list of the many successes of a writer: “Selling the piece is only an explanation point, a spot of punctuation.” Read about Jane’s life.

My Opinion

Full disclosure, I am a Jane Yolen fan. I love her lyrical, poetic style of writing. I’m fascinated by the way she can take old fairy tales and fables and present them in a new and interesting way. And if I’m honest, am envious of her writing craft.

The story begins with Darla’s complaint, “It isn’t fair!” She’s upset that Wendy does all Peter Pan’s housework and doesn’t get to fight the pirates. And instantly, I am on Darla’s side.

As the story progresses, I cheer Darla for confronting the inequities in Neverland.

The story’s mid-point crisis is perfect as is the plot twist and the final confrontation. The ending is appropriate, if a bit rushed. 

Conclusion

Cover image of Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories the book where  I read the story Lost Girls by Jane Yolen

If you enjoyed story time reviews “Lost Girls” by Jane Yolen, read other story time review posts.

Overall I give the “Lost Girls” a strong 4.5 for craft, characters, plot twist, and author voice. With a stronger or less rushed feel to the ending it would easily be a 5 star read. The collection of stories, Sister Emily’s Lightship and Other Stories, is a delightful collection of re-told tales. Some very short. I highly recommend it.

Story Time Reviews “The Last Question”

If you like stories with a twist ending, you’ll like Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question.” Asimov’s short story first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly. The recording is 36:34 minutes in duration and the story is narrated by Leonard Nimoy

The Story

Two men stand and flip switches on a massive machine with rows of switches, the first Argonne Computer looks something like the Multivac in The Last Question reviewed by LynetteMBurrows.com
image By Argonne National Laboratory – Flickr: AVIDAC — First Argonne Computer (1953), CC BY-SA 2.0

The story begins with, “The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light.” Two of Multivac’s attendants make a five-dollar bet over highballs.

Multivac was a giant, self-adjusting and self-correcting computer. The men “fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued.” The computer had, for decades, designed the ships and plotted the trajectories that allowed Man to reach Mars and Venus. But Earth didn’t have enough resources to create the power needed for such trips. Multivac devised a way to use the sun and “all Earth ran by invisible beams of sunpower.”

After seven days of public functions, Multivac’s attendants take a moment of peace with the bottle and the computer. One man expresses his delight that the Earth has free power forever. The second man argues that it’s won’t be forever. Then the first man issues a challenge. “Ask the computer.” So they ask, “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?”

The computer’s usual clicks and whirs go silent and its flashing lights go dark. Just when the men feared the computer had stopped, it answers. “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” 

By the next day, the two men plagued with hangovers forgot they’d asked.


Years and years later, a family leaves Earth and travels through hyperspace. Microvac guides the ship. A rod of metal as long as the ship, Microvac runs the ship and answers questions asked by the ship’s passengers. The wife is sad to be leaving Earth and her husband tries to comfort her. Their discussion comes around to entropy. He explains to the children what entropy is and that once the stars are gone there’s no more power. This frightens the children so they ask Microvac the question. It answers,  “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” 

And so the story goes. Hundreds of years pass and another generation worries about entropy and asks the question. Eventually Man leaves the Galaxy. In time, Man becomes a disembodied being. And after trillions and trillions of years, the stars and Galaxies died. And the last man asks the last question. 

Nope. If you haven’t heard the story, I won’t spoil it for you. Read it or better yet, listen to it here.

The Voice Talent

What can I say? Leonard Nimoy narrates this story in a video on YouTube. I love Nimoy’s voice and generally adore his performances. In this story, his narration takes on a bit of monotony. The story is not an intimate one and features this powerful computer, so I understand why he read it in that manner. 

I can’t believe it, but Nimoy did not enhance the story for me. Sacrilegious  I know.

The Author

Image of Isaac Asimov on the cover of his memoir. "The Last Question" written by Asimov is reviewed on LynetteMBurrows.com.

Born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov in 1920 Russia, his parents brought him to the United States when he was three. His family changed their surname to Asimov around this time.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Asimov began reading science fiction pulp magazines in 1929 and became a fan. He began writing stories at 11 years of age. His first published work appeared in Boys High School’s literary journal in 1934. His first published science fiction story, Marooned Off Vesta, appeared in Amazing Stories. 

He became a biochemistry professor at Boston University. In the 1970s, he gave up full-time teaching but did occasional lectures.  

A prolific writer and editor, Asimov produced about 500 volumes of fiction and nonfiction. He won dozens of awards. You can find his impressive bibliography here.

Asimov’s story, “Nightfall” (1941), his robot stories (beginning in 1940), and his Foundation series (beginning 1951) are his most famous works of fiction. In an introduction he wrote to The Last Question, he called it his favorite of all the stories he wrote.

Asimov died in 1992. 

If you wish to know more about Isaac Asimov, you may wish to read I, Asimov: A Memoir  and It’s Been a Good Life.

My Opinion

Typically, this is a story that is too distant and too passive for me to enjoy. However, the question is a great hook and one continues expecting the answer will come. 

There are signs of the story’s age. It does not mention skin color or ethnicities or sociopolitical situations. I believe Asimov wrote the story this way to allow all readers to relate to it on some level. I’m uncertain it works. But that would be for someone else to judge. 

When Asimov wrote the story, the twist ending was a total surprise. Today’s readers, steeped in science fiction tropes, won’t find the twist as surprising but it still made this reader sit back in her chair. 

The ending of the story and the answer to the question will have you pondering the themes of this story for days, months, perhaps years. If you’re interested, Google the story. You’ll find dozens of discussions of the themes. 

Conclusion

Because of the themes, I believe “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov is worth listening to for the first or the hundredth time. You can find it here. It’s short story that covers thousands of years and development and poses a question that stays with the reader. That’s a story worth studying. If you liked this review you might want to check out past Story Time Reviews here, here, and here.

Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper

If you like post-apocalyptic fiction, you’ll enjoy Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper. Piper’s short story, “The Answer,” first appeared in the December 1959 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction. This review is of the LibriVox public domain recording. Approximately 30 minutes in duration, it is the first story in LibriVox’s Five Sci-Fi Short Stories by H. Beam Piper audiobook.

The Story

Redstone Missile test firing from 1950's evokes the mood of the story discussed in Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper.
Test Firing at Redstone Test stand In Early 1950’s. Public Domain.

The snap of a screen door wakes Lee Richardson from a dream he wants to remember. Dream glimpses of a woman with a dachshund are precious to him, they were all he had for the last fifteen years. His colleague, Alexis Pitov, a Russian calls out to him.  

Fifteen years earlier, in the autumn of 1969, the United States and the Soviet Union had been “blown to rubble.” Russian believes the US sent first bomb. The US believes the Russians launched the attack, though, they wondered why only the Russians had sent only one bomb until hours after they launched the counterattack.

Alexis assures Lee that the Russians did not launch the first strike. Lee believes him. 

Lee and Alexis are in Buenos Aires, taking part in a “scientific experiment.” “Professor Doctor Lee Richardson and Comrade Professor Alexis Petrovitch Pitov, getting ready to test a missile with a matter-annihilation warhead.” It was not a weapon, but the result of studying and constructing negative-proton matter. It was a way to dispose of the products of that study.

Through the back-and-forth conversation between these two characters we learn how they survived the annihilation and what they’d lost. And how they are each tortured by the question of who sent the first nuclear bomb to Auburn, New York. And how Lee has certain suspicions about what they’ve constructed and what had happened fifteen years ago.

No, I’ll not spoil the twist at the end.

LibriVox

LibriVox.com “sees itself as a library of audiobooks. Because the books we read are in the public domain, our readers and listeners should be aware of many of them are very old, and may contain language or express notions that are antiquated at best, offending at worst.”

Most of the narrators for LibriVox are volunteers. I could not discover the name of the narrator of this story. He was superb. He clearly conveyed the different characters and the tone of the story.

H. Beam Piper

Public Domain image of H. Beam Piper for Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper

American science fiction author H. Beam Piper  (March 23, 1904—November 6, 1964) wrote “The Answer.” The H stood for Henry. His first published story “Time and Time Again” appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1947.

The most descriptive and detailed biography I’ve read online was John Carr’s “The Last Cavalier.”

Piper worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and wrote stories.  According to “The Last Cavalier,” Piper was a self-educated man who “probably read more books than any professor.” He was a hunter, a hiker, “inclined to stubbornness, atheism and given the idea of creating an aura of the Victorian about himself most of the time.” He studied history and visited obscure historical sites.

