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Logan runs again

By Annalee Newitz

MOST OF US in the post-industrial/industrial world are haunted by anti-technology images from the atomic age, although it seems as if nobody worries about the bomb anymore. Ironically, what seems to have stuck with us from the post-World War II years isn't nuclear hysteria, but computer hysteria. I think the spawn of baby boomers have grown up without fearing atomic destruction. Oh sure, we know that big bad bombs are out there, but I was taught to fear (and respect) the power of computers.

Classic tech horror movies like 2001 (1968) demonstrate machine megalomania, as does the computer rape flick Demon Seed (1977). War Games (1983) makes it clear that behind every nuclear disaster lies a geek hacking some vast form of computer intelligence.

In the mid-1970s, one of the classic anti-computer flicks came out: Logan's Run (1976), the tale of a hippie fascist regime in which everyone over 30 is compulsorily killed by an omnipotent computer that wants to keep the population down. With its weird references to a dystopian future ruled by pleasure drugs, free love and disco styles, Logan's Run became more of a camp classic than an art house hit. It remains in the social imagination by virtue of its ubiquitousness on Ted Turner's channel TNT, and the strange energy of the sci-fi fans who memorialize it in countless websites.

Logan's contemporary Internet legacy inspired William Nolan, co-author of the 1967 novel Logan's Run, to re-release the Logan series online. You can read the original Logan's Run trilogy, as well as a new novella called Logan's Return, at www.ebooks2go.com. When I got a special Logan swag package from Open City Communications, the company behind ebooks2go.com, I couldn't resist: I had to talk to Nolan, the guy who first made Logan run.

Nolan is an unlikely purveyor of cautionary tales about a computer-dominated society. A high school student during World War II, he's part of a generation who feared atomic destruction not because it loomed as an abstract Cold War threat, but because he lived through a period when the bomb was actually being used. "We shouldn't have dropped two bombs on Japan," he tells me.

Perhaps because the bomb wasn't a fantasy for Nolan, he turned to other historical problems to inspire his science-fictional futures. "I don't think you can write about the future without a solid grasp of the past--you need history to write good science fiction," he asserts. In the late 1960s, however, Nolan was disturbed by social unrest in the present. "I wrote Logan's Run during the Watts riots, when youth were rioting. The book was an implicit criticism of a lifestyle that destroys you and society, a lifestyle where maturity is rejected. You can't live a hedonistic lifestyle and survive--you either die young or it catches up with you."

With his concerns about the excesses of countercultural hedonism, it's interesting to find out that Nolan's point in Logan's Run is partly reflective of romantic, hippie values. "Logan's Run is about humanism winning out over technology. The love relationship between Jessica and Logan is more important than technology." When I ask him about how this fits into his criticism of '60s youth culture, he talks about the "good lessons" of the 1960s: "We accepted our sexuality in a more open manner--the Victorian attitudes back then were as crippling as hedonistic ones. And we got rid of a lot of censorship, too." He also assures me that he embraces the use of technology and loves the Internet. "I'm not against technology; I'm against people who misuse it."

Ironically, Logan's Run, the movie, seems to condemn its youth-obsessed characters much more for their dependence on machines and sexual openness than for using drugs or rioting. In fact, a large part of the film's campiness comes from its "oppressive" computers, which look like nothing so much as giant rave toys; and nobody can withhold giggles at the goofy sexual antics of Logan and his pals.

Nolan tells me that he's looking forward to the remake of Logan's Run--in production at Warner Bros. right now--because it will be much darker. "I think the original movie missed the book's subtext, which is the breakdown of society when youth rules. I don't think this is a dated idea, either. Look at all the violence out there now--Watts is nothing compared to rap music or wrestling shows on TV. Dying of an early death is even more a fear in youth culture today."

Nolan forgot to mention that problems of the '60s pale in comparison with AIDS, ecological disasters, civil wars and techno-surveillance. Maybe that's why Logan is still running.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who isn't afraid of the bomb.

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From the November 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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