Tag Archive: Philip K. Dick


Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re accustomed to seeing non-fiction tie-in books digging into what makes the big sci-fi franchises so popular.  But it’s only a recent trend that publishers are meeting fan demand by digging into those television series that don’t have the established fan bases and studio support.  Firefly was probably the first series to break out in this way, but publishers are now seeing–thanks to streaming platforms specifically–that fans want more content about their favorite shows.  Following recent books like Jeff Bond’s The World of The Orville (reviewed here at borg) and The Art and Making of the Expanse (reviewed here), the next acclaimed science fiction series has a behind-the-scenes account with Mike Avila’s The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World from Titan Books.

Designed almost identically to the successful The World of The Orville, this look at Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World is both an overview of the series, its characters, its source material, and the creation of its detailed alternate world, and it’s also a visit with the creators behind and in front of the camera that made a complex, highly regarded work of classic sci-fi literature into a compelling benchmark in television storytelling.  As we’ve seen in interviews with Lisa Henson in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance–Inside the Epic Return to Thra and interviews about the Broccoli family in The Many Lives of Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, this look at the Amazon series provides one of fandom’s first glimpses at Philip K. Dick’s daughter, Dick estate trustee and series executive producer Isa Dick Hackett.  So whether you liked (or not) how the series took portions of the novel, left some behind, and added new bits, Hackett explains the thought process behind the production’s choices.

The book covers the entire series–all four seasons–and is divided into four sections by theater: the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, the Greater Nazi Reich, and Alternate Worlds, and these sections further highlight specific components of the series, including characters, locations, design, costumes, props, and music.  There’s even a section on creating the creepy opening title sequence, slightly altered each season.  And stills of the signage, both re-created concepts and alternate history imagery, provide fans the opportunity to at last study them in detail.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s a fantastic sci-fi series with a stellar cast and a story and production values that rival the original Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel: Altered Carbon is based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name, a story about Takeshi Kovacs, a future soldier in a world where science has developed a hard drive called a “stack” that is implanted in humans’ necks, allowing our memories to be uploaded to storage and replanted over and over so they seemingly can live forever, even in new bodies.  That conceit allows Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors, which could allow the series to run forever much as Doctor Who’s regeneration mechanism allows replacement Doctors.  Originally launched on Netflix in 2018, Altered Carbon has been extended for a second season, with filming underway last year, and viewers should expected a second season trailer and 2020 air date any day.  Which means fans of the Syd Mead, Ridley Scott, and Philip K. Dick brand of futurism, and all things borg, should catch up on the first season now.  What does it mean to be human, and how much can you shed away and replace with technology and still retain the “self”?  Altered Carbon tackles the philosophical questions The Matrix film series tried to answer.

Kovacs, played by several actors (more on that below), is a 300-year-old soldier.  As a seasoned fighter 250 years ago he was the last of a mercenary group called the Envoys, leading a rebellion against the new world order.  Kovacs’s stack is shelved for the intervening 250 years until one of the wealthiest men alive, Laurens Bancroft, played by James Purefoy (an actor who has been runner up for the James Bond film roles and appeared in A Knight’s Tale and The Following), buys his stack and puts it in a new body or “sleeve,” giving Kovacs the opportunity to live anew if he agrees to find Bancroft’s killer.  This is a bleak world, filled with virtual reality and virtual sex, body swapping and trafficking, and the kind of tech noir, bleak, dystopian realm seen in Strange Days, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Ready Player One, The Running Man, Brazil, Total Recall, with the violence of A Clockwork Orange, but maybe not so hopeless as in Elysium, Mad Max, Gattaca, Terminator, and Dredd.  

The series, which has a slow start and doesn’t kick into high gear until the second episode, also has the John Carpenter Escape from New York vibe but with Blade Runner visuals and effects, plus the creative elements of Total Recall that made for some unexpected surprises.  Altered Carbon is a close match to RoboCop as future science and technology goes, so it’s easy to see why the casting agents brought along RoboCop remake star Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs’ primary sleeve in the first season.  This sleeve was last owned by a cop killed in duty named Ryker.  Ryker’s partner, Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), takes on the role of the season’s co-lead, struggling as she sees her old partner’s body and acting to protect his sleeve, trying to solve the murder of Bancroft, and uncovering the bad cops in the bureau.  Ortega is a badass character in a small package who gets in and out of several fights that would take down anyone else in any other story, and she is the high point of the series–at one point an incident results in a loss of an arm, soon replaced by a powerful cybernetic arm.  An interesting twist is that her family are Catholics, and in this future Catholics don’t believe in the stacks, which means once they die they are dead forever.  This sets up one of the more interesting plot threads.  If it seems like the series has a lot going on, that’s because it does. But it all comes together in a satisfying way in the final episodes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If a movie project languishes for twenty years, thee might be several reasons to explain why.  Gemini Man, in theaters now, has had both Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer involved in the idea behind the film, but the timing didn’t seem right for them–digital technology had not yet evolved where an actor portraying a 51-year-old could fight himself at age 23, in a believable way.  Now here we are in a Hollywood (New York City, Atlanta, Toronto, etc.) where motion capture performances are the norm.  It’s not a spoiler if it’s in the movie poster, and that’s the case with Gemini Man.  The movie is Will Smith, a retiring government assassin, who must face off against a younger version of himself, raised and trained for combat.  So it shouldn’t surprise you that Gemini Man: The Official Movie Novelization, is a character study of what might happen when an assassin meets himself.

