Tag Archive: Lincoln’s Dreams


 

Review by C.J. Bunce

Philip K. Dick′s 1972 novel We Can Build You, his 22nd novel, has its strengths, the first half of the novel full of several thought-provoking ideas that each would have been better served pared down as one of Dick’s fantastic short stories.  From there it slides precipitously off the cliff into the incomprehensible–an attempt at showing a protagonist with an unstable mind inside what is by all other indications the set-up for a future America sci-fi story.  Originally written in 1962 and not published for a decade, and released first as A. Lincoln, Simulacrum, the story is centered on Louis Rosen, an entrepreneur in 1982 with questionable business acumen who co-owns a musical organ company.  We Can Build You begins to illustrate what it might be like to build a new race of artificial humans, previewing many specific elements that would become the framework of many later films, novels, and shows (like the Humans television series 45 years later).  The “simulacra” business branches off as a natural spin-off of a keyboard type organ that interacts with the mind in the future from the 1962 perspective–simulacra being a favorite early sci-fi construct in Dick’s works, also called a Replicant or android in his other works.

For a few dozen pages Dick examines what it is to be alive, for a human or a sentient robot, this time in a new way, showing two simulacra, one a nearly perfect construct of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war during the Civil War, and later, a simulacra of President Lincoln himself.  Why?  Because of America’s fascination with the Civil War following the commemoration of its centennial in 1961 (when Dick was writing the novel).  How these highly functioning automatons react to these businessmen in the Pacific Northwest “in the future” and the ideas to use them concocted by the story’s wealthy progenitor to Elon Musk form the best sections of the book.  The biggest struggle is with the second half of the novel, when Louis, who serves as the novel’s narrator–with no prior warning–becomes fixated on his partner’s daughter, named Pris.  Louis slips rapidly into some form of schizophrenia, obsessed with the 18-year-old, and the reader becomes aware he also has the unfortunate malady of being a textbook unreliable narrator.

 

Was any part of this novel real?  Was the infatuation never mutual (like with Quentin Tarentino’s insane brother in From Dusk Till Dawn?).  Did his organ company really propose making simulacra as entertainment to re-enact the Civil War, or is the reader crazy for even believing that could have been a legitimate plot point?  Was Pris real or only a figment of his mind?  Did his brother really have an “upside down face” (Dick describes it as some kind of mutation of some future people) or Louis really believed this because of his mental disease and his false reality?  Was anyone real?  Every step of the way modern readers familiar with Dick’s more famous work Blade Runner (adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) will see the inspiration for the Replicant also named Pris in that later work, not published until a decade after We Can Build You, and will question whether this Pris is a simulacra, too, or something else.

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

As everyone knows, it’s all too likely for a film adaptation of a beloved novel to, well, ruin it. (Witness the travesty of The Seeker, an utterly butchered translation of Susan Cooper’s breathtakingly beautiful fantasy series, The Dark is Rising.) And yet, some of our most brilliant and wonderful movies had their start as novels–Jaws, Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, Babe.  When they get it right, they get it really right, so it’s worth suggesting (albeit a bit tentatively) a few literary gems that deserve their day on the screen.

1.  Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I almost don’t have to say anything about Orson Scott Card’s brilliant science fiction classic–fans have been clamoring for an Ender’s Game movie since its release in 1984, and the property has come close several times.  One of the early stumbling blocks (filming those dynamic zero-gravity training sequences) will no longer pose a problem, thanks to advances in special effects.  But drafting a script with all the excitement and nuance of Card’s novel intact remains a challenge, as does casting the novel’s impressive ensemble of very young characters.  Hopefully someone will eventually be up for those challenges, and, like Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings, be able to do this literary masterpiece justice.

2.  Lincoln’s Dreams, by Connie Willis

Seldom do I read a book and think immediately, “This should be a movie.”  But that is exactly what I thought upon first reading Connie Willis’s stunning debut novel, and what I think every read thereafter.  It’s short, which means it can be adpated wholesale without losing anything in the compression of film.  It’s highly visual, with evocative scene-setting around Washington, DC and various Civil War battlefield sites, as well as graphic Civil War dream sequences.  And the touching mystery and love story of the young historical researcher and the girl haunted by dreams of the past would be a perfect vehicle for young actors.  When I first read this, I thought Tom Everett Scott would be ideal in the lead, but the intervening decades have made that less likely.  Perhaps Jake M. Johnson from New Girl?  Or the always-earnest Jake Gyllenhaall?

3.  Les Miserables (the musical)

Victor Hugo’s classic tale of doomed revolutionaries, redemption, and obsession has been riveting readers since 1862, and has been adapted for the screen and stage countless times.  But it’s safe to say that Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1980 musical adaptation has been one of the most enduring, spawning legions of devoted fans all over the world.  Alas, it missed the heyday of stage-to-screen adaptations of a generation before–but with the success of movies like Phantom of the Opera and Rent, not to mention current TV fads like Glee and Smash, perhaps it’s time to revisit this one.  NEWSFLASH!!!  According to Wikipedia, this one is on its way at last!  Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway, no less!  We’ll bring you news as we learn more.

4.  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Tamsin is my favorite novel in the world, which means that it’s perfect just the way it is, and the risk for mucking it up is great–but the potential for an absolutely brilliant screen adaptation here is huge, too.  Beagle himself is an experienced screenwriter, and this novel deserves a bigger following.  It’s the story of an American teen who moves to the Dorset countryside and runs headlong into the neighborhood’s older, Otherworldly residents–from the local pooka, to the Wild Hunt, to a company of ghosts at once more lovable and more chilling than she (or the reader) is prepared for.  borg.com has actually heard a rumor that a British TV network is considering adapting the world of Tamsin into a long-running series, so we’ll be watching to see if–and how–that plays out.

5.  Muppet _________

A Muppet Christmas Carol being one of the best book-to-screen adaptations ever made, and Muppet Treasure Island being great fun, too, it’s time the wacky gang gets back into serious literature–particularly now that the Muppets are a hot box office property again.  Screenwriters can take inspiration from a fun series of comics from Boom! Studios, including titles such as Muppet Sherlock Holmes (with Gonzo in the title role), Muppet Peter Pan, and Muppet Robin Hood (Kermit); but allow me to suggest a few other works that may have good Muppet mileage.  How about Muppet Jane Eyre?  (Admittedly, their lack of a true ingenue might be a handicap here.)  Of Muppets and Men?  The Maltese Muppet?  Wait–I’ve got it:  Muppet Three Musketeers.