Monday, February 1, 2016
Logan’s Run Original Novel Review and *SPOILERS* - Just For the Hell Of It Mondays
Written By: William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
Originally Published: 1967
*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*
Welcome to the wonderful, futuristic world of 2116, where you don’t need to work and you can dedicate yourself to hedonistic pleasures; where nearly every place on earth is quickly accessible via a network of human-sized pneumatic tubes; where everything is controlled by a computer intelligence, named The Thinker, that ensures the continuation of mankind. And all you need to do to keep this happy society puttering along is agree to be exterminated at age twenty-one. Don’t agree? Well then you’re a Runner, and you will be hunted by a Sandman who will shoot you with a Tracer. Makes sense, right? No? Well then you must never have read the science fiction novel Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson! Sure, you might have heard of the movie—perhaps you’ve even seen it—but not everyone knows and fewer people care that it was based on a novel that came out nine years prior. Well, I read the book, and then I wrote a review about it, and you can see it if you read on!
This is the first in a five-part series that will be running every Monday this month for Just For the Hell Of It Mondays. I’ll be examining each version of Logan’s Run—the novel, the movie, the Marvel comic book adaptation of the movie, the television show, and the Malibu Comics adaptation of the novel. I first came to this story via the movie, so it’s likely that will be the baseline upon which I base my judgments of the other works, but I will do my best to appreciate each on its own merits and give an honest assessment of every one.
The novel Logan’s Run is set in the dystopian future of 2116. Dwindling resources along with an exponentially increasing youth population led to the Little War in 2000, a war between the young and old where anyone over the age of twenty-one was executed. Those approaching the age of twenty-one voluntarily elected for execution, known as Sleep in the popular parlance. This was a common theme in science fiction from the late 1960s and early 1970s—the camp movie Gas-s-s-s (or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World In Order to Save It) leaps to mind—and was doubtlessly a reaction to the glut of Baby Boomer children reaching young adulthood and becoming disconcertingly autonomous. To ensure everyone sticks to the early death plan, each infant is fitted with a Lifeclock, a radioactive crystal embedded in everyone’s right palm. It changes color over the span of their lives until it blinks red and black on Lastday (their twenty-first birthday) and then turns completely black, at which time the person in question is to volunteer for Sleep. Seems like a simple system, right?
Unbelievably, some people don’t feel like dying four years before they can legally rent a car, so they try to evade the system and become Runners. These folks seem to live in an arcane world of relying on rumors and performing circuitous maneuvers in order to reach the legendary Sanctuary, a place where people can, uh, live past twenty-one. They can also have and raise their own children, something denied citizens under the current system. Children of the future are normally raised in nurseries and attended by robots, indeed robots and computers seem to regulate every aspect of daily life, which makes sense because kids are always so into technology. To chase the Runners are Sandmen, specially-trained operatives who essentially find Runners and then shoot them with a very silly gun. Enter our titular hero Logan-3, a Sandman who hunts Runners with his partner Francis-7 for the best buddy cop novel ever written in the history of literature. The end.
Actually, Logan is nearing his Lastday, and he’s whiling away his free time at weird techno clubs that offer free sex and parlors that dispense hallucinogenic drugs. Those creative types from the 1960s, they really thought hallucinogens would be a big deal, huh? Little did they know people would ultimately rather smoke bath salts. Anyway, Logan’s sort of hanging around futuristic Los Angeles, and eventually he reports to work where he’s assigned to catch a runner named Doyle-10. They track him down and Logan shoots him with a wacky bullet like something from a Tex Avery cartoon, and then finds a silver punchkey on Doyle’s person that he somehow knows will lead him to Sanctuary. Logan determines, on his own, to go undercover as a Runner, find Sanctuary, and shoot the place up. He starts to run, and along the way picks up Doyle’s sister Jessica-6. So what’s the deal with these numerical surnames, huh? They clearly have nothing to do with familial ties, since Jessica is Doyle’s sister and her number is four below his. If they don’t mean anything, why bother with them at all? In the movie, it’s implied that it has to do with one’s lineage—Logan-3 would be the third Logan in his line—but nothing like that is stated in the book so I like to think it’s like the meaningless numbers sometimes appended to graffiti tags.
The trip to Sanctuary is fraught with perils and it's completely ridiculous. Seems that every point worth visiting on the planet is connected via a network of tubes known as the Maze, which must at least be partially underground, or else the future looks like a bunch of teenagers scuttling around in giant hamster tubes. To get to Sanctuary, Logan and Jessica have to visit an underwater bunker, an arctic prison camp, a massive computer brain within a tremendous statue of Crazy Horse, and a repetitive Civil War re-enactment performed entirely by robots. Francis is in hot pursuit the entire way, as we learn through some weird, italicized ruminations at the beginning of every chapter. Eventually they make it to Washington, DC, where they hope to meet Ballard, the one man who cheated Sleep and can send people off to Sanctuary. Washington, DC is in bad shape because during the Little War, someone set all the zoo animals free and now it has returned to a dangerous swamp, teeming with wildlife. After defeating a panther, Logan and Jessica find Ballard, who they have to subdue to get directions to Sanctuary or whatever. After a few more misadventures, Logan and Jessica find themselves at the Florida Keys—yes, this weird, tube-based conveyance can actually take you to the Florida Keys somehow—where a rocket is ready to take off from Cape Canaveral. As Logan prepares to board the ship, he sees Francis approaching and pleads with him to spare Jessica…and then Francis turns into Ballard? It’s not really clear what happens here, seems like Ballard got facial reconstructive surgery to look like Francis and infiltrate the Sandmen, but he can switch it off somehow? I think? Anyway, Ballard is impressed with Logan’s sudden selflessness and allows him to board the rocket to Sanctuary, which we learn is actually an abandoned colony on Mars because you’ve bought this bullshit so far, why hold back now?
My impression of this book is that it is pretty silly and half-baked. The problem with keeping a populace young in order to reduce the strain on resources is evident after thinking about it for thirty seconds: just because the world’s population is under the age of twenty-one doesn’t mean that their numbers can’t increase exponentially. All you need is twenty or so women to agree to have as many kids as possible before twenty-one and you’ll break the most robust sewer systems. Also the idea of a world where people don’t have to work but still elect to be Sandmen—as well as hold other municipal jobs described throughout the book—doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, particularly when the sex and drugs are free-flowing and without consequence. Still, despite silly gimmicks like the instantly-healing Synth Skin and the hilarious guns used by Sandmen that hold six bullets apiece—each with a different function!—this is a quick read that is reasonably satisfying if you’ve got a sense of humor about you. A modern-day Iliad this is not, but there’s lots of action and the plot moves along quickly so any part you find too stupid will soon be replaced by one that you find just stupid enough. I’d say the minimal time investment is worth the fun of reading about a cyborg sculptor/torturer that lives in an igloo, among other mind-bending characters and scenes.
Bits and Pieces:
What you’ve got here is a bit of pop science fiction that is probably a little better than many other popular sci-fi novels of its time, but no less wacky and half-baked as the worst of ‘em. The dystopian world described in Logan’s Run is cute but fraught with contradictions, yet the book moves at a good clip and if you think one setting is too stupid, it will rapidly change to another scene. Not a terrible beach read or while waiting to be selected for jury duty.
Next week: Logan’s Run, the movie!