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Hendrik Hertzberg and Matthew Yglesias are both optimistic about BBC’s upcoming adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. As for me, I’m feeling a little more cautious, although so far the signs are good. Doing a miniseries instead of a feature film means sidestepping the awkward compression and warping into a traditional three-act structure that’s garbled many a promising adaptation, and the BBC hasn’t been known to shy away from the bleak absurdism that characterizes much of Dick’s work.
I am skeptical of Ridley Scott’s involvement, though. Blade Runner was certainly a success on its own merits, but as an adaptation of the much funnier and more inventive Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it was a failure. And the critical consensus on his recent work seems to be that it’s been pretty uniformly dour and rote.
Then again, it’s been a very long time since I read The Man in the High Castle, and maybe I’m idealizing it a bit. This was, after all, the book that introduced me to Philip K. Dick at the tender age of 13; I brought a small stack of his books with me on a long plane ride and ended up devouring each of them in rapid succession over the course of a couple of days. High Castle turned out to be an excellent introduction: the premise of this book turned out to be simpler and hookier than those of his other works, and the reality-bending weirdness that characterizes his bibliography was present but relatively subdued. Those qualities, at least, are virtually guaranteed to be present in the miniseries—that’s why it’s getting made in the first place, instead of an adaptation of, say, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Maybe if we’re lucky, it will end up being a gateway drug for a few more neurotic thirteen year-olds.