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Friday, January 31, 2020

Comic Cuts - 31 January 2020

I've put in a fairly solid week of work on the Rocket index, writing up the backgrounds of many of the reprints and digging up what I can on their creators. Some are big name strips that will be recognised by most – Flash Gordon, for instance – but others are far more obscure, such as the two Dutch reprints carried by the paper.

I'm taking a break writing about the last of the original British strips in order to put together this column and thinking back on the week. There haven't been too many distractions – a visit from a chap named George who wanted some advice on the book he is writing, and a trip down to the doctor for another blood test are all I have on the calendar.

The latter is due to elevated levels of sugar in my last blood test, which was done because the previous blood test had shown a low level of HDL cholesterol. Well, the latter didn't get a mention this time, so seems to have sorted itself out. I'm sure the blood-glucose measurement is probably also an aberration – it just happened to be high that morning when they did the test – but I'd rather keep an eye on it than ignore it. We shall see what happens when I go for a review at the tail-end of next month.

This comes at a time when I'm feeling rather chuffed about losing some weight. I lost half a stone last year and hope to do at least the same this year. I've already lost the couple of pounds I put on over Christmas, and a couple more, so the slightly brisker walks and a bit of time on an exercise bike seems to be paying off.

I said last week that my tablet had died following an attempted Windows update. Well, the good news is... it's alive! Playing around with the USB stick I had been using as an external hard drive to the tablet, I discovered that it locked itself into a safety mode: I could read files but could not write or delete anything. Following this up, I found that ScanDisk's advice was simply that there was no way to unlock it as it entered that mode when it detected potential problems or damage.

I spent a very satisfying few minutes taking a hefty rock to it to make it unreadable before throwing it away.

But before that I was able to copy off the temporary files and folders associated with the Windows update onto another drive, and plugging that in to the tablet caused it to reboot and revert back to its previous pre-update mode. It seems to be working fine and I've subsequently bought a micro SD card to make sure that it has plenty of free space in the future. And a new USB stick.

We're about to take a look at The Man in the High Castle. The review is full of spoilers, so hop to the end of the column if you don't like that kind of thing.

And so it ends. One of my favourite TV shows of the past few years finishes with season four and does so in style. Although based on the Philip K. Dick novel, The Man in the High Castle has moved far beyond the hints of alternate realities offered by the book and made the slipping between worlds of Julianna and the portal created by the German Reich to breach another parallel world central to these last two seasons.

The premise of the novel—what if the Axis powers had won the Second World War and now controlled a divided America—is still central to the storylines of all the characters. A new resistance has grown in Japanese-controlled Pacific States, the Black Communist Rebellion (BCR). The resistance against the Reich, who control the Eastern territories, is being battered and losing ground. They need more weapons and their leader, Wyatt, does a deal with the BCR: weapons for aid in an attack on leading Japanese figures.

The attack is only a partial success, leading to swift reprisals. During the attack, Robert Childan, an antique store owner who has adopted a Japanese lifestyle and ingratiated himself with the Crown Princess, is snatched by the BCR and offers to help, informing the BCR leaders that the Princess is pressing for the Japanese to withdraw from America to concentrate their forces in Manchuria.

Reichsmarshall John Smith is still obsessed with Juliana Crain, who transported herself to another dimension just as Smith shot her at the end of season three. She now works as an aikido teacher, teaching (amongst others) Smith's son, Thomas, who has survived in this dimension. His father (alt-Smith, for want of a better way of avoiding confusion) is a mild-mannered salesman who ends up dead when a Nazi agent travels from the Reich to kill Juliana and to spy on Thomas and pass back news to the Reichmarshall.

Juliana decides that there is no alternative but to kill the Reichmarshall.

Meanwhile, the BCR decide that they need to make a bold move to prove they are not a broken force. They decide to attack the oil supplies the Japanese desperately need to maintain their armies in China. They manage to pull off a major coup, forcing the Emperor to announce a withdrawal from the US. But while the BCR celebrate, John Smith sees this as an opportunity to unite the whole of America under one flag—the swastika.

While this is the broad outline of the show, its strength has been its characters and their personal lives. John Smith is torn and desperately trying to balance two lives: in one he has his two daughters, one of whom reviles the life she is forced into in the Reich and wants to escape to the Neutral Zone; in the other he has his beloved son, who wants to join up to fight in Vietnam.

In the Pacific States, Inspector Kido cautiously investigates the murder of Trade Minister Tagomi, knowing that there is a conspiracy to scapegoat an innocent man and close down the case. He, too, is having problems with his son, who uses opium to blot out the memories of his past actions.

And then there's Robert Childan, a selfish and slippery man who falls in love with the Japanese way and a Japanese woman. Just when you think he might have redeemed himself and is given a chance to make a new life...

What of Helen? John Smith's wife is forced back to the Reich. As she desperately tries to integrate back into society, she is treated with suspicion and no little contempt. She suspects her husband is having an affair but then learns about the alt-dimension and her husband's trips there. Will she help Juliana thwart Smith's plans to become Reichsführer of an autonomous North American Reich?

OK, so these are major spoilers if you haven't begun watching the show yet, but I wanted to emphasise that The Man in the High Castle is so much more than just an alternative history. Yes, its world-building has been impressive, but equally so has its character building and its development of multiple storylines  that have woven together into an immensely satisfying whole. Thankfully, as Amazon is a streaming service, you should easily be able to get all forty episodes for the foreseeable future and given how easy it is to accidentally sign up for Amazon Prime, you might find yourself with a free pass to watch the whole lot before you cancel your subscription.

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