October 6, 2007

“From the author of Minority Report”

Filed under: philip k. dick — Tags: , — ubikcan @ 10:29 am

“From the author of Minority Report” (trailer tag line advertising the movie Next, with Nicholas Cage). Hnuh? Philip K. Dick has written another movie?

I had to laugh. When I was a kid I was really into the sf of E.E. “Doc” Smith (hey! no snickers in the back). I read all through his “Lensman” series, which is all about some epic and eons-long battle between two opposing forces (good and evil) that characterizes the total history of the universe. Using selective breeding and genetic engineering, the good guys (uh?) produce a highly evolved strain of humans who they secretly wish to enlist in their battle with the bad guys. Then I read the Skylark series and the evocative Family D’Alembert series.

Then I realised.

The books, which to my teenage eyes were newly coming out, were in fact old books (Smith had died in 1965!). They weren’t the best and most cutting that sf had to offer!

But, but, what about the covers? Anyone can see this is the True Stuff.

What’s more, and this was the real kick in the teeth, most of the books I was reading weren’t even by Doc Smith but some guy called Stephen Goldin!

I’d been duped. Sure, maybe I should have realized that when the books started saying E.E. Doc Smith “with” Stephen Goldin, but for all I knew Goldin was Doc Smith’s valet. In fact Goldin wrote the whole thing out of whole cloth.

Talk about a mind-expanding experience, this was a real entry into cynical exploitation of…well, of 14 year olds.

Here’s some classic Doc Smith. It’s scene from Triplanetary, where our fearless heroes (and one nubile, flashing-eyed, heaving-bosomed young woman) meet the enemy and learn his dreadful name…

Seated impassively at the desk there was a gray man. Not only was he dressed entirely in gray, but his heavy hair was gray, his eyes were gray, and even his tanned skin seemed to give the impression of grayness in disguise. His overwhelming personality radiated an aura of grayness–not the gentle gray of the dove, but the resistless, driving gray of the super-dreadnaught; the hard, inflexible, brittle gray of the fracture of high-carbon steel.

“Captain Bradley, First Officer Costigan, Miss Marsden,” the man spoke quietly, but crisply. “I had not intended you two men to live so long. That is a detail, however, which we will pass by for the moment. You may remove your suits.”

Neither officer moved, but both stared back at the speaker unflinchingly.

“I am not accustomed to repeating instructions,” the man at the desk continued; voice still low and level, but instinct with deadly menace. “You may choose between removing those suits and dying in them, here and now.”

Costigan moved over to Clio and slowly took off her armor. Then, after a flashing exchange of glances and a muttered word, the two officers threw off their suits simultaneously and fired at the same instant; Bradley with his Lewiston, Costigan with a heavy automatic pistol whose bullets were explosive shells of tremendous power. But the man in gray, surrounded by an impenetrable wall of force, only smiled at the fusillade, tolerantly and maddeningly. Costigan leaped fiercely, only to be hurled backward as he struck that unyielding, invisible wall. A vicious beam snapped him back into place, the weapons were snatched away, and all three captives were held in their former positions.

“I permitted that, as a demonstration of futility,” the gray man said, his hard voice becoming harder, “but I will permit no more foolishness. Now I will introduce myself. I am known as Roger…”

Arg, no! Not… Roger! Run away, run away!

So to return to the Philip K. Dick connection, it was in this personal context that I laughed at the ad for Next, given of course that PKD died in 1982 and notwithstanding that Next, which is based on a short story called the Golden Man, is nothing like the original. You could pretty much say the same about Minority Report (although I liked that movie anyway for its surveillant aspects).
So we get this well-known effect that PKD’s novels and stories continue to provide only the inspiration for Hollywood movies (with the recent exception of Scanner Darkly perhaps). Even Ridley Scott noted recently that he couldn’t read the original novel for Bladerunner and his movie is totally freshly developed.


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