Novel on alternative history gets adapted for Amazon Video


Briana Birks

“The Man in the High Castle,” a novel by American writer, Philip K. Dick, has been transformed into a 10 episode web series that is now available on Amazon’s streaming service after the pilot episode was highly voted for by Amazon customers. Released in 1962, the novel focuses on what life would be like if Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany took over the United States, showcasing daily American life as an occupied people. The setting takes place in 1947, 15 years after the end to World War II. The author brings his readers into a world that could have been, giving us a startling perspective on a reality we couldn’t have imagined otherwise.

How could this have happened?

In this world, the United States fails to enter World War II by maintaining its isolationist policy. Thus, the British and the Soviets are the major powers that fight the Germans and they eventually lose.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, the Japanese still destroy the US Navy Fleet in an attack on Pearl Harbor and conquer Hawaii as well as later Australia and New Zealand. Soon after, the United States and its allies give in to the Axis powers. The Japanese are able to successfully establish its own “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” through its occupation of various countries. Eventually, Imperial Japan and the Third Reich become the world superpowers, which in turn leads into a Cold War, much like our world had between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Later, the Nazi develop the atomic bomb. A Nazi nuclear strike is planned by “Operation Dandelion” to exterminate the Japanese. Adolf Hitler is not in power, but German Chancellor, Martin Bormann, who initiates several different ways to increase Germany’s power. He later dies which proves difficult for the remaining top Nazi’s to approve another in his succession.

What is unusual and creatively ironic about the book is that it contains a novel within the novel. “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” is read by many characters in the book. The fictional author, Hawthorne Abendsen, focuses on a completely different outcome of the war in which the Axis powers lose World War II. As such, the Germans of course ban it from being owned by anyone in their territory.

The novel within a novel presents its own alternative history in which among other things, the Pacific Fleet is removed from Pearl Harbor, thus avoiding the attack by the Japanese. The British conquer Berlin, later leading Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders to be tried for war crimes. The novel concludes rather mysteriously with a brief claim of the British Empire becoming the world’s only superpower.

All this was turned into a web series that allows us to ask ourselves many questions in the face of an alternate history. What would life be like if the United States lost the war?

The new reader (or viewer) will be tempted to start this story believing that this is simply another science fiction work. The web series differs greatly from the book. For example, the United States loses the war by Washington being nuked by the Germans.

It also uses a mysterious film instead of a book and it causes one to wonder why this film footage of an alternative world exists. This difference, as to the origin of the films, puts the viewer at very high risk of missing the point of the entire show.  The novel and show depict the effect of war on winners, losers and those caught in the middle. Perhaps we can get a perspective on what life would be like in that time period, living a country that is lost to one of a greater power.Ultimately, the goal of this journey is the journey itself and not the destination.