He unfortunately did not manage money well. And the small sums he made writing were not enough to keep poverty at bay. He died of an apparent suicide.

My Opinion

I had not read this story before. And I loved it. H. Beam Piper’s writing style is vivid and thoughtful, with characters I grew to love. The story relentlessly builds tension and suspense to a twist ending that satisfies.

Would I call this a dystopian story? No. The society that these characters live in does not place burdens or restraints upon the characters. It is a post-apoc story. 

Conclusion

Story Time Reviews remembers that special time when an adult reads to a child and recognizes that as a grown-up, we need to reward ourselves with a story time now and then. This blog series offers reviews of stories read aloud. See Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury.

I hope you enjoyed Story Time Reviews H. Beam Piper. If you haven’t read (or listened) to any of H. Beam Piper’s fiction, I highly recommend it. You can find his bibliography on Wikipedia. If you like post-apocalyptic stories, especially if you’re of the age that remembers The Cold War, you will find “The Answer” a satisfying read.

“The Land of Dreams,” a Story Time Review

This week Story Time Reviews Kate O’Connor’s “The Land of Dreams.” This short story first appeared in August 2013 in the online magazine, The Colored Lens.

Image of a pen writing "Once upon a time" on paper--Story Time Review a blog series by Lynette M. Burrows reviewing audio versions of short stories.

The Centropic Oracle published the audio version of “The Land of Dreams” August 17, 2018. Narrated by Larissa Thompson with music by Kyle Ohori and Ryley Kirkpatrick, this story runs 37 minutes.

The Narrator

Image of Larissa Thompson, actor and narrator of The Land of Dreams reviewed by Lynette M. Burrows' Story Time Reviews

Larissa Thompson is an actor and filmmaker living and working in Vancouver, BC (Canada). She’s a big fan of make-believe and will find any excuse possible to dress up in costume. No stranger to independent productions – or being interviewed on video or audio formats – she has a passion for sharing stories she loves with the world. (Thanks to Larissa’s website for this information and image.)

Larissa does a pretty good job of reading the story. Male voices were a bit similar, but they were never confusing. She did a decent job at a country farmer accent. Though the accent skated toward cliché it was never a turn-off. 

The Author

Image of Kate O'Connor, author of The Land of Dreams, reviewed by Lynette M. Burrows' Story Time Reviews

Kate O’Connor’s website gives this bio: 

Kate O’Connor was born in Virginia in 1982. She graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott in 2009 and now lives (and occasionally works) in the New York area.

Kate has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 2011. In between telling stories, she flies airplanes, digs up artifacts, and manages a kennel full of Airedales.

Her books include Mermaid, Salt and Sand, and Better to have Loved.

You can find Kate on goodreads and other social media. Her books are available on Amazon. (Thanks to Kate’s website for her bio and for her goodreads author page for her photo.)

Story Time Reviews

“The Land of Dreams” is a story about dream pigs and a farmer’s daughter, pheromones, and dreams of another life.

The main character, the farmer’s daughter, longs to expand the limits of her world on the farm controlled by her father.

I would like to know more about the dream pigs and the consequences referred to in the story. Those details aren’t necessary to enjoy the story, but I’m intrigued.

In a short story there isn’t room for a lot of character development so only the protagonist had the feel of a fully realized character. Pop came next but not nearly as well. The other two characters, three if you count the pig, were spear-carriers or place holders only.

It is a simple and mostly well-told story that left me a little unsatisfied. The story kept my interest the entire recording.

No spoilers, but my dissatisfaction comes from a rule laid out by the story and later violated without explanation. Let me know if you agree with me or if this did not affect your enjoyment of the story.

The Podcast

The story appeared on The Centropic Oracle which “publishes and showcases the artistic works science fiction/fantasy short story writers and voice over actors in an audio-only format.”

The Centropic Oracle: Thoughtful science fiction and fantasy short and flash audio stories can be found at centropicoracle.com or on Facebook.

The recording was high quality to my ears. 

Rating

Story Time Reviews gives this story and performance 4 out of 5 stars. 


This is the second Story Time Reviews post. You will find the first one, Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury here.

Did Story Time Reviews “The Land of Dreams” by Kate O’Connor help you decide if you’d like to read or listen to this story? Is there something else you’d like included in the review? If you have a story you’d like featured in Story Time Reviews, list it in the comments below or email Lynette.