'The Man in the High Castle': Here's why pop culture keeps returning to Philip K. Dick

'The Man in the High Castle,' based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, imagines what the world would be like if the Axis Powers had won World War II. The new Amazon TV series premieres on Nov. 20.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
'The Man in the High Castle' stars Rufus Sewell.

The upcoming Amazon series “The Man in the High Castle,” based on Philip K. Dick's 1962 Hugo Award-winning alternate-history novel of the same name, imagines a world in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan triumphed in the Second World War, and possession of illicit fictional accounts of an Allied victory are grounds for execution.

The new series starring Rufus Sewell, Rupert Evans, and Alexa Davalos takes place in the 1960s in an America divided by its conquerers. Hitler's Greater Nazi Reich rules the East Coast and Imperial Japan has taken the West Coast, leaving a small patch of neutral territory in the Rocky Mountain states. Episodes released in January and October have set the stage for an impending power struggle following the death of the Führer.

“The Man in the High Castle,” is is just the latest in a long list of Hollywood projects adapted from Mr. Dick's stories. His novels and short stories have been the basis for some of the most popular science fiction movies of the past several decades, including "Man in the High Castle" producer Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” 1990’s “Total Recall” (which was recently remade), and 2002's “Minority Report.”

Much of Dick’s best known work explores questions about personal identity and the fragile nature of reality. "Blade Runner" inspiration "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is the story of a detective tasked with destroying escaped androids nearly indistinguishable from human beings. "Minority Report" envisions a world in which police have broad powers to punish you for crimes you are predicted to commit in the future. The protagonist of "Total Recall" has trouble distinguishing between the real world and false memories implanted in his head. And “The Man in the High Castle” is no exception. The story's characters begin to question the authenticity of their own world when a fictional work presents an alternate-history within an alternate-history that looks eerily like our own world.

One major difference between “The Man in the High Castle” and many other Dick adaptations is the format. It's on TV. And not even on cable, but through Amazon's video-streaming service. While a high-budget, high-concept adaptation of an obscure book from the 1960s may have made TV networks leery in the past, long-form genre fare like HBO's "Game of Thrones" and AMC's "The Walking Dead" may have paved the way for the show's production.

Critical response to the first two episodes has been very positive; the show holds a 97 percent approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Brian Tallerico of rogerebert.com wrote that the show is "not only Amazon’s best drama, it’s an important one too.

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