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Tag Archive: parallel universe


Review by C.J. Bunce

The Man in the High Castle was Philip K. Dick‘s most critically acclaimed novel, which says a lot for his parallel history World War II tale when stacked up against his other brilliant short stories and novels (that’s 121 stories and 44 novels in all).  It’s also the first of his stories to become a big-budget television series, premiering in 2015 with the well-received pilot for The Man in the High Castle.  Amazon Studios proved it can make a drama on par with any other network or studio in its first two seasons, and at San Diego Comic-Con the studio announced the series renewal for a fourth season.  This past week Amazon released a great preview for the next season (see it below).  So you now have a full month to get caught up on the first 20 episodes before Season 3 arrives on Amazon Prime in October.

The series is well worth your time.  The first season was a bit of a slowly building story, providing all the twisty elements to take viewers in a believable way into a parallel version of Earth’s past where the Nazis and Japan were victorious in WWII and America was divided up between them.  As gritty a dystopian show as anyone could muster, the back half of each season is reward enough to stick with the series, even for viewers not especially in the mood for the bleak subject matter.  The winner of two of eight Emmy Award nominations, the series begins in 1962, long after the end of the war–long enough for a new culture to have been solidified across the regions of North America.  The series leads created the best performances you’ll find on television: Alexa Davalos (Angel, The Chronicles of Riddick, The Mist, Defiance), as Juliana Crane, an American whose actions are pivotal for the future, Rufus Sewell (Knight’s Tale, Zen), a former American soldier who becomes one of the Nazi leaders in the former States, Joel de la Fuente (The Adjustment Bureau, The Happening) is stunning as the most ruthless of characters, the Japanese leader of the Pacific region of America, and an incredibly nuanced performance of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Lost in Space, Star Wars Rebels, Grimm, Heroes, Alien Nation, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Big Trouble in Little China) as trade minister for Japan based in San Francisco–a brilliantly layered character like nothing you’ve seen.

Building on Dick’s original ideas and expanding on them is what the series does best, blending the best of the old (like keeping Tagawa’s character having a special power to see an alternate version of the world from the novel) and the new (like using film footage vs. books to inspire actions).  The writers nicely integrate updates and new characters into the series.  Who is the Man in the High Castle?  You’ll just have to watch to find out.  Look for a stellar supporting cast, two fantastic season finales, and a great set-up for the show’s third season.  Fan-favorite genre actors in the show include Rupert Evans (Hellboy, Lexx, Fingersmith, Charmed), Luke Kleintank (Bones), DJ Qualls (Supernatural), Rick Worthy (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural), Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica, 12 Monkeys, Supernatural, Haven, Warehouse 13), Callum Keith Rennie (The X-Files, The Dead Zone, Tru Calling, Battlestar Galactica), Daniel Roebuck (Lost, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Grimm, Quantum Leap), Tate Donovan (Memphis Belle, Argo, Shooter), and many more.

Here is the latest trailer for the third season of The Man in the High Castle:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Do you want to see the best series opener you’ll probably see this year?  If you’re a J.K. Simmons fan–and even if you’re not–set your DVR for tonight’s premiere of Counterpart on Starz.  It’s Dirty Harry meets The Adjustment Bureau as J.K. Simmons plays mild-mannered Howard Silk, a thirty-year veteran of a low-level interface job in a Berlin carryover Cold War installation.  But his world is turned upside down when he learns an experiment back in the 1980s split time apart and created a duplicate world, and he meets his counterpart–the Howard Silk from the other side, a brusque, 007 spy, who has little patience for his genetically-identical, under-achiever self.

Could Counterpart be J.K. Simmons chance at a coveted television role like Tatiany Maslany’s multiple roles in Orphan Black?  We can only hope.  His role is similar to Jason Isaacs’s dual role in the 2012 series Awake.  But will there only be two Howard Silks, or more?  With so many characters in series these days not making it through a single character arc all season, Simmons’ Silk gets plenty of development in his first hour.  It’s clear we’re going to get a season of Simmons vs. Simmons, and the series opener allows for audiences to witness plenty of nicely filmed interactions between the two.

It’s exciting, smart, dramatic, and even poignant.  Silk’s wife, played by Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, The Postman, Rushmore) on this side of the timeline is in a coma, and Silk visits her to read to her each night.  He is confronted by her brother, an unlikeable sort played by Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, Horatio Hornblower).  Sara Serraiocco plays a badass counterspy.

Check out this trailer for the series:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In After the End of the World, author Jonathan L. Howard pens the second book in a series featuring his two heroes, bookstore owner Emily Lovecraft, fictional descendant of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, and ex-cop Daniel Carter, descendant of Randolph Carter, a recurring character in H.P. Lovecraft’s novels that was said to be written into Lovecraft’s works as his alter ego.  The novel continues in a different vein from where Howard’s Carter & Lovecraft left off, taking readers into the realm of alternate histories and speculative fiction.

After the End of the World will be familiar to readers of Harry Turtledove’s dark parallel histories.  Probably no other storyteller has covered a world where Nazi Germany came out on top as frequently as Turtledove in his novels.  Carter and Lovecraft leave the more Lovecraftian monster horror realm when a cataclysmic event splits reality between the Folded World–the real world–and the Unfolded World, a scary surreal parallel world where a change in historical events threw off the course of history, leaving the duo to begin a journey to try to make things right.

The novel takes much by way of concept from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle and the recent popularity of its television adaptation, and the political aura of the recent trend of life reflecting fiction echoing in entertainment like The Handmaid’s Tale.  After the End of the World reads like a variant of Dick’s novel, but in Howard’s story Germany destroyed Moscow early in the war, conquered Russia, and sued for peace with the rest of the world, resulting in its lasting success over the past 70 years as a superpower and technological leader.  So this material has been covered in parallel histories, and the value for the reader will be honing in on Emily Lovecraft and Daniel Carter as a pair.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Betrayal.  Duplicity.  Deception.  Intrigue.

Godfrey’s debut novel, New Pompeii, was one of last year’s most entertaining reads (reviewed here at borg.com).  Empire of Time, Godfrey’s sequel, is equal to the first, and brilliantly enough it’s completely readable as a standalone work not requiring the reader to have read his New Pompeii.  Godfrey, who is not a professor of ancient history, has written a narrative about life in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 that would swiftly pass muster with historians.  And his knowledge of history is matched by his science fiction storytelling skill to provide a rousing next chapter for one of the decade’s most nuanced time travel stories.

Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars is one of the more exciting of the primary history texts of the ancient world.  In New Pompeii, Godfrey transported most of the population of Pompeii in AD 79 to a rebuilt facsimile in the present day world, saving their lives from Vesuvius’s lava, fire, and heat.  More fleshed out this time around, the characters who live in the world of New Pompeii in Empire of Time all live, fight, and die in accordance with the politics, literature, art, social, and scientific elements of Suetonius’s world.  Godfrey even hands the classic book to a character for that character’s own twisted inspiration.  Godfrey crisscrosses time with his lead character, former research assistant Nick Houghton as he traverses modern Italy, and follows Houghton in the city of New Pompeii in his Roman persona, Decimus Horatius Pullus–the legendary “man who cannot be killed.”  In a third and parallel story Godfrey presents the exploits of a slave turned gladiator named Achillia, a ruthless, bloodthirsty survivor who establishes even more of the detailed feel for the mindset of people in the real Roman Empire.  A hardened warrior, Achillia will appeal to fans of Robin Wright’s General Antiope from the opening scenes of Wonder Woman.

The same political intrigue that seeped into stories of Italy’s modern-day Cosa Nostra is present among the manipulators, magistrates, and political machinations of New Pompeii.  Readers will travel through most of the novel with Houghton as he sleuths out lost technical data in the normal world that may allow the “Novus Particles” device to repeat the time travel used to transport the ancients to the present day.  He is also charged–in his Pullus persona–with the same mission only under the control of Calpurnia, the “Empress of Time” of New Pompeii.  But is there truly a device to reactivate time travel?  When archaeologists suddenly begin to encounter messages in English in ancient ruins, does that provide evidence that someone in the future can not only pull matter forward in time, but also transport messages backward in a parallel timeline?  And who is sending the messages?

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New Pompeii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books).  Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller.  Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.

Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read.  Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination.  The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash.  But why are all the survivors now committing suicide?  Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years?  And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?

Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed.  You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader.  Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.

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Apollo 13 and President Nixon

Ask anyone who was alive in 1969 what their most vivid memory of a world event was and they’ll likely come up with word of President Kennedy’s assassination or the Apollo 11 moon landing.  To go back in time and replay the mission events that led up to Michael Collins dropping Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface would be nothing but exciting.  This weekend we remember that moon mission that did not result in a lunar landing, Apollo 13, a mission that has been called NASA’s “most successful failure” for the achievement of NASA scientists and three other astronauts:  Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell.

Forty-five years ago the world waited to find out whether these astronauts would make it back to Earth, as chronicled in documentaries like the History Channel’s Man, Moment, Machine: Apollo 13 – Triumph on the Dark Side of the Moon and Ron Howard’s modern classic blockbuster Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon.  But what if Apollo 11 had encountered a similar fate?

In the summer of 1969 the Nixon administration contemplated that outcome.  If something, anything happened to the astronauts on Apollo 11, how would America respond to such a disaster?  Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote a speech for Nixon to be broadcast if Apollo 11 didn’t make it back–specifically if astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were somehow stranded on the Moon.

Apollo 11 mission control

To promote a news series on famous letters on the BBC, actor Benedict Cumberbatch read Nixon’s speech–a “what if?” that we’re fortunate never was actually read by the President.  Here’s Cumberbatch (affecting an American accent) performing the reading:

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