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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Inspired by the Interstate

Last month I shared my character concept for Spirit of '77. At the time I thought I'd done a pretty good job of mixing and matching a bunch of disparate elements of 1970s pop culture into a fun homage suitable for tabletop roleplaying adventures.

Not long after I posted, however, my friend Jeff hinted that there were "connections" I'd somehow missed when composing my character's backstory. I searched my memory, but could find no connections other than those I'd drawn inspiration from, the most obvious sources.

But then, to my astonishment, Jeff posted a bombshell on his blog, JSVB, yesterday. I urge you to visit Jeff's site for the full details, but in brief, it appears as though I'd subconsciously lifted most of my character backstory from pulp author Steve Kaiser's action-adventure romp, Interstate 10. Even the cover art comes uncannily close to mirroring my protagonist and his prototype VW Beetle.

Naturally I'm stunned that some deep corner of my brain dredged up inspiration from a novel that I don't remember whatsoever, but I'm glad that Jeff's Uncle Thad sent along this obscure but revelatory gift. After Jeff has reread the book a couple of times, I hope he'll loan it to me so I can mine its pulpy contents for further inspiration - with all due respect, of course, to Kaiser.

This experience reminds me once again the fleeting and illusory nature of memory, and by extension, of existence itself; reliant upon our senses, our limited and subjective experience, it's difficult to know what is real and what unreal, a problem that preoccupied Philip K. Dick, who, as Jeff reveals, Kaiser met one afternoon. One wonders what they talked about. I like to think they debated how art reveals reality while at the same time obscuring it.


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

Wow, I was prepared to dismiss the VW and name