What is the best thing for a Friday afternoon in late August? A movie? A book? A video game? What if you could mix two of them together? What if you could have the narrative structure of a video game in the form of a movie?
Would the audience of 2012 really find prisoners racing around the track in machine-gun-loaded muscle cars entertaining? Would large-breasted co-drivers with little on-air face time really be needed? Would a gay driver really require only male assistants? With the economy in shambles, would there even be an audience willing and able to afford to watch such races? Would over 50 million?
What would you call the person who directed this film? A hack? A genius? An auteur? A man with the goods? How about the person that goes to see this film? Will he get his money’s worth? Or will he be wishing afterwards that he could get that 89 minutes and $6 matinee ticket price back?
"Like morphine it all depended upon proper measurements."
Among the novels I would suggest Pringle’s list mistakenly overlooks is Walter Tevis’ masterpiece from 1963, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Tevis (1928-1984) had a rocky childhood and stint in the Navy behind him when he started seeing steady publication in the 1950s. His first works were pool hall tales, including his first novel The Hustler, which was of course the basis of the 1961 Paul Newman-Jackie Gleason picture. TMWFTE was his second novel and also the source material for a film (and a tv adaptation, as well as a forthcoming Broadway musical and second movie).
The novel centers around the seemingly effete Thomas Jerome Newton, a distant traveler who has been sent to Earth to establish an intergalactic ferry to bring the few remaining inhabitants of his home planet, Anthea, here for resettlement. Anthea was ravaged by radioactive war. Of the three intelligent species that once inhabited the planet, only one remains. And of them, there are only about three hundred survivors. Not only do the Antheans wish to settle on Earth, but they also hope to socially engineer human society away from atomic suicide, such as Anthea suffered.
Newton has a few obstacles in his way. One, he doesn’t surround himself with the soundest company, including his main companion, a rube named Betty Jo who introduces him to gin and who witlessly pines for his foreign physiology.
“She began to feel a touch of wicked excitement in her from flirting at the edge of the idea of that strange, delicate body against hers. Looking at him and letting her imagination play with the thought, she knew that the particular thrill came from his strangeness–his strange, unmanlike, unsexual nature. Maybe she was like those women who like to make love with freaks and cripples. Well, he was both–and she did not care now, was not ashamed, with the tight pants on and the gin in her. If she could arouse him–if he could be aroused–she would be proud of herself. And if not–he was a dear man anyway and he wouldn’t be offended."
His main source of income is a series of radically advanced patents—self-developing film, powderless toy caps—that raise the suspicion of at least one scientist, as well as the CIA and FBI. And he has a penchant for taking unnecessary chances, like leaving the “lifeboat” spacecraft he arrived in on an open area of a farmer’s field.
But this is perhaps understandable. Newton’s sole interaction with human culture before arriving is the radio and television waves drifting through space. And Tevis nails the otherworldliness of this strange creature. Newton suffers physically and emotionally. He takes on some human traits, while utterly rejecting others. Mostly he’s just vulnerable. He’s left his family and life behind for a dicey gamble at Anthean survival. Physically, he’s like glass. He incessantly pops pills to keep going and nearly breaks his birdlike bones every time he rides in an elevator or fast-moving car. But he can be alternately patronizing and vicious. On living with humans: “Think of living with the monkeys for six years. Or think of living with the insects, of living with the shiny, busy, mindless ants."
The ending? Well, it’s devastating. This isn’t E.T., Mr. Spielberg.
I'm behind the times, a serious late bloomer. My current obsession with the album More Songs About Buildings and Food proves it. I’m thirty years out of date! David Byrne, the musical genius behind that album, however, isn’t. Byrne was a bicycling fool well before I had training wheels and US cities starting seriously integrating bike transportation routes into urban planning (though many still don’t!). Byrne’s latest scheme was working with the Department of Transportation in New York, running a design contest for bike racks as functional art. The seriously wonderful trouble was that Byrne got so worked up by the contest that he submitted his own designs--thus compromising his role as a judge. But hey, it’s all for a good cause. And who else would think of putting up a bike rack on Wall Street that’s in the shape of a dollar sign?
Byrne also regularly blogs about his daily bike trips (and his various other interests) and the wonderful things one can see from the slow road. And I second the possibilities. Just yesterday, I saw a flock of Horned Larks hanging out near a cornfield and several Eastern Tiger Swallowtails fly past me while I took a leisurely trip along some rural Indiana highways. Sure misses from the inside of an air-conditioned gas monster. But I digress...
My journeyman life of wealth and fame began in the Hoosier State (we’re proud of it, folks), and my codes have read IN, MO, PA, A-Wien. Currently, I’m installing cybernetic implants to improve my vision, hearing, and memory. That’s of course when I’m not shapeshifting and taking the form of a grizzled brown bear in the timber forests of Southwest City. All of this is made possible by my very useful and lucrative M.A. in Comparative Religion (I highly recommend graduate school to everyone). But that’s enough about me…who the heck are you?
I’ve been looking for direction in life too long. Here, there, here, there, especially with reading. So I’ve turned to editor/theorist/critic David Pringle as a guide. In the mid-80s, Pringle released a series of essays in book form called “Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984.” Following Pringle’s book, which starts with “1984” and ends with “Neuromancer,” I’m reading every title in chronological order.
The bicycle is the perfect form of transportation. It’s clean, easy, and fun. It’s also the most efficient form of transportation. I believe in efficiency. One day, there will be bicycle boulevards in St. Louis. I hope I live to see that day. Until then, I will settle for the meager trails and bike lanes the city currently has to offer.
I believe in St. Louis. It has the infrastructure in place to once again be a major city in the United States. It already has wonderful people, delicious restaurants, and my wife...so I suppose I won’t be leaving anytime soon.