Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Reviewing Season Four of The Man in the High Castle

Well, it’s over.

I’ve just finished binge-watching the fourth and final season of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. I will say (and there are spoilers ahead) that while it was a far from perfect season, the series’ show runners have managed to present us an ending, that while not entirely satisfying, at least manages to bring the series to a conclusion. 


John Smith in the multiverse.
The twined character arcs of antagonist Reichsmarschall John Smith and protagonist Juliana Crain – and it is important to think of them as that – move in different and telling directions.  When we last saw them at the close of Season Three, Juliana had just winked herself out of her own universe, nanoseconds after being shot by Smith.

Juliana lands smack-dab in what is later revealed to be our universe, narrowly missing being hit by a car driven by none other than Smith – who in our timeline, seems to be a rather nice guy. Juliana views her new surroundings with a mixture of relief and incredulity. The alternate version of Smith gives actor Rufus Sewell a chance to stretch even more so a character who has already proven to be very complex, engaging, and ultimately, damned. 

Meanwhile, in the Pacific States, we see that Trade Minister Tagomi has been assassinated even before the season began. How they handled this was very problematic for me. The alleged assassins were a black communist guerilla movement that did not exist before the start of this season, so the writers spend a lot of time and effort retconning them into the series in the first few episodes of the new season.  It would’ve been much better had they been introduced someplace in Season Three. That the Japanese Empire is also fighting for its life against communist forces in China is also a surprise, and likewise should have also been introduced, or even just hinted at, much earlier.

Part of the problem with The Man in the High Castle, while an ambitious and largely successful work, is that although it stuck fairly closely to its source material, the novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick, for the first season, it lost its sense of direction after that.  In Season Two, the show’s writers began to search for new material and stories to tell.  Going into Season Three, the series brought in elements such as the Nebenwelt from Dick’s unpublished sequel. However, for a large part of Seasons Three and Four, this sense of rootlessness unfortunately, showed to the series’ determent. However, with even these criticisms, the series remains very worthwhile watching.

With that aside, probably the best part of the series has been the journey of John Smith and his rise and fall. We see in this season the original sin of John Smith, born out of simple expediency to save his young family. We see him gazing across the multiverse in envy of life he could’ve lived but at the same time, couldn’t have.

What's Next?


Currently I’m reading the second book in S.M. Stirling’s alternate First World War series, Theater of Spies, which continues the adventures  of American super-spy Luz O’Malley Arostegui, and her companion, technical wizard Ciara Whelan. I hope to have a review for you next month.  After that, I’ll be reviewing The British Lion, a novel of Britain under Nazi occupation, by Tony Schumacher. 

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Alternate History Makes it Big on the Small Screen


Fans of alternate history are in rare good fortune this year, with the premiere of a new genre streaming series, For All Mankind and the final season of The Man in the High Castle

For All Mankind tells the story of an alternate space race between the Soviet Union and the United States where the Soviets manage to successfully manage to land a cosmonaut on the moon, just months before Apollo 11. Instead of crushing the Americans, the renewed challenge only spurs them onward. Apollo 11 with its historical crew successfully lands on the moon – albeit with some minor complications. Instead of being hacked away after the moon landings as it was in our history, NASA's budget gets ramped up to beat the Reds.

Helmed by the producer of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, Ronald D. Moore, For All Mankind is a reimagining of the Space Race, only bigger and bolder. As of this writing, the series has been greenlit for a second season. I’m currently watching the first season and I’m liking what I’m seeing. I’ll have a review for it coming up.

For All Mankind is available on Apple’s streaming platform, Apple TV+.





Of course, no discussion of alternate history on the small screen would not be complete without mentioning The Man in the High Castle, whose fourth and final season launches on Amazon Prime, in just a few days from now on November 15, 2019. This will be the season that wraps it all up. What will happen to Juliana Crain as she simply popped into thin air, nanoseconds after being shot in an impotent rage by Reichsmarshall John Smith? Will the Nazis succeed in dominating the multiverse? Questions, questions.

I am ardently looking forward to finding out and will have a review on this as soon as possible.




What's Next?
Currently I’m reading the second book in S.M. Stirling’s alternate First World War series, Theater of Spies, which continues the adventures  of American super-spy Luz O’Malley Arostegui, and her companion, technical wizard Ciara Whelan. I hope to have a review for you next month.  After that, I’ll be reviewing The British Lion, a novel of Britain under Nazi occupation, by Tony Schumacher. 

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Case for Parallel Universes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you must hopefully believe that deep down, parallel universes, somehow exist.  I do. Certainly, we’ve been aware of the possibility thanks to quantum theory. In 1952, physicist  Erwin Schrödinger first proposed the concept in a speech in Dublin.

Some Theory
Some years earlier Schrödinger had introduced his famed thought experiment, where a cat was locked into a box with a container of poison gas triggered by the decay of a radioactive element. According to the Copenhagen Interpretation, the cat is both dead and alive until the box is opened and the wave function collapses when an observation takes place (the observer effect).  However, the Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) holds that the cat is both dead and alive in equally real but separate parallel universes.  Basically for every decision that is made at quantum level, the universes branch out, until, as MWI predicts, we have an infinite number of divergent parallel worlds, existing at the same time, complete with their own alternate histories. Ultimately, MWI says that it’s impossible to communicate between the universes,  much less travel between them, which is sure to let down many SF fans.

Recently, some however slight physical evidence of parallel universes has come to light, raising the tantalizing possibility of travel between them.  In 2015, the European Space Agency’s orbiting Planck Telescope found what US researcher Dr. Ranga-Ram Chary described as a “Cold Spot” in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – light lingering from the Big Bang, which might be indicative of matter from a neighbouring universe leaking into our own. As far-fetched as it may seem, the British Royal Astronomical Society does not rule this out, noting in April, 2017: “Another explanation could be that the Cold Spot is the remnant of a collision between our Universe and another ‘bubble’ universe during an early inflationary phase…” 

What if ?
What If and if… a Cold Spot  is indeed an indication of universes brushing up against each other? What if it is in fact, still happening?  Is it possible that more of these Cold Spots are in fact, all around us? And if matter – and presumably people -  can seep back and forth between universes in apparent violation of MWI, what are the implications? 

If these Cold Spots are more common than we think, is it possible that a person can transit through them?  I’ve talked about this possibility before in an earlier posting.  In 2018, in the United Kingdom, for example, someone was reported missing every 90 seconds. In that same year in the United States, it was reckoned that there were 90,000 people missing at any one timeIn our surveillance society, that would seem impossible. Many missing people are eventually found. But history is also full of individuals who have simply disappeared. Granted that most have vanished due to things like foul play, misadventure, or the simple deep personal wish to start over under a new name. But what if just one of those people unwittingly stepped into a Cold Spot and through the walls of reality?

Sideslipping 
The idea of an individual innocently minding their own business and stumbling across into a parallel world has long been a staple of the alternate-history genre.  Several novels, such as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, have used this as a major or minor plot device.  Another novel, the not so well-known, Sideslip (1968), by Ted White and Dave van Arnam, has its protagonist, a hard-boiled but decidedly down on his heels New York private eye by the name of Ronald Archer ( a nod to Dashiell Hammett) transit from his world to a world that is not his own. It’s a world where the Second World War never happened thanks to the benevolent intervention of a race of alien overlords called the Angels.  With the action fast and furious, Archer becomes the unwelcome focus of attention of the surviving Nazis, Communists, and Technocrats, and eventually the Angels themselves as they engage in an all-out power play.  Although the book in paperback comes in at a slender 188 pages, White and van Arnam are both able to develop  Archer as the primary protagonist and make him more than just a two-fisted gunsel and build out the alternate universe he finds himself in, thanks to some tight plotting and world-building.

Sideslip is one of my perennial favourites.  You can try finding a copy online or your at local used bookshop. It's worth the hunt.

What’s Next?
Currently I’m reading the second book in S.M. Stirling’s alternate First World War series, Theater of Spies, which continues the adventures  of American super-spy Luz O’Malley Arostegui, and her companion, technical wizard Ciara Whelan. I hope to have a review for you next month.  After that, I’ll be reviewing The British Lion, a novel of Britain under Nazi occupation, by Tony Schumacher. 

(Note that in any inaccuracies in the science portion of this blog are my fault.)

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Book Review: Afterwar, by Lilith Saintcrow

After finishing the novel Afterwar, I still can’t make up my mind whether the story occurs in an alternate history past or the near future.  While I’ll leave that up for you to decide, I will tell you the warning it delivers – when and wherever it is situated – is both timely and important.

 And that's why I’ve given it space on this blog.

Afterwar, as the name implies, occurs at the end of a conflict, in this case, as the Second American Civil War is winding down.  The Federal forces, after 10 years in exile on the west coast have driven out a brutal fascist government led by a dictatorial president, who possesses certain parallels to the incumbent of the Oval Office. We meet our protagonists, Swann’s Riders, a group of irregulars attached to the Federal armies as they liberate a concentration camp. We also met our primary antagonist, is the camp’s second-in-command, at the same time. It's not a spoiler to say both their paths will cross but not quite meet until the novel's conclusion.

Even though the war might’ve ended, there are still many pieces to pick up, and Saintcrow takes us through a well-crafted vision of a post-war America, which she conducts us through in brisk style, but at the same time sparing us no details or horrors. Both protagonists and antagonists have complete and satisfying arcs and Saintcrow demonstrates some very fine storytelling here.

The book seems timelier than ever before as America seems as politically and culturally divided as it was just before it lurched into the Civil War in 1861. Certainly some of the rhetoric is far from encouraging. 

For all of these reasons and much, more, this book is highly recommended.

(Note: I had planned on reading Afterwar and reviewing it in this space months ago.  I only published it some hours before I saw the Trump tweet. Sometimes I wish that fiction didn't imitate reality so well.)

What’s Next?


I’ll be reviewing the next novel in S.M. Stirling’s alternate World War One series, Theatre of Spies. After that, I’ll also be looking at The British Lion, a novel of Britain under Nazi occupation, by Tony Schumacher. 

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel


Airborn is a novel of high adventure set in an alternate Edwardian era where heavier-than-air travel never quite got off the ground. Instead, giant airships have become the primary method of transport, plying the air routes around the world.  

Our chief protagonist, Matt Cruse, is cabin boy aboard the airship Aurora, the same ship his father once sailed upon before he met his untimely demise. For a novel of just over 320 pages (in paperback), author Oppel takes great care in both character development and in building the world they inhabit.

While serving as a lookout during a cross of the Pacificus (read: Pacific Ocean), Matt spots a battered balloon drifting nearby. It is brought aboard with its sole passenger an elderly man clinging to life. He later dies, but not before he and his diary reveal tantalizing clues about strange winged creatures.

Flash forward one year later. Matt is still serving as a cabin boy on the Aurora, after narrowly losing out to a much-deserved promotion to the son the airship line’s owner. In true heroic fashion, Matt tries to keep above it for the most part and Oppel plays this internal struggle quite well. One of the late-arriving passengers is a young woman whom Matt immediately develops a connection with her and her priggish chaperone (a bit of a cliché here).

Our course now firmly set, the plot moves forward to a climax involving dastardly air pirates, a mysterious island (what novel would be without that?) the resolution of the mystery of the winged creatures, young love, and much daring-do.

Airborn has many touches right of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and later authors such as Michael Moorcock and should satisfy every reader.  And although classified as a “young adult” (see my comments below), I highly recommend Airborn for all ages. 

If you haven't made your acquaintance with this novel, it's past time you do.

Sidebar:

A funny thing happened on the way to this book review.

I found Airborn sitting on the shelves of my local thrift shop; since knowing the book was set in an alternate world and thus fit into the scope of this blog, I picked it up and took it to the cashier.  

The cashier looked at the book and sniffed at me, “That’s young adult fiction!”


I looked back at her, the hint of a Clint Eastwood glare in my eyes. Yeah, I got that. Just ring me through already. 

There is still a remarkable bias towards so-called “young adult fiction.” That the bias exists is something of a head-scratcher; after all the category occupies a growing space on the shelves of most bookstores, particularly in the SF and Fantasy sections, prime examples being the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series, both of which are best sellers and major motion picture franchises.  Of the books in the SF category, many do fall into the alternate-history genre, in particular, the more specialized steampunk sub-genre. Much of this success can be attributed to readership among young adults; however, one doubts they would have become the successes they are without their adult readership.

Funny indeed.

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: River of Bones, by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson’s 13th novel (this is a review of the paperback edition) in his Destroyermen series, River of Bones picks up exactly from where the previous novel in the series, Devil’s Due ends.

Destroyermen centres on the exploits on the crew of the elderly “four-stacker” destroyer, USS Walker, led by Commander Matthew Reddy and her crew who, catapulted from their own universe in the early days of the Second World War in the Pacific into an alternate world, they find themselves in the midst of an even more desperate struggle between their soon-to-be Lemurian allies and the reptilian Grik.

Now almost three years into their new war, and after acquiring new allies – and enemies – Reddy and the alliance are at the tipping point. Still recovering from the pyrrhic victories from the events of the previous two books, they must undertake a desperate Hail-Mary pass, sending the merchantman-turned-protected cruiser Santa Catalina and her crew up the Zambezi River and deep into Grik Africa to block the oncoming Final Swarm and buy time.

Once again, Anderson treats us to wall-to-wall action wrapped up with top-notch characterizations of both protagonist and antagonist alike as the outnumbered crew of the Santa Catalina fight for their lives in last-stand combat worthy of the Alamo. Of course, with a series this long and well-developed, the author leaves himself plenty of time for characters to develop and when we experience their deaths, we feel it even more so.  As I’ve mentioned before, the author’s skills in both world-building and in the slow reveal are on full display here as he gives a master’s level course for any aspiring author. 

Over the next few novels in the series, it looks like Anderson is setting us up for the final battle between the Grik, while at the same time, building the pace for the ultimate showdown with the newly revealed alliance between the Holy Dominion and the League of Tripoli. 

I highly recommend the book and the series – that is, for anyone who is not yet familiar with it. Other than that, I can only pay it perhaps the highest compliment I can give in my current financially straitened circumstances: I almost bought the next book in the series, Pass of Fire, in hardcover.

What’s next?

I’ve just started reading Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, a so-called “young adult” novel, which takes place in alternate late 19th/ early 20th century where heavier-than-air flight never got off the ground and giant airships are the means of commerce. More on this later.

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Book Review: Clemhorn: Nightfall

Clemhorn: Nightfall by Andrew J. Harvey, is the first novel in what promises to be an epic multivolume series. 

The novel tells the story of one of the ruling families of the Cross-Temporal Empire, the Clemhorns. The empire they help rule harkens back in the best possible way to those other great timeline-spanning dominions of science fiction such as Keith Laumer’s Imperium or H. Beam Piper’s Paratime.

As we are introduced to the Empire and its inhabitants, we are made aware that all is not well. There is a power struggle at the very top between the ruling families with the death of Empire’s First Leader, setting the stage for a civil war. The action of the novel focuses primarily on the younger generation of Clemhorns: Conrad, Arnold, Donald, and Ivy. For the most part, characterizations are strongly developed and each is clearly delineated with solid narrative arcs, with the plot moving along briskly.  Each timeline is given enough detail as to present its own sense of otherness. 

I enjoyed the book.  But I will also say it demands attentive reading. You may find yourself consulting the appendices that the author has thoughtfully provided at the end of the book as I had.  With something this epic, spanning multiple worlds and potentially multiple novels, the thought is definitely appreciated.  

Recommended. 

You can obtain your copy of Clemhorn: Nightfall  in either trade paperback or ebook formats, from Amazon or other online retailers.

Note: This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher.

What’s Next?

Currently, I’m reading the River of Bones, the 13th book in Taylor Anderson’s multivolume Destroyermen series. I hope to have a review for you next month. I also plan on bringing you a review of Afterwar, by Lilith Saintcrow, which tells the story of a second American Civil War, but I’ve added something a little different to the mix as well, Airborn, by  Kenneth Oppel,  a “young adult” novel which takes place in a “reimagined late 19th Century,” filled with airships, sky pirates, and all sorts of daring-do.

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.