Monday, 11 February 2013

You Tell Me | The Scotsman in the High Castle

In case you hadn't heard, this morning brought news of an adaptation of a classic genre novel. Via Variety:
Syfy is adapting Philip K. Dick's book The Man in the High Castle into a four-part miniseries, with Ridley Scott attached to exec produce. 
Dick's novel, set in 1962, depicts a world where Nazi Germany and Japan were the victors in WWII and occupy the U.S. 
The X-Files vet Frank Spotnitz will serve as primary scribe and as exec producer. Scott will exec produce through his shingle Scott Free Prods., alongside Headline Pictures, Electric Shepherd Prods. and FremantleMedia Intl., which will also distribute the mini globally.
"Alternate history stories are part of an amazing and intricate genre of sci-fi," said Mark Stern, president of original content at Syfy and co-head of original content at Universal Cable Prods. "When done well, there's nothing better; and I can't think of better creative talent to bring Philip K. Dick's fascinating alternate-history thriller to life than Ridley Scott and Frank Spotnitz."
Well, I can.

Be that as it may, I'll probably watch Syfy's adaptation anyway. But the announcement puts me in a particular position: though I've had a copy on my shelves for many years indeed—in large part because I bought all the original SF Masterworks I could—I haven't read The Man in the High Castle, and with this miniseries on the near to far horizon, it's become a case of now or never.

Why is that?

As I've touched on here on The Speculative Scotsman, I value surprise very highly. So highly that, if I'm honest, whether Syfy's series is awful or awesome, I am entirely unlikely to invest precious time in a tale I've already been told.

Long story short, should I read The Man in the High Castle before Syfy's adaptation airs? Or should I make like nothing's changed?

Before you offer your opinions one way or the other, know that the only the only Philip K. Dick I can recall reading is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I was young at the time—perhaps too young—and I didn't entirely dig it; I only persisted because of my undying adoration of Blade Runner.

But maybe the time has come to re-evaluate my stance. Maybe I should read this book before Syfy's miniseries spoils the experience for me.

You tell me!


  1. I know my favourite adaptation of an Iain Banks novel was BBC Scotland's The Crow Road; my least favourite was the film version of Complicity. They were the work of largely the same production team, so why the difference? Could it be that I hadn't read the former (still haven't), but had read the latter? I'm still not sure.

    If your main concern is chiefly "finding out what happens", then I'd suggest you read the book before sitting down to watch the TV show; but I'd hope that Dick's writing would still be enjoyable enough on its own merits even if you come to it already knowing the plot.

    If you do read it though, try to accept that any adaptation is going to be different. Indeed, I think the main reason the film of Complicity didn't work was that it kept too close to the book; it never really had a spark of life as a movie.

    Not sure if that helps....

  2. Personally, I think The Man in the High Castle is way overrated and not one of Dick's better novels - I think the reason why it became so popular among Science Fiction readers in particular is because it aims at literary fiction laurels and thus lended some high brow credibility to a genre that used to be perceived as decidedly low brow. Still is of course, by quite a few people, but that not withstanding Dick tends to be better in his over-the-top, "trashy" novels - Ubik being my own favourite, but The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Martian Time Slip are also very good. (And better than The Man in the High Castle, which all in all is a rather bland affair, in my opinion at least. But I admit that I'm in a minority there.)

  3. I'd always recommend reading the original before seeing any adaptation. However, I very much agree with Heloise: "The Man in the High Castle" is not PKD's best by a long stretch. The three novels she lists as alternatives are all excellent--and coincidentally also the first 3 books I ever read by the author. I also recommend "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" and any of the "Best of" short story collections that have been assembled over the years. PKD was a unique voice in the genre, and it's always somewhat odd to see "The Man in the High Castle" brought up so frequently because it just doesn't hold up when compared to some of his other works.

  4. Interesting. I actually enjoyed The Man in the High Castle much more than I enjoyed Ubik. Granted, there's not much to The Man in the High Castle in terms of plot, it's much more a glimpse of life in an alternate history. But I thought the world PKD conjures up was extremely well detailed and fun to explore. If you're OK with a novel like that, not expecting much in the way of action but appreciating the world, I think you'll enjoy it. Otherwise, wait for the show (where they'll probably invent some more plot points to keep things interesting).

  5. I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? after watching Bladerunner and I was surprised how different they were. (I preferred the film). Film adaptations are sometimes very close to the book (outside science fiction, I thought the book and film of The Hours were remarkably close, and both brilliant apart from Virginia Woolf's nose job).
    I'd always say read the book first, but then I'm a writer. The problem with a screenplay, obviously, is that it boils the book down to the dramatic elements and you can only see what the camera sees.