LOGAN’S RUN Book Review: A Lost Science Fiction Classic

Logans Run original novel

“Logan’s Run,” the original 1967 novel, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, from which the 1976 major motion picture is loosely based upon, is a lost gem in science fiction. It’s been out of print since 1976 and deserves a return to the spotlight and easy accessibility. You have to seek out a used copy and those are all collectibles with prices to match. Wouldn’t it seem rather fitting to have this as an e-book too? It is an odd, poetic, and unique work.

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“Logan’s Run,” the original novel, was featured in a promotional item from Crown Publishers in 2012. The promotion was a poster entitled, “The Dystopian Universe,” that featured “a collection of the most memorable apocalyptic futures and digital wastelands ever put to print. Each represents a uniquely disastrous vision of a society fantastic and familiar enough to keep you exploring every corner of this literary galaxy for years to come.” This promotion included a new tilte, “Ready Player One,” among a pantheon of classics old and new: “The Hunger Games,” “Blade Runner,” “Logan’s Run,” “The Stand,” “Neuromancer,” “World War Z,” “The Giver,” “I am Legend,” and “Snow Crash.” There must be something to the original “Logan’s Run.”

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“Logan’s Run” is included in this promotion, as well it should, and yet “Logan’s Run” has been out of print for almost 40 years and not easily accessible. There is an appealing shaggy dog quality to this adventure story akin to a pulp detective novel that rewards thoughtful reading. Hollywood had to step in and chop the plot up to bits to fit into a vehicle for Micahel York, who plays Logan, and Jenny Agutter, who plays Jessica. The movie is famously known for being primarily filmed inside a Dallas shopping mall. The novel, on the other hand, is very wide in scope. People can shuttle all over the globe. It doesn’t take much consideration to sit in a tram and be bolted thousands of miles at one go. Now, compare the excitement of a shopping mall to crisscrossing the globe, and you can see how other aspects of the movie fall short of the original novel.

The movie version, as limited as it was, lost much, if not all, ground once “Star Wars” hit theaters the very next year, in 1977. If it had stayed true to the novel, it would have had much more to show for itself. Instead, key elements were streamlined and glossed over. In the movie, there is a controlled society where every citizen must die at age 30. In the book, the age limit is 21 which gives the story an intriguing edge. You have a society run by people who are just beginning to know themselves. The powers that be have set up a society of voluntary euthanasia at age 21 since it was a youth revolt that took over the world. Growing older is what led to the corruption in the first place so no more old age. Wisdom has been forgotten. Only the vitality of youth can be trusted.

Youth have destroyed the elders. Machines think for humans. The whole natural order of things has been disrupted to its very core. The government’s hub of activity is housed in a supercomputer, humanity’s brain. It resides within Crazy Horse Mountain. And things are so screwed up that the brain thinks it’s Crazy Horse. An important part of keeping the order belongs to the government agents, the “Sandmen,” who are entrusted with capturing any citizens who rebel against dying at 21 and try to run for it. But the system is threatened when one of the agents, Logan, begins to think for himself and, along with a runner, Jessica, seeks out the legendary Sanctuary, a rebel alliance led by a man who has lived beyond his legal age, Ballard.

This is another example of how the movie diverges from the book. In the novel, Ballard has figured out a way to turn off his palm flower. It never went black to alert authorities that he’d reached his expiration date. Ballard is a heroic rebel that has grown into a legend, and is a real threat to the government. The movie gives us Peter Ustinov as Ballard. It is a wonderful performance but this Ballard is senile and as menacing as a pussycat.

Logans Run artwork

The book also provides us with a number of interludes not found in the movie that lift the narrative with greater energy, nuance, and irony. What William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson do is revel in the power of youth. They show us its unbounded energy and raw power. They make a case for its right to be taken seriously while also depicting its intoxicating allure. But, as is the case in any dystopian novel, you can always end up with too much of a good thing.

And there is simply more action in the book, intricate detailed action. There’s a whole scene where Logan and Jess attempt to allude their captors by blending in with an American Civil War re-enactment run by robots. It’s hilarious on one level and wonderful commentary. The book also makes much use of “devilsticks.” They are only hinted at in the movie as a band of rebels hold them like staffs. In the original novel, they are both weapon and transportation, like a witch’s broom. Imagine the visuals. It’s not like the movie had a meager budget. They could have had devilsticks do more than just stand there if they had wanted to.

I keep saying “original novel” because it’s such an important distinction. There have been countless “Logan’s Run” spin-offs. There was a TV show. And more comic books than you can imagine with more on the way. All of them have spawned from the movie as if it guaranteed success. This has left the original novel in something of a pristine state.

Let’s consider a passage from the book and you’ll get a sense of its urgency and sutblety. Here’s a depiction of one of the harsh terrains that Logan and Jessica encounter:

The firey wheel of the moon sun blistered its slow way across the Dakota sky, crowding the thin air with waves of shimmering heat. Deadwood was dust and ghost town stillness. The squat, wind-worked buildings along the main street had long since been scoured of paint, and their weathered boards reared up crookedly from the red earth.

“Logan’s Run” is an adventure story, a fable, and social commentary. The characters are bit players in a cosmic tale. Nolan and Johnson don’t concern themselves so much with fleshing out these characters and that is purposefully done. You know only what you need to know. They speak in a rather clipped fashion but not in an amateurish stilted manner. And they are thrown into numerous situations but they’re not an awkward jumble. It’s more like a grand opera or monumental painting. It’s good to keep in mind that Nolan and Johnson have been around the block a few times. These men are part of science fiction legend dating back to the Southern California Writer’s Group. They go back to a tradition of working together on projects, projects that included, among other things, scripts for “The Twilight Zone.”

Seek out “Logan’s Run.” Maybe you’ll find an old beat up copy in a used bookstore or on eBay. Ask, even demand, that it be reprinted and made available for e-books. And discover its unique quality. The movie missed the boat on this one. But it’s not too late to read the book. Any way you look at it, we are well overdue for a new edition.

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, George Clayton Johnson, science fiction, William F. Nolan

2 responses to “LOGAN’S RUN Book Review: A Lost Science Fiction Classic

  1. According to one website, sfreviews.net, there was a reprint in 2001 but I don’t see any other record of it: http://www.sfreviews.net/logansrun.html

  2. One more update: I see that I’m sort of mistaken, but not entirely, on the print run. “Logan’s Run,” the original novel, has been in print since 1976. Once in French and a few times as part of a Logan’s Run trilogy. The other two stories are William F. Nolan’s. George Clayton Johnson has the option of creating his own sequels. Nolan took it a direction in tune with the movie. So, it would make sense to bring back the original and give it an e-book too.

    http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?19785

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