Tag Archive: Philip K. Dick


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and prequel to Blade Runner 2049, giving fans of either or both a look into the world created by Philip K. Dick in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Blade Runner stories continue as Titan Comics looks to the parallel Earth future in Blade Runner 2019.  The first nine issues introduced us to ex-Blade Runner Ash and Cleo, daughter of business magnate Alexander Selwyn.  It’s now 2026.  On returning to Los Angeles, Ash sleuthed out the location of Selwyn, but Selwyn knows Ash is after him, and has created a new Blade Runner.  Of course the ghosts of Tyrell are always in the shadows.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s been three years since the arrival of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi cult classic, Blade Runner, itself based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  At last fans of the franchise, sci-fi, and futurism have a worthy tribute to the artwork behind the production with Tanya Lapointe’s Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked–The Art, now available from Titan Books.  A companion piece to the author’s 2017 book, The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, published in 2017, which focused more on the entire production than the ideas behind the look of the film, this new book is packed with more reproductions of concept artwork than text, a journey for anyone thinking about the next Syd Mead–who will he/she be, and what the world they create might look like.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re a fan of hard-hitting science fiction and noir of the Blade Runner variety, your top pick for binge-watching this month should be the first seasons of Altered Carbon (reviewed here and here at borg).  Abbie Bernstein, author of several film and TV tie-in books arrives with her latest book, Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series.  In design and layout, this is the next book in the series of behind-the-scenes studies of top-level sci-fi television series from Titan Books that includes The World of the Orville (reviewed here) and The Man in the High Castle: Creating the Alt World (reviewed here).

Unapologetically pulling its look and feel from the original Blade Runner, the creators of Altered Carbon made a world that could easily be a spin-off of the Philip K. Dick realm, a region just north of the cityscapes in Ridley Scott and Syd Mead’s futuristic dystopia.  Altered Carbon: The Art and Making of the Series is not a look at the concept art, but full coverage of the first two seasons of the series as seen through the eyes of the writers, cast, production designers, costume designers, stunt department, visual effects artists, and more.  Based on a trilogy of books from novelist Richard K. Morgan, the challenge for series creator Laeta Kalogridis and second season showrunner Alison Schapker and a team of writers was how to split up the novels between seasons.  Pulling Morgan into the writers room they based season one on the first novel and the theme “what does it mean to be human”–a common theme of many sci-fi stories–but more loosely adapted the next two books into the second season, focusing more on the love story between lead character Takeshi Kovacs and his former leader Quellcrist Falconer, asking, “Can love between two people survive, even for centuries?”

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Bernstein doesn’t hold back any content or story arc, digging into the relationships between characters, taking apart key sequences, and highlighting dozens of the series’ key characters, including accounts from the actors.  Because of the significant physical combat sequences among the major cast, the actors joined their stunt performers in daily sessions to bring greater believability to the visual effects elements.  Readers can expect hundreds of full-color photographs, including set photographs, film stills, and an entire chapter of sample storyboards from the series.

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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.  It’s Netflix’s Altered Carbon, 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 called “sleeves.”  See our review of the first season here.  Allowing Kovacs and other characters to be played by any number of actors (allowing the series to run forever like Doctor Who), for the second season that means Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Adjustment Bureau) is replacing Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop, Suicide Squad) as series lead.  Netflix revealed its first teaser for the new season this week.  Check it out below!

So 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 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.  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.  

The new teaser trailer showcases Mackie, but also shows glimpses of returning characters, including Kovacs former platoon leader, played by Renee Goldsberry (Star Trek Enterprise, Life on Mars), the original Kovacs, played by Will Yun Lee (Hawaii Five-O, Bionic Woman, Witchblade), the artificial intelligence named Poe who is the runner of a seedy hotel, played by Chris Conner (Burn Notice, House, Bones).  Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the fantastic cop Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda (McFarland USA, Royal Pains), will be back, but new additions include Simone Missick (Marvel’s Luke Cage, The Defenders), Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger, Walking Tall, The X-Files,), and Alessandro Juliani (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Battlestar Galactica).

Check out this quick look at season two of Altered Carbon:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick′s 1972 novel We Can Build You, his 22nd novel, has its strengths, the first half of the novel full of several thought-provoking ideas that each would have been better served pared down as one of Dick’s fantastic short stories.  From there it slides precipitously off the cliff into the incomprehensible–an attempt at showing a protagonist with an unstable mind inside what is by all other indications the set-up for a future America sci-fi story.  Originally written in 1962 and not published for a decade, and released first as A. Lincoln, Simulacrum, the story is centered on Louis Rosen, an entrepreneur in 1982 with questionable business acumen who co-owns a musical organ company.  We Can Build You begins to illustrate what it might be like to build a new race of artificial humans, previewing many specific elements that would become the framework of many later films, novels, and shows (like the Humans television series 45 years later).  The “simulacra” business branches off as a natural spin-off of a keyboard type organ that interacts with the mind in the future from the 1962 perspective–simulacra being a favorite early sci-fi construct in Dick’s works, also called a Replicant or android in his other works.

For a few dozen pages Dick examines what it is to be alive, for a human or a sentient robot, this time in a new way, showing two simulacra, one a nearly perfect construct of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, and later, a simulacra of President Lincoln himself.  Why?  Because of America’s fascination with the Civil War following the commemoration of its centennial in 1961 (when Dick was writing the novel).  How these highly functioning automatons react to these businessmen in the Pacific Northwest “in the future” and the ideas to use them concocted by the story’s wealthy progenitor to Elon Musk form the best sections of the book.  The biggest struggle is with the second half of the novel, when Louis, who serves as the novel’s narrator–with no prior warning–becomes fixated on his partner’s daughter, named Pris.  Louis slips rapidly into some form of schizophrenia, obsessed with the 18-year-old, and the reader becomes aware he also has the unfortunate malady of being a textbook unreliable narrator.

 

Was any part of this novel real?  Was the infatuation never mutual (like with Quentin Tarentino’s insane brother in From Dusk Till Dawn?).  Did his organ company really propose making simulacra as entertainment to re-enact the Civil War, or is the reader crazy for even believing that could have been a legitimate plot point?  Was Pris real or only a figment of his mind?  Did his brother really have an “upside down face” (Dick describes it as some kind of mutation of some future people) or Louis really believed this because of his mental disease and his false reality?  Was anyone real?  Every step of the way modern readers familiar with Dick’s more famous work Blade Runner (adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) will see the inspiration for the Replicant also named Pris in that later work, not published until a decade after We Can Build You, and will question whether this Pris is a simulacra, too, or something else.

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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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