20 best sci-fi TV shows that aren’t Star Trek

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18. The Man in the High Castle

Alternate history has held people’s attention for many years. It’s certainly a compelling concept: take an event in human history, one that appears either major or minor, and change a few of the details. It’s a compelling way of looking at our own history and wondering how so many large things can come out of something as seemingly small as a vote or a chance encounter.

As you might expect, much of alternate-history fiction tends to focus on the Second World War. It’s a big conflict, chock full of historic votes and accords, of people who made or could have made a real difference. World War II is also still within living memory for many people, though that’s a steadily declining number. That sort of quasi-immediacy, combined with just enough distance for others, makes this era a prime target.

When you go looking for alternate history, one of the first stops must be The Man in the High Castle. This story began life as a Philip K. Dick novel, published in 1962. It later premiered as an original Amazon series in January 2015. Since that premiere, The Man in the High Castle has received much critical praise, becoming one of Amazon’s most successful original programs.

The show follows five main characters: Juliana Crain, Frank Frink, Joe Blake, John Smith, and Nobusuke Tagomi. They all live in 1962 in a world where the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan, and Italy) have won World War II. The former United States is now split, with much of the eastern half of the country controlled by Nazi Germany. The western half is now the Japanese Pacific States. In between lies a neutral zone, covering much of the Rocky Mountains.

Juliana becomes involved with a strange conspiracy when her half-sister, Trudy, hands her a film reel and is killed shortly thereafter. The film, titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, contains a strange newsreel that shows victorious Allied powers and a defeated Germany and Japan. Her boyfriend, Frank, wants her to forget it all. Juliana, however, can’t help herself and follows Trudy’s planned path to Canon City, Colorado, in the neutral zone.

She encounters Joe Blake, seemingly a resistance member who proves to have a complicated past. Can she trust him? Is he associated with the mysterious “Man in the High Castle,” who is collecting these films? And where, exactly, are all of these film reels coming from?