If you mention Philip Wylie to an SF reader in the 21st Century, perhaps the only thing that might come to mind is “When Worlds Collide,” about the efforts to save a portion of humanity after an asteroid is detected coming our way. But the novelist and social critic was known for far more than that, including a little known novelization of his episode (directed by a young Steven Spielberg) of his episode for NBC’s The Name of the Game.
For those whose knowledge of past pop culture could fill a thimble, The Name of the Game was a highly regarded series about journalism, featuring a revolving cast of leads - Gene Barry, Robert Stack, and Tony Franciosa, a very talented man whose main claim to fame these days seems to be his self-destructive habits as an actor.
It was, quite simply, one of the best shows about journalism ever made.
I picked up the novel soon after seeing the episode on American Forces Television in Germany. Published by the wretched Popular Library, a paperback house infamous for the speed at which pages would literally fall out of the book after just one reading, it hasn’t been reprinted. The copy I have before me now I found on Amazon a few months ago.
Enough back story! On with the main attraction . . .
Wylie’s novel, an expansion of his NOTG episode “L.A. 2017,” gives the author a chance to expand upon his theme of a world destroyed by pollution and corporate greed, two subjects which then, as now, go hand-in-glove. Though the necessity of aeries television required that the story be the result of a dream, the novel gives it full reality.
No dream here, but full-on fury and despair at a world unable to contain the basest natures of forces which would despoil our world, all in the name of filthy lucre.
The story, at its core, is a simple one. Publisher Glenn Howard is driving home from a secret conclave in which the world’s wealthiest men conspire to hobble the environmental movement, which they see as threatening their bottom line.
At the ultra-secret conference ideas are thrown about - ideas we are all too familiar with today. “Studies” should be suggested and paid for - studies which could be bogged down for years.
The end result of such studies, of course, is that more study is needed.
Cast doubt in the public’s mind about the reality of the dangers posed by climate change.
Buy off key scientists.
While dictating a message to the president - okay, in this scenario the president actually cares about such things - Howard begins to go into detail about what he has learned when he becomes overcome with exhaustion and pulls over at a rest stop. He awakens decades later, in 2017, to a world which is the logical result of the greedy machinations of the men he thought he had left behind him.
A poisoned atmosphere has left the surface of the world uninhabitable, and all life for the lucky few is lived in underground shelters. The United States has become a corporation, and dissenters are dealt with harshly.
Sometimes it takes 46 years to finally understand what a writer is trying to say. What was merely sexually titillating to a teenage boy can make sense to someone who has lived in the world a good deal longer. Wylie’s writings on sexual relationships may well be startling to some readers even today. But they give one pause for thought, and even an appreciation for his insight on many matters.
This is the man, after all, who wrote “The Disappearance,” in 1951, which imagines a world in which a cosmic event divides humanity into two separate timelines.
From the perspective of the women, all the men have suddenly vanished, and from the men’s point of view, all the women have blinked out of existence. The story, which delves into issues of sexual identity and gender roles, describes empowered women, while the male world falls into horrific dystopia.
“The Disappearance” also allows Wylie the opportunity to explore same sex relationships in a world in which no other alternative exists.
This just proves once again that the lunatics who want to purge Harry Potter from the world would literally go berserk if they knew what the science fiction section in a typical library holds.
A little preachy at times, but still fascinating, Los Angeles:A.D. 2017 is a novel which deserves much more attention than it once received, especially in the days of Donald Trump.
Reading it, you may well be forgiven for believing The Disappearance that Wylie had seen the future, and the abyss we find ourselves tottering on the edge of.
The Glenn Howard/People magazine connection
One of the magazines the fictional Howard publishing empire put out was called People, but life doesn’t always imitate art. The People magazine on NOTG was a lot classier than the tabloid trash we see at supermarket checkout lines.
2017: A cautionary note
Some of the sexual ideas posed by Wylie may well be morally unpalatable to a 21st Century reader, as they were to me, but it’s a novel of its time, and not a guide on how live our lives.
Writing to Bernard Hermann’s score to “Vertigo.”
Quote of the Day
Biography, like big game hunting, is one of the recognized forms of sport, and it is as unfair as only sport can be. - Philip Guedalla