Are Philip Wylie’s prediction about our present time seriously dated or eerily prescient?
This June I had a lot of fun writing about George Allan England’s “June 6, 2016” (www.michaelmayadventureblog.com/2016/06/june-6-2016-predictions-and.html). In that piece I compared England’s version of that date with June 6, 1916, around when he wrote the story. Well, I’m at it again. The story this time is actually a novelization. As a general rule I look at novelizations as marketing by-products generally not worth the time it takes to read them. Television and movies lack the richness of a novel and to have some hack transcribe the screenplay into a readable version is an exercise doomed to fail.
I made an exception in this case for two reasons: one, the person who wrote the screenplay also turned it into a novel. And two, the television episode that the novel is based on is not readily available. There are tantalizing bits as well as a trailer on Youtube but that’s all. The seventy-six minute program was recently released on DVD but to little fanfare. (You’ll see why I say that in a minute.)
The novel/novelization in question is Philip Wylie’s Los Angeles 2017 A.D. from 1971. It was the last book published during Wylie’s life and the second last he had published. Now Wylie is a very interesting fellow. His early work helped inspire Superman (Gladiator, 1930), Doc Savage (The Savage Gentleman, 1932), Flash Gordon (When Worlds Collide, 1932) before he moved onto writing about nuclear destruction (The Paradise Crater, 1945 and others). His early guesses about nuclear bombs got him arrested by the government just before the creating of the atomic bomb. Later he was instrumental in the creation of the Atomic Regulatory Commission. After this he wrote detective novels but also an early examination of feminism, and finally, the last theme that dominated his life, ecological disaster. Los Angeles 2017 A.D. is one of these works.
Los Angeles 2017 A.D. was not a TV movie, but an episode of the anthology show, Name of the Game. In a dream, a present-day scientist goes into the future to see how the world is destroyed by human greed. The human race has been driven underground to escape the poisoned atmosphere, and is ruled by a totalitarian corporation. The episode was directed by a twenty-four-year old named Steven Spielberg. (Who probably never wanted this show to appear again.) It starred Gene Barry, Barry Sullivan, Edmond O’Brien, Sharon Farrell with a cameo by Joan Crawford. Now I haven’t seen this show but if the book based on it is any indication, the program was over-long, talky and heavy-handed. The trailer for the episode is funky, psychedelic and just plain weird. This was 1971 after all. (Wylie has taken a page from Orwell’s book 1984, which was written in 1948. He simply reversed two numbers. Wylie has done this too but also like England, advanced the date a century as well, to arrive at 2017.)
But let’s stick with the book since we have the entire story here before us. The novel begins with a group of millionaires and scientists gathering to discuss environmental impacts. Wylie delivers the facts in strident lectures. Chapter One alone has two lengthy rants, one on who billionaire-business men really are and another on sexuality. These are not two or three paragraphs but run for pages. The first third of the book concerns describing the players, their host, Rafe Cooper, and his sexy, willing cadre of girls. Wylie gives the modern reader plenty of Harold Robbins-worthy dirt, perhaps hoping to appeal to non-Science Fiction fans(?) I suspect none of this was in the TV show since it’s hard to imagine Gene Barry and Sharon Farrell getting naked and nasty. (Maybe this why Spielberg has lots of scenes of people running down corridors?) The scientists and the businessmen (no women, no non-white, non-English-speaking millionaires) come to loggerheads. The eggheads flee to parting shots about how the ecological collapse is coming. The billionaires rally to decide how they will shut the scientists up. (As I write this President Trump has pulled out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Hmm….)
It is at this point we really see who the main character is, Glenn Howard (Gene Barry), head of a huge media empire. He is actually pretending to side with big business, so that he can prepare a report for the President of the United States, a man who was not invited to be part of the secret cabal. Howard leaves the failed conference and stops to prepare some tape recordings when he falls asleep in his car. He wakes to find himself in 2017! (This device is lame by SF standards, but it was necessary for the format of Name of the Game, which wasn’t usually an SF show.)
Howard is rescued from the unbreathable air by an outside patrol, men driving an air-tight van and using sealed suits. He is taken to an underground complex, all that remains of the livable area of L.A., and is educated in the history of the last four and a half decades. He learns that the earth produced killer spores in an attempt to kill off humankind, acid rain that ate the skin off of its victims, killer cold with no summer for three years (shades of Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow) , and finally poisoned air and killer winds have reduced the human population to a mere fraction of what it had once been.
The rest of the book shies away from ecology and focuses on the lives of these future humans, especially in terms of sex. The free-loving attitude of Rafe Cooper has become the norm with everyone being available to all others. Reproduction is controlled by a computer containing all genetic analysis so having babies is no longer the focus. The future people throw woman after woman at Howard, trying to harvest his valuable genetics but he refuses them (the most antisocial act imaginable). To change his perspective they take him to a school where he sees children being trained in this new philosophy. Here Wylie crosses several current taboos, logically but distastefully following this idea to it conclusion.
There is so much more to this topic and G. W Thomas’ article in the second issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly goes much further in depth. You can read the entire article and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the download button below!