I have much to learn from you, Obergruppenfuhrer

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 12:47 pm by George Smith

“I have much to learn from you, Obergruppenfuhrer.” If you’re not a younger fan boy of all things science-fiction or a member of the reviewing web press, that’s the line that sticks with you from the pilot of Amazon Prime TV’s The Man in the High Castle. And it comes in a scene where said Obergruppenfuhrer, an “American Nazi” in full SS regalia, patiently explains to an underling that a bloody and comatose man hanging from hooks is being beaten to death so his corpse will appear to the resistance movement as if he never gave up the goods.

“The Man in the High Castle” is a tv adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s old alternative history sci-fi novel in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan win the Second World War and partition the US into three regions — the west going to Japan, the Rockies being a neutral zone, and the east belonging to the Reich.

I read it when I was a teenager and although it won a Hugo Award for Dick in 1962, it’s not one of my favorites among many others of his.

In terms of fortune Hugos didn’t count for much back then and Dick struggled financially up until a very short time before his death in 1982 when money starting coming in due to the sale of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as the basis for the Blade Runner movie.

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is beautifully shot, dark and moody. But swastikas everywhere — arm bands on local every government officer, on road signs, even on pay telephones, and Americans dressed in jackboots, Wehrmacht and Waffen SS uniforms couldn’t help but remind me of an old episode of Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes and Ilsa — She Wolf of the SS.

The plot moves slowly.

All there is to know as backstory is that Hitler is dieing of Parkinson’s disease and when he does, the Reich will end its peace with Imperial Japan, that a resistance is being kept alive by the smuggling of old film news reels entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which show the Allies winning the war, and that a Japanese ambassador in San Francisco knows something very bad is coming because he casts the sticks and reads the I Ching, a Japanese Ouija board.

“Watching our conquered citizenry suffer under a cruel draconian rule that we’ve never had to endure, even if imagined, was still creepily potent,” wrote one very young and enthusiastic reviewer. (No link).

As far as American dystopia’s go, what’s shown in The Man in the High Castle is bullishly average, particularly against other recent tv series like Fringe and The Strain, the latter which also has a Nazi Obergruppenfuhrer. Besides, it’s not a stretch to think of Americans giving up and tolerating rule by dictatorship as long as they have jobs, cars and get to be on the security force carrying guns, now, is it?

There’s another unintentionally funny part, too. As armed to the teeth as this country is, there’s a conspicuous absence of the tools of “2nd Amendment remedies” in this version of 1962 America. The couple of freedom-fighters, main characters, we see just aren’t of the types that are convincing.

Yes, that’s a bit of nit-picking. But Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle isn’t good. Dick’s book didn’t have much an ending in 1962 and that wasn’t always a liability in many of his stories. However, now the 1962 setting, which was his present, is very dated in the context of American life and that makes The Man in the High Castle look artificial although there’s nothing visibly wrong with the sets. Its America, instead of teeming with people, is abandoned and relatively empty. Even the Nazi-fied period music is poor, more like camp to be precise. “Edelweiss” in NYC or SF in 1962? Please.

There might have been a way to re-imagine Dick’s book but this isn’t it. And considering what’s seen in the pilot, none of it bodes well for this television production, good graphics and Ridley Scott as executive producer or not.



  1. Tom Paterson said,

    January 20, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Are you old enough (or young enough!) to remember what we would now maybe call a *meme*, namely that the Japanese had named a home-island town *Usa* so they could mark their products *Made in Usa*?

  2. Tom Paterson said,

    January 20, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    I read High Castle back in the day. I remember thinking that PKD (or his editor) had spent time on this one; the prose was far cleaner than was usual for Dick (especially the pulp) and the structure was good. I was about two-thirds of the way through the story when a Zen logic bomb (benign) exploded in my mind. But when I reread the novel just before Christmas (my 4th copy … nothing would vanish from my shelves more often than PKD) I did not re-experience that Zen moment (well, you don’t, do you?) and at this distance in time I cannot for the life of me remember what it was.

    A proposed remake of Blade Runner produced this most chucklesome comment on El Reg:


    *Helena Handcart

    This is just batty

    I’ve seen scripts you people wouldn’t believe. Cinemas on fire off the local high street. I watched projector beams glitter in the dark with no one to watch them. All those films will be lost in time, like money down the drain. Time to cry.*

  3. George Smith said,

    January 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    That fits. When I was looking at the write-ups this got tossed around a lot before landing at Amazon. First it was Fremantle, which is Brit, then for Syfy, finally here.

    Frank Spotnitz, who’s doing this, has had a succession of deadly bombs and cancellations after fame with the X-files. And I saw most of them. The tone and pacing of this was very familiar.

    I’m not the target audience anymore, though. This is for younger people who don’t know shit about PKD books except the legend and a few of the movie adaptations. He was so prolific, had to be to raise money and still it wasn’t enough, so there’s a lot of sprawl, a lot of drug trips, some hackwork, even some straight fiction which I never thought was better than average.

  4. anon said,

    January 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    I watched most of this pilot, will probably finish it later tonight, and I have to agree, so far. The moods evoked, the settings, and the visuals are pretty good, but it’s taking too long. I don’t see how they are going to make this into anything but a three hour miniseries.

    I haven’t read a lot of PKD, but what I did read gave me the impression that he had some good starting ideas, but they don’t really develop until somebody else turns them into a screenplay.

    As for the parts about Hollywood being the worst recycler of plots ever, I recently made a joke in conversation about a failed treatment for a live-action version of Hong Kong Phooey.

    Yeah, go ahead, search for “live action Hong Kong Phooey,” and see what happens… Sigh.

  5. George Smith said,

    January 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Paranoia was one of Dick’s big themes. The movie treatment of A Scanner, Darkly hit it if you could get past the rotoscoping. Actually, that might have even been necessary.

    The paradox is Hollywood’s made a decent amount of money on him in a number of movies, mostly mediocre to poor with a couple goodies, long after he died. I’ve occasionally wondered that if he’d lived they would have continued to ignore him.

  6. Tom Paterson said,

    January 21, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    I wonder how many teenage Billy Bibbits followed PKD’s trail of breadcrumbs into the centre of a delusory system from which there was no escape … I know I did. I’m still banging my fists on the Georgian wired glass.

  7. Tom Paterson said,

    January 21, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    While I’m here:

    The Nightmare Years


    Dick cites Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as his primary source.