Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

  • THE BOOK
    • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
    • Published 1962 and winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel
    • Other works by author include: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Scanner Darkly, several other novels and many short stories
      • "Blade Runner", "Total Recall", and "Minority Report" are among the several works adapted for films.

  • THE PREMISE
    • The story is an alternate history where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II. In this world Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933 just weeks before he became president creating a different timeline. Thus history occurs differently in regards to America's involvement in World War II.
      • Imperial Japan invades the West Coast and Nazi Germany invades the East Coast. The war ends in 1947 after Nazi Germany drops an atomic bomb on Washington D.C.
    • The story itself takes place in 1962 (the year of publication) and takes place in the Japanese-occupied Pacific States of America, specifically San Francisco, and part in the Mountain States buffer zone between the two powers.
    • The book does not really have a plot per se, but it has a few characters who interact with each other and most people are reading a banned book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy which depicts a world where the Allies beat Nazi Germany & Imperial Japan in World War II, similar to ours but not quite the same.
    • A couple of characters meet up and start looking for the author of the book, the titular Man in the High Castle.
    • There is a character who seems able to move among the various alternate histories.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I watched the Amazon Prime series based on the book and LOVED it. There will be a third season later this year. I highly recommend it.
      • Rufus Sewell, most recently seen as Lord Melbourne in the PBS series "Victoria", plays an American Nazi officer (Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith!). He is my new TV boyfriend.
      • None of the Obergruppenfuhrer's plot is included in the book; he is a creation for the TV show. He has a whole family and Muscular Dystrophy factors into his plot.
      • The TV show has a detailed, interwoven plot, with many book characters interacting together and takes place in San Francisco, New York City, Berlin, and a small town in Colorado. There are several added Japanese characters too.
      • The world-building is phenomenal. You alternately find yourself appalled at the actions of the villains and then you are actively rooting for them to survive and succeed. John Smith is alternately a Nazi and a family man. 
        • Hitler, Himmler, and all their pals are still alive in the TV series and book but all up in age. The Nazis have nuclear weapons --- and have used them --- and rocket technology.
      • The science fiction portion, whereby characters move among multiple realities, is more pronounced in the TV series. In the book, however, the Nazis have started exploring and colonizing the solar system.
      • The show is extremely well cast. Standouts include actors Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who plays Mr. Tagomi, Brennan Brown who plays Robert Childan, Chelah Horsdal who plays Helen Smith and Joel de la Fuente who plays Inspector Kido. And Rufus Sewell, of course. But Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans and all the rest are very good too.
      • It has the creepiest version of "Edelweiss" run over the opening credits. Google "Jeanette Olsson Edelweiss" to hear it yourself.
        • I read somewhere that the song "Edelweiss", written for "The Sound of Music", would not have existed in this reality because there would have been no Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about an escape from the Nazis!
    • As for the book, it is more a philosophical experience than a rollicking adventure like the TV series. Here is an interesting quote about it from The Religion of Science Fiction (published in 1986) by Frederick A. Kreuziger:
      • "Neither of the two worlds, however, the revised version of the outcome of WWII nor the fictional account of our present world, is anywhere near similar to the world we are familiar with. But they could be! This is what the book is about. The book argues that this world, described twice, although differently each time, is exactly the world we know and are familiar with. Indeed, it is the only world we know: the world of chance, luck, fate."
      • The book introduces a handful of the same characters depicted in the TV show and you delve deeper into their thoughts as they go through their lives without a lot of crossover with other characters.
      • Many book characters use the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text of fortune telling. Even the author used it to determine the direction of his characters.
    • It's worth a read if you want have a sci-fi classic under your belt. It's beautifully written but not heavily science fiction-y.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Journey Through Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb

  • THE BOOK
    • A Journey Through Tudor England: Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London to Stratford-upon-Avon and Thornbury Castle by Suzannah Lipscomb
      • Known as A Visitor's Companion to Tudor England in Great Britain
    • March 15, 2012
    • Other works by author include: 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, Tudors: The Illustrated History and Six Queens: The Wives of Henry VIII

  • THE PREMISE
    • A tour of the various places associated with the Tudor monarchs: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.
    • The book is arranged geographically by area in England.
    • In each section, most of which are only 4 to 5 pages long, the place is described and a story of a Tudor personage (Shakespeare, Henry VIII's wives, Jane Grey, etc...) is covered. The author also catalogs the various pieces of art located at each place.
    • Many places from the Tudor world have been destroyed by time or progress and these merit mentions as well, sometimes only as ruins.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • A fun, quick read but one I spent constantly stopping and searching for photographs of things on my tablet because the book has no illustrations aside from those in chapter headings.
      • When the author is describing a painting of Queen Elizabeth, say, or the paneling at a castle, it really helps if you can look at them rather than just reading a description. This is one of the best things about the Internet.
      • I would assume that getting rights to all the necessary photographs as well as the increased cost to print the book kept this from being an illustrated volume. It is the one thing that really detracts from the book.
    • I am a big Tudor history buff so I knew a lot of the information on offer. 
    • I think this would be a great book to have with you while traveling around England. If you wanted to map out a visit or learn where to find the hidden gems at each place I would recommend reading the appropriate section before each visit.
    • I saw the author on a recent PBS showing of her "Hidden Killers" series (of the Tudor home, the Victorian home, the Edwardian home and the post-war home - your toys, food, gadgets, clothes and so forth can KILL YOU!) which were really interesting. She is a historian whose specialty is the Tudor period.
    • Recommended for fans of English history.
    • ★ ★ ★

Friday, March 3, 2017

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

  • THE BOOK
    • Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens
    • Published April 21, 2015
    • Originally published in Great Britain as Murder Most Unladylike
    • Book 1 in the Wells & Wong series
      • In Great Britain it is Book 1 in the Murder Most Unladylike series
    • First book by author. Other Wells & Wong book titles include:
      • Poison is Not Polite (or Arsenic for Tea in GB)
      • First Class Murder
      • Jolly Foul Play
      • Mistletoe & Murder

  • THE PREMISE
    • The first book in a new mystery series aimed at young teens, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up a secret detective agency in their posh boarding school in 1934 England.
    • A teacher is found dead by Hazel but when she runs off to get help from Daisy the body disappears. The two girls, who are 13 years old, decide to keep it quiet and solve the mystery.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • Oh, how I wanted to adore this book! But I just couldn't because I loathed the character of Daisy. 
    • Hazel is ethnically Chinese, originally from Hong Kong, and is attending boarding school in England because her dad is an Anglophile who also went to school in England. Daisy is the aristocratic, popular girl in class who befriends Hazel. She is, of course, blue-eyed and blonde with a perfect figure. Hazel feels fat and unattractive near her.
    • It is hinted that Daisy has a dark secret which Hazel knows, and this is what somehow bonds the girls. Daisy is such an arrogant person and you wait for this shocking secret to come out because then maybe it might explain her actions in some way.
      • I am going to SPOIL the secret because it irritates me too much to play coy:
        • Daisy is secretly brilliant but hides it so as not to come off as a bluestocking.
        • GASP.
        • Oh please, she's already got blue eyes, perfect blonde hair and I think she even has a title (The Honorable Daisy Wells. Her deep, dark secret is she's TOO SMART.
          • Hazel is also brilliant and advised by Daisy to hide it just like she does. This is what we want girls reading about, right? How you should hide your intelligence because other people won't like you if you flaunt it.
            • Yeah, yeah, it takes place in the 1930s but I faced this same shit in the 1970s and 1980s and I AM OVER IT!
    • Hazel often compares herself negatively to perfect Daisy. This is another thing that needs to go by the wayside: blonde is not greater than dark hair and we certainly don't need more "thinner is better" characters in this modern age.
    • Anyway, Hazel narrates the story and she is the subservient Dr. Watson to Daisy's Sherlock Holmes. Naturally Daisy is always in charge. She treats Hazel like crap most of the time. Hazel takes it without complaint.
    • The murder mystery is interesting enough but since almost all of the suspects are the adults we don't really get to know them very well until the rush of the ending. 
      • It makes sense because Hazel is telling the story and she has very small interactions with the teachers overall. 
      • Classroom demeanor doesn't necessarily tell you anything about the teachers' private lives.
    • For those who want to know, there are some minor sexual references.
      • A closet is casually pointed out as a place which some of the girls use as a make-out place (it's an all-girls school) and some of their fellow students have "pashes" (aka crushes) on each other.
      • Two of the teachers share a two-bedroom apartment --- nothing scandalous there --- but they have a SPARE ROOM. This is not a bad thing but it seems odd that everyone in school knows about it in 1930s England, no?
    • There are 5 books in the series so far but only the first two have been published in the United States. I will not go further even though my library has the second book. I imagine Daisy gets nicer as the series moves on? I will need to live without knowing for sure.
    • Recommended for middle schoolers and above, especially those who like mysteries. I know there must be many people who can overlook my issues with the story and characters and really enjoy the book.
    • ★ ★