If you’re a fan of science fiction, a rush of prior stories and films should come to mind.  First of all the novelization, which does not give an author credit, instead listing the screenplay writers, Darren Lemke, David Benioff, and Billy Ray, reads very much like an early Philip K. Dick short story expanded to be novel (or movie) length.  The spoiler (if you can call it that) is that there aren’t many surprises.  How would a trained assassin react when confronting a younger clone of himself?  This is a single sitting read, filled with some interesting characters (the kind you’d find in supporting roles in any film, like Mission: Impossible, the Bourne Legacy films, Tomb Raider, or even Dick adaptations like Paycheck.  It’s also heavy on the action, something that would be spotlighted with CGI in the film, leaving the characters in the novel to internalize what is happening on the big screen.  The story feels like it was written for Will Smith.  His character Henry Brogan is the same guy we’ve seen Smith play in Bright, Suicide Squad, I am Legend, Hitch, I, Robot, Enemy of the State, and Independence Day.  Which fortunately means we have a likable protagonist.

The novelization brings in bits and pieces from across decades of science fiction, from addressing the question of how you select who you clone (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), to how you control your newly minted human military weapon (from The Manchurian Candidate), to how you survive when the world is crashing in on you (from the Jason Bourne, Shooter, and Mission: Impossible movies), to how you react when you learn you are not really you (from RoboCop, Moon, and the new series Living with Yourself).

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February, and we had a glimpse at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of Stranger Things.  Another trailer is here, and this one finally confirms Chelah Holsdal′s bigger role as Helen Smith, wife of the new leader of the Nazis and former U.S. soldier, John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell.

With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa′s Tagomi had done.  Helen and her girls have John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for a big, brutal finale this next year, especially as Joel de la Fuente′s Inspector Kido gains more influence and power.  Who will win the battle for the World War II outcomes of all dimensions, the U.S., Japan, or Germany?  (Sounds like a game of Axis & Allies to us).

Is Helen Smith finally going to kill her husband John for letting her son die?  It seems likely Philip K. Dick would have approved all the updates and extensions to his novel in this show.  Here is the latest look at the final season of The Man in the High Castle:

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February.  Now we have a peek at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of “stranger things.”  An experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele, who could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines led to the Liberty Bell melted down and the Statue of Liberty destroyed, last seen falling into New York Harbor.  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi had done.

Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink were cast out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price stepped in to fill the void.  Helen and her girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.

What is this mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?  Check out this first look at an opening scene showcasing these characters in season four, the final season, of The Man in the High Castle:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M.F. Gibson′s new novel Babylon Twins doesn’t seem to be targeted for the Young Adult section of the bookstore, but it should be.  Following a pair of twins who share a secret language whose lives take a turn as a big pharma-virus, artificial intelligence experiment, and robot war collide to take down and remake civilization.  The novel fits well with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels and would make a good follow-up for fans of the series, especially older teens.  More focused on their survival in a Creek Stewart sort of way (move along if you can’t stomach animal hunting for survival purposes), these girls don’t ever get the kind of gourmet food the competitors land in The Hunger Games. We meet the girls both when they’re young and later as young adults, and their lack of contacts and traditional educational resources keep their dialogue and needs more child-like than adult.

The best comparison to this story of dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi is the classic 1970s sci-fi film Logan’s Run.  Like the Runners of that story, Clo and El live the best they can after escaping the new norm thanks to their mother, but when their mother leaves their forest hovel they decide to take their brother and return to the city to find her, ten years after the “end of the world.”  This is far more classic sci-fi than zombie horror, a good entry point for young adult readers dabbling into the short stories and novels of Philip K. Dick (like Minority Report) and Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog.  Encounters with freakish new lifeforms that aren’t what they seem as found in classic sci-fi like Logan’s Run or Beneath the Planet of the Apes combine with a setting sharing a lot with that of Dawn/Rise/War of the Planet of the Apes, or the Jessica Chastain movie Mama (without that movie’s kind of horror).

Readers of John Christopher’s Tripods series will also see parallels in Babylon Twins Gibson’s wooded home for the girls conjures a loneliness oddly akin to Christopher McCandless’s grim solo journey in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, yet their path is much different.  Girls with younger brothers may particularly love the book, as the older sisters really never give the poor little brother a break across the entire story, including chastising him, berating him as bigger sisters do, and even tying him up and throwing him in the car at one point.  It’s all written with a dose of humor.  And the youthful voice of the narrator and characters reveals a coming of age story for the twins, sometimes dipping into the stuff of middle grade stories from Judy Blume.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s what Blade Runner fans have been waiting for, and if your appetite was whetted by the movie Blade Runner 2049, then you’re going to want to check our the next era of Blade Runner stories as Titan Comics goes back to a parallel Earth future in Blade Runner 2019.  The future is now.  It’s been worth the wait, as the new story looks and feels like we’re back inside Philip K. Dick’s original vision in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  In the neo-noir city of Los Angeles, 2019, Ash, a veteran Blade Runner, is working the kidnapping of a billionaire’s wife and child.  Is the CEO of the new Canaan Corporation any better than those behind the Tyrell Corporation?  Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049), with co-writer Mike Johnson (Supergirl, Star Trek), get ready for Blade Runner to experience the treatment we’ve seen in recent years for franchises like Firefly, Planet of the Apes, and Alien, as another new world of science fiction storytelling opens up.  Green and Johnson have written a perfect first chapter.

This very first original, in-canon story set in the Blade Runner universe is illustrated by Andres Guinaldo (Justice League Dark, Captain America) with brilliant color work by Marco Lesko.   You’re going to see something surprising in Guinaldo’s artwork–not only is this the world of Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, and Syd Mead′s neo-noir future, readers will see influences from cyberpunk and tech-noir classics like John Carpenter′s Escape from New York, Luc Besson′s The Fifth Element and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Neill Blomkamp′s Elysium, James Cameron′s The Terminator and Aliens, Robert Rodriguez′s Alita: Battle Angel, and the other futureworlds adapted to film from Philip K. Dick′s stories.  It all probably comes down to the versatility, breadth, and influence of concept artist Syd Mead, but the creators do give due credit to Dick, Scott, Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, Michael Deeley–and Mead–for the look and feel of their new story.

The first issue arrives next Wednesday, and you can pick from four cover options, from Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Andreas Guinaldo, John Royle, and an original concept piece by Syd Mead.

Check out our sneak preview of the first issue of Blade Runner 2019, courtesy of Titan Comics, plus a new trailer for the series released just today:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not often a sequel surpasses the first novel in the series, but that’s the place where Spaceside lands.  And that’s saying something, because Michael Mammay′s Planetside was one powerful first novel.  I first reviewed Planetside before its release only a year ago here at borg, and its combination of military thriller and sci-fi action story was one of last year’s best sci-fi reads.  Happily for readers of Mammay’s first story, the protagonist this round is again Colonel Carl Butler, that ex-military mastermind who keeps getting pulled back into danger.  Imagine Edge of Tomorrow’s General Brigham a few years after the war or Starship Troopers’ Lieutenant Rasczak if he’d lived to fight another day, and you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for with Colonel Butler.

But this story and this style is different for Mammay.  I saw Planetside as military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, but this time Butler is part investigator in a planetside mystery as a bit of a future noir or tech noir detective.  Where Planetside featured plenty of the grunt-side action of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, this story delves more into the strategy and corporate politics (think Weyland Corp.), providing a fine standalone story.  Yet for those that take on the first novel (as they should), Spaceside fleshes out the secrets of why Butler was thrust far away across the galaxy to deal with the alien race called the Cappans in the first place.  Two books in and readers will be asking for more–Mammay has concocted one of the best science fiction universes around.  So just when a new series of Blade Runner novels is on its way, Spaceside fits the bill as a worthy read-alike of a future, cybernetically enhanced human trying to stay alive while he’s constantly dodging bullets (although Butler’s borg nature is downplayed for much of the story).  More like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner than Philip K. Dick’s source novel, Mammay’s story is a compelling character study that amps up the intrigue.

Instead of spending most of this novel’s adventure in outer space as the title might suggest, ex-Colonel Butler finds himself grounded, exiled, shunned, and scorned for the murders of millions of Cappans resulting from his decisions in the pages of Planetside.  Instead Butler is relegated to leading corporate team-building sessions where he takes groups on virtual reality combat missions with him as the real-life war hero.  It’s embarrassing, but it pays the bills, and it keeps him busy after his wife left him and took half his money.  That’s until the CEO calls him into his office to investigate a hacking of a major rival corporation–after all, his title has the word “security” in it.  If Butler can figure out what went wrong at the rival, then his own company can make sure it doesn’t happen to them, too.  Or so his CEO figures.

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