Daily Archives: Sunday, 10th Oct 2004

The Man in the High Castle

I hadn’t read this Philip K Dick book for many years, until something or other[1] reminded me of it, and I decided to buy it. I found this Penguin Modern Classics edition, which is quite nicely presented and comes with a new introduction by sf writer Eric Brown. Sadly, as is so often the case with “new” editions of older books, the actual text has not been reset, but photographically copied from an earlier edition, so the print quality is not what it might be. It is perfectly legible, though..

The book first saw the light of day in 1962[2], and is set in an alternative present, where Germany and Japan were the victors in World War II. The USA has been divided into three parts – the west occupied by Japan, the east by Germany, with a central neutral section.

We see this world through the eyes of a variety of characters, whose stories intersect. Two common threads are a cult underground novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, set in a world where Germany and Japan lost World War II, and use of the ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching.

This being a PKD novel, there is much strangeness, and a lot to think about, not least on the nature of reality. There is the suggestion that the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is in some way real[3], so what does that make the world that the characters live in? There is no conclusive answer on offer, but that in no way detracts from the book’s power.

Well worth a read.

[1] I can’t remember the trigger…
[2] An excellent year for new arrivals :laugh:
[3] Though, as described, it’s different from our world….

Good, good…

Hmmm, that’s not bad. This morning’s weight was 199.6 pounds (14 stone 3.6 pounds, 90.5kg). Quite acceptable. Now if only I could get back into regular exercise…

Going Postal

Terry Pratchett needs no introduction, of course. He’s been writing books set on the Discworld[1] for over twenty years now, initially broad parodies of heroic fantasy[2], but soon developing into something rather more sophisticated. And funny. Seriously funny. Wordplay, silly names, cultural references and bad jokes that even I wouldn’t try to get away with[3]. He also uses footnotes, which obviously endears him to me even more. Come to think of it, I might have acquired my footnote habit[4] when I spent some time on the alt.fan.pratchett newsgroup some time in the twentieth century.

There are a number of recurring characters and locations in the Discworld books, but this is one of the “one-off” ones that Terry produces now and then. These are quite interesting, as they often let us see characters we’re more used to seeing as viewpoint characters (ie we’re normally “inside their heads”) from the outside. Gives a different perspective, seeing them as minor characters.

The central character is one Moist von Lipwig[5] a con-man, who having been sentenced to death, gets an unexpected slightly later than the last moment reprieve, and is offered a choice of death or running the Ankh-Morpork[6] Post Office. He takes the job. Telling you any more than that would spoil your fun when you read it. A lot happens, and Moist is never the same again…..

[1] Flat disc, sitting on the backs of four rather large elephants, which are carried through space by an ever larger turtle. But don’t let that fool you. While the books include, wizards, witches, trolls, vampires, werewolves, elves, dwarves and many more of the staples of fantasy, for the most part these are just scenery. What Pratchett is really doing is telling stories about us. People.
[2] After reading Pratchett, it would be very hard to read such things as Anne McCaffery’s Dragonflight without giggling. :grin:
[3] In one book, he repeatedly gets close to saying “get me an alligator sandwich, and make it snappy”, but fortuanately the sandwich is delivered before the joke can be completed. It’s funnier that way….
[4] I can give it up any time, honest!
[5] I did mention the names, didn’t I?
[6] Ankh-Morpork is the biggest city on the Discworld. Nice place…

Ghost Light

Yes, it’s another Doctor Who DVD :smile:

This one features Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, with Sophie Aldred as Ace, one of the best ever companions. It was first shown in 1989, as part of the last series before the BBC cancelled the show. It was a shame that they did it then, as the creators were adding new levels of depth and mystery to the character of the Doctor, and were also making Ace into a more rounded, developed character than most of her predecessors.[1]

This story opens with the Tardis materialising in a Victorian house which turns out to have some unusual features. Quite apart from the cultured Neanderthal butler, there’s something nasty in the basement and a connection with Ace’s past (or future[2]). At the time, stories were limited to three episodes rather than the four (or even six) of previous years, which caused soem problems with this compex and densely-written story. It takes a lot of concentration to follow what’s going on at times – but that’s not really a bad thing. As ever, it’s a lot of fun, and McCoy had really got into the role at this point – contrary to my expectations, he became one of the best Doctors.

There’s the usual selection of extra features – the ever-fascinating production text commentary, some deleted scenes, a “making of” documentary, and more. Once again, the soundtrack can be enjoyed in a new 5.1 mix as well as the original.

All in all, another exemplary DVD. If only all archive material could get this kind of treatment….

[1] There was a deliberate policy of not making Ace into another “screamer”, which was definitely a Good Thing
[2] Time travel can get so confusing :rolleyes: