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Blade Runner

Blade Runner

There are many elements of science fiction that find their way into stories that are not science fiction. Many times, enthusiasts of the genre will try to claim these works as part of the family. Atlas Shrugged and 1984 are examples. The same thing happens, only more frequently, with noir. Sometimes, the mere presence of a morally ambiguous protagonist is enough for a piece to be so labeled.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, however, is a rare work — quite possibly unique — that may fit both bills. While perhaps not classically noir, there is no denying a strong noir presence, and its science fiction credentials are beyond question, what with the flying cars and androids, called replicants, and off-world colonies. As a devotee of both genres, I quite naturally am a fan of the director’s third film, but watching it is an experience both frustrating and pleasant. It is a good movie, but not the great one it could have been.

Alien, Scott’s second feature, is a masterpiece whose best form made it to the silver screen. One simply cannot imagine a better version. Blade Runner, however, is a movie whose perfect version was never realized, whose potential was never reached. That mirage of the ideal Blade Runner intrudes on my thoughts every so often, and I find myself reaching for the DVD, thinking that perhaps this will be the viewing where I get it, where I notice that missing part or make that important connection.

It never works out that way. As usually happens in life, experience trumps hope. The movie simply is not as good as it ought to have been, and the reason is the plot. This is all the more tragic given that Philip K. Dick, in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, had already provided a first-rate plot that was later diluted over multiple drafts of the screeenplay.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is probably Philip K. Dick’s most famous work, given that it was turned into one of the most respected science fiction films of all time. I do not hold to the absolutist opinion that the book is always better than the movie, but after one read of the book and many viewings of the movie, I am inclined to say that, in this instance, the book is at least as good and in some respects is better.

Rick Deckard, along with numerous other unfortunate souls, has been left behind on Earth, an unhealthy wasteland from which anyone of means has migrated. He is the number two man assigned to retire rogue androids who try to pass themselves off as human. The androids, however, prefer to remain alive.

Deckard makes a modest living, but when the number one guy is nearly killed by an android, he assumes the responsibility to retire a group of six of them, seeing in the job an opportunity to make some much-needed cash. Insert canned line about things not going as planned. Insert second canned line about the job being more than he bargained for.

As I expected, the clownish dialogue and behavior, unnecessarily detailed descriptions and lengthy back stories injected into scenes immediately after a character’s introduction — the slipshod method by which so many authors introduce and develop their characters — is absent. Instead, we meet people who feel and act real, and we come to know them as we would anyone else: by how they act, what they say, and what is said about them. They move about in an exotic land but act in accordance with their human goals and abilities.

What I found surprising was how good the plot was. There is a satisfying quantity and variety of dramatic interactions, various obstacles to overcome, a sufficiently grand and tense third act… everything an eager reader could hope for. I did not expect a poorly wrought narrative, but given some of the difficulties I found in The Man in the High Castle, I thought that maybe character and setting were Dick’s strengths, not plot. The movie, as good as it is, strikes one as underplotted, and I assumed this was due to a deficiency on the book’s part.

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NEWS | Can a bookseller destroy bookselling by selling books? Should writers be paid for their writing? Thumbnail

As you may have heard, the Department of Justice is looking into opening an antitrust case against the Big 6 publishers and Apple for allegedly colluding to set prices via an agency model which the publishers set the prices for their books in the iBooks store, not Apple. They were then able to put enough pressure on Amazon to coerce it into accepting the agency model as well, which it had previously resisted. This is why you see ebooks being sold on Amazon for $9.99 or more nowadays.

Now, there’s a contingent of publishers and authors who fear change and have grown complacent and dependent on their IP-based, physical distribution model; they tend to see Amazon as an evil corporation out to destroy publishing, bookselling, and writers.

Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild — does anyone else find the idea of an authors guild disturbing, like modern-day feudalism? some would say the same about the Big 6 publishing houses — recently wrote an open letter speaking out against the antitrust investigation and in defense of the agency model. Quelle surprise! Though it’s ironic to see someone defending big corporations against antitrust investigations who, under normal circumstances (i.e., ones in which his bottom line isn’t directly affected), would probably be in favor of antitrust suits against monopolistic big corporations.

Anyway, Turow types some rather outrageous falsehoods about Amazon. Indie powerhouses Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath1 do a pretty god job of showing how ridiculous Turow’s claims are. Richard Lea summed it up on Twitter with question that makes up the first half of this blogpost title: “Can a bookseller destroy bookselling by selling lots of books?”

I do disagree with Eisler and Konrath on one thing, however, and that is their opposition to the collusion between Apple and the Big 6 publishers. As a libertarian, I don’t have a problem legally speaking with collusion, or price fixing. Without government support, cartels are unsustainable. Of course, believing some practice shouldn’t be illegal doesn’t mean I approve of said practice.

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  1. Full disclosure: Both men recently made publishing deals with one of Amazon’s new fiction imprints but were extremely successful self-publishers beforehand and are still self-publishing other work. 

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