| | |


Review © 1998 T. M. Wagner.
Book cover art © 1976 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


Since this novel was out of print until early 2001, its existence thoroughly usurped by the 1976 film, it has become a fascinating subject for rediscovery. Though it is of course interesting to compare novel to film, noting where plot points deviate (yeah, the book is better), the most intriguing thing to note about the novel is how it was very clearly a product of its time in a way that the film simply could not communicate.

The premise was inspired directly by the social upheavals, particularly the youth demonstrations, going on at its time of publication. Panic about an overpopulated earth, war and unrest, and a general revolt against the old (establishment) by the young lands the Earth in a situation where by the end of the 20th century, the entire world is governed by an enormous computer called Thinker and human lifespans are restricted to 21 years (not 30 as in the film). The palms of people's hands are implanted with a crystal that ticks away the years of your life; when the palmflower blinks red and black, you have reached Lastday, your 21st birthday, at which time you are obliged to turn yourself in to a Sleepshop to be gently euthanized. (The concepts of "Carousel" and life renewal were created for the film.)

However, not everyone is quite willing to go gently into that good night, and so Runners — people who seek to live past their alloted span — are mercilessly hunted down by DS Operatives, or Sandmen. Logan 3 is a Sandman who reaches his own Lastday on the same day he tracks down a Runner who utters the cryptic word "Sanctuary" before he's killed. Sanctuary has long been rumored to be a safe haven for Runners. Deciding that he would like to die a hero (in the film, he is unwittingly sent undercover by the computer), Logan elects to spend his Lastday locating and destroying Sanctuary. Following a trail of clues, he eventually meets the dead Runner's sister, Jessica 6, and the two of them follow a maze literally all over the continental US (and sometimes out of it) looking for Sanctuary and its mysterious leader, a man named Ballard who is said to be over forty.

The first half of the novel contains many scenes that were played out very faithfully in the film, often right down to exact dialogue (including, amusingly enough, Farrah Fawcett's famous whisper "I like dark hair."). But even in these early scenes, the action is more breathless and exciting (and intensely violent), and Logan himself is a more temperamental character, wracked by angst and inner turmoil in a way Michael York's charming performance never conveyed. Indeed, Logan in the novel adheres very closely to the antihero archetype, motivated entirely by self-interest rather than altruism, his nobility only shining through late in the tale once enough chinks have cracked his armor.

The film disposed of the novel's second half entirely, favoring the Hollywoodishly uplifting treacle concerning the jocular old man played so lovably by Peter Ustinov, living in the US Capital bulding. In the novel, the story's pace becomes even more intense, with Logan and Jessica never more than a hair's breadth away from doom, and with Logan battling his own inner demons almost right up to the end. There's no Peter Ustinov. But what there is is a hell of an SF actioner that holds up 30 years later. True, there are a couple of later scenes that I can understand the filmmakers deleting (one sequence in which Logan and Jessica evade capture by blending into, of all things, a full scale life-sized recreation of a Civil War battle played out by androids is just one of those "what were they smoking when they wrote that?" moments). And it is true that the novel's ending requires just a bit more suspension of disbelief than it has any right to. But overall, this original version of the story is darker, leaner, meaner, and gives you quite a Run for your money.

Following the success of the film, Nolan penned two sequels, but unlike Star Wars, by the end of the '70's Logan had dropped off the pop culture map. His fortunes might be reversed in the 21st century, however, if a planned remake of the film comes off.