Friday, November 12, 2010

Richard Bachman (Stephen King) The Long Walk

I have been reading Richard Bachman’s (Stephen King) The Long Walk because it is a fascinating story set in our near future now. The date of its creation is farther away than its predicted future of 2025. In other words, it was written in the late 1970s, more than thirty years ago and it now predicts a future only fifteen years in our future.

Here’s really the only problem I see with the book and it is that the world around the Long Walkers is the world of the 1970s. There is talk of a news crew using a film camera taken from the rear of their station wagon rather than a video or digital camera taken from the inside of their SUV.

Or one of the characters working in Phoenix for three dollars an hour when the minimum wage is now more than double that... and will probably climb in the future. Why not just say minimum wage rather than attaching a dollar figure?

Or one of the Long Walker’s watch stopped because he forgot to wind it. Does anyone have a watch that must be wound? I don’t even wear a watch thanks to my cell phone that tells me the time.

There is talk, just a small reference to the sun fading the image of a Polaroid negative, but how many such cameras exist today, outside the collectors? Yes, it’s a fine image, but it dates the book.

We are given just a little of the future. A society where "Squads" come in the night to take away those whose politics differ from those ruling... okay, they didn’t come in the night, but you see what I mean. King has set up a totalitarian state in our not so distant future that sanctions this "contest" of teenage boys to see who can walk the farthest and who is then given a "prize." Failure isn’t just the disgrace of losing but a bullet to the head... unless you have annoyed the shooters and then they exact a little revenge with a bullet to the stomach for a slow death.

Yes, I know the book is about the social dynamic that develops when this group of teenagers is thrown together. It’s about their interactions as they make the Long Walk... but it fails to capture a feeling of the future. It is about a society that never existed in a world of thirty years ago and not the future.

My only criticism is this small failure which isn’t even germane to the story. In the 1970s I don’t think anyone could have predicted the Internet which would have allowed live streaming of the Long Walk... even if the government didn’t want it to happen.

And, of course, who could have predicted cell phones that would have allowed the Long Walkers talk to friends and family... unless they had been banded by the rule of the Walk, or until the batteries failed.

Here’s the thing. This lack of prediction, which could have been accomplished had King thought about it, could have been covered. I was criticized for the third book in my Exploration series because there wasn’t a sense of the future in it. In the last book, The Gate, I tried to extrapolate from where society is today. I have the younger member’s speaking in the shorthand of text messages, but speaking English when addressing older members of society. I suggested a holographic entertainment system which would be an improvement over the 3-D technology springing up today. I tried to picture a society where social interaction on a personal level gave way to social interaction through an electronic medium. A society where all the information of the world was accessible through the Internet...

But predicting beyond these things is difficult. Who would have envisioned an Internet before the various components of it existed? Sitting in 1978 King wouldn’t have been thinking of a global connection through an electronic device that isn’t radio, telephone or telegraph. I understand the problem because I’m attempting to design a far future where we have little personal privacy for a science fiction novel called Forever.

I don’t blame King for this failure and suspect he never considered it, given the nature of the story. This is just something that dawned on me as I read this book in 2010 and not 1980. If this was 1980, I doubt that any of these... what, lapses, failures of vision... would have dawned on me. Today it seems glaring but then, it doesn’t spoil the story, so who really cares?

No comments: