Logan’s Run And The Story DNA Hollywood Needs

Logan's Run

So I re-watched Logan’s Run the other day, for the bajillionth time. I’ve got a serious thing for the uber-creative science fiction material that came out of Hollywood in the seventies and early eighties. Can’t help it. Don’t care what the FX look like, I just appreciate that so much of it was out of absolutely nowhere with the ideas and trappings. Then like any compulsive nut who can’t let things go, I started re-reading the books – the trilogy by William F. Nolan (George Clayton Johnson helped out with the first book). It got me thinking about crappy Hollywood remakes, the Music Genome Project, and a skill that writers (and money jockeys in Hollywood) could use to make the world a better place. Please allow me to expand on that.

I’m gonna go ahead and spoil all the story stuff for you here – if you don’t know what Logan’s Run is, I’m pretty jealous. Go watch that and read them and buy the lifeclock and Sandman shirt off eBay or something, then get back to me with pics of you wandering around Houston or Dallas or somewhere looking for where they shot the scenes.

The movie version: “A 1976 American science fiction film starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter. It depicts a utopian future society on the surface, revealed as a dystopia where the population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by killing everyone who reaches the age of 30. The story follows the actions of Logan 5, a ‘Sandman’ who has terminated others who have attempted to escape death, and is now faced with termination himself.” -Wikipedia

There’s a domed city where people are pleasure-chasing sheep, watched over by paramilitary Sandmen in very cool uniforms who chase and eliminate the runners that don’t believe ‘Carrousel’ (their spelling, not mine) is the reincarnation they’re told it is. Logan discovers an ankh on a dead runner, which draws him into the underground network of runners and eventually in love with one of them and all that sort of thing. For me, it hits all sorts of highlights:

  1. Tough-guy gunslingers, with a buddy story
  2. Gorgeous and mysterious woman involved in intrigue
  3. Domed freaking city with futuristic technology and weird backstory
  4. Authoritarian shadow-government slamming down an unfair ultimatum on the hero with no recourse for him
  5. Cool scenery and high-stakes chase down into the ever-deepening mystery
  6. Post-apocalypse reveal, with burned-out cities

The folks at the Music Genome Project boil songs down to basic elements to allow for comparing and recommending them. Paul Hardcastle’s slow jazz song ‘Lost Summer’, for example, might include:

  • Smooth jazz elements
  • R&B and funk influences
  • Synthetic instrumentation and a melodic alto sax solo
  • Use of call-and-response melodies
  • A groove-oriented approach

Maybe if they were to strip down the Logan’s Run film, it would include some things off my list, or maybe things more basic like:

  1. Rebellion against authority theme
  2. Intrigue and inclusion of underground resistance
  3. Youth versus establishment theme

I imagine when these books first hit, the culture was ready for something that pushed these buttons. That’s kind of my point about crappy Hollywood remakes – that the buttons aren’t bothered to be identified or adhered to. The point is missed. If you read any articles about people wanting to remake this movie, they just want to make Logan a girl or stick some odd bits in that have no purpose other than spectacle. Of course, that goes way back. In Nolan’s introduction to the books, he said this of a meeting with a screenwriter in 1968:

“I recall a lunch with Maibaum in Beverly Hills shortly after the option had been picked up. He was already into the script and full of what I felt were bad ideas, none of which existed in the original novel.

‘There’s this giant surfing god on the shores of Hawaii’, he told me. ‘Big, bronzed guy about ninety feet high. We have all these young studs on flying surfboards fighting like crazy, zooming through the air around their god, ripping each other apart…just think of it as James Bond in Tomorrowland.'”

I mean – what?

The Kevin Feige-era Marvel movies got the tone right, I think, possibly a reason for the ridiculous amount of cash they’re pulling in. A little humor, some spectacle, cool rules like ‘the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets’ and the idea that no one unworthy can lift Thor’s hammer. I remember when I was a kid reading those comics how fantastic I thought it was that all those guys knew each other, that Peter Parker hung out with Johnny Storm and asked Matt Murdock for advice sometimes, and occasionally had uncomfortable conversations with Wolverine in a bar. So Marvel hit those buttons, triggering nostalgia, sure, but also the same chemistry I liked so much when I was a kid.

The idea that prompted me to sit for a while and jot this down for you is this:

What would happen if aspiring wordslingers like myself got really, really good at boiling down the STORY DNA of things, to the point that we know them instinctively when we see them, and could even read what the people are hungry for us to push?

Wouldn’t you say buttons like these would be timely:

  • Distrust of authority and government
  • Nostalgia for the feeling of freedom like a bike in summertime
  • Clear, decisive, and upright moral leadership without the taint of scandal
  • Inspirational stories of disparate people coming together for something bigger than themselves

I don’t know – what buttons do you see waiting out there?

Maybe we need a Literary Genome Project: a society of trusted book reviewers in all major genres and a set of agreed-upon themes and tropes that could be applied like the music folks are doing. Movie-makers could use it as a way of lowering their risk for untested concepts, by knowing what themes need to appear in the movie to avoid disappointing the intended audience. Authors could use it to replicate the feel of the works that inspired them without ripping them off.

Anyway, that’s a shower thought – probably only good while the water’s running. Let me know what you think!





Books We Put Down (And Why)


I know, man. Gene Wolfe is supposed to be amazing. People that dig his stuff go on and on about that. The Book Of The New Sun was supposedly voted the greatest fantasy of all time after Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Whatever. I’ve tried three separate times to read it. Three times, man. I suppose I’m not smart enough to see the big deal. Anyway, after I tried to read a book by Felix Gilman called Thunderer, it got me thinking about books that look amazing but turn out to be fizzlers.

So I asked around. It can’t just be me that this happens to. And it happens to me a lot. I’m a little too hard on my literary entertainment. If I get a few pages in and there’s too much rambling, inane dialogue, or I see no sign of whatever hook drew me in, I’m bailing. Anyway, I got some answers as I posted or chatted about this very point that formed a pattern. Thought I’d let you in on that.

The Gilman book I mentioned said this in the description:

“Gilman takes his readers on a journey through a world of deep and wondrous impossibilities where marvels lurk around every corner. His infinite city and the lives of its people quickly become an irresistible compulsion— I imagine an evening where Dickens, Miyazaki, and Jules Verne sat down to dream up a metropolis and its wrangling multitudes. Thunderer will leave you wide eyed, breathless and hoping for more.”—David Keck, author of In the Eye of Heaven

Let’s break down what caught my attention, because the cover was an embarrassment. (Go look for yourself, I’m not posting that nonsense here.) The quote describes a teeming city, mentions Dickens (always certain to catch my eye) and the genius from Studio Ghibli behind the greatest anime ever made. I love interesting fantasy cities. One reviewer mentioned it reminded him of Jorge Luis Borges. Here’s the point: because of the reviews and cover description, I was hoping for a city with a supernatural twist to it, with some intriguing imagery, and a storyline- any storyline – that took that idea to some kind of fulfillment. I mean, I couldn’t even have told you when I started reading it what the jacket said that story was going to be. I was just trusting it would fulfill the promise of those influences I’d been promised.

Unfortunately, it’s a boring, dreary, rambling incoherent mess with plain-Jane characters and dull ideas ripped from a cosplay convention. I stuck it out just because, which is very unusual for me.

What I heard from a lot of folks I asked about this – books they had to put down – was that there was in fact a hook that caught their eyes, but they just didn’t deliver on it. Evan at From The Wastes said for him it was Dante’s Inferno, which is why I included that picture on this post. A city in hell is a firecracker of an idea; but if that’s why you’re planning to read Dante, you’re going to be disappointed.

Several folks named bestsellers like Girl On A Train or Gone Girl. The pattern I heard from them was similar – with a bestseller thriller you have specific things you expect to see; and the bestseller apparatus should assure that. Here’s what some folks said:

“I want the book to grab me with characters and plot immediately”

“I need movement and plot…and make them interesting”

“Didn’t get into the plot. Didn’t move along. Just blah blah blah scenery and description”

“Someone said it gets better after the fifth chapter. WTF! I have to wait five chapters!?”

You get the pattern, right? I suppose writers should face the fact that within a few pages, most readers have decided whether they’re pressing ahead or not. Look, most editorial reviews on Amazon are paid for. When other authors are quoted, they’re just doing drudge work their publisher is requiring of them.

Leo Tolstoy said, “There is no greatness where there is no simplicity” I suppose as writers we ought to listen to him and to our own experiences with books we’ve put down. Pick one where it happened to you and cypher out what it was that drew you in to begin with, and how the book failed to deliver. My guess is the author overcomplicated a cool idea and decorated it with a bunch of style and ambience. That’s ironic if true, because all the reader ever wanted was to just see the cool idea in its simplicity.

Get back to me with your own experiences or thoughts. I’m curious what you’re putting down and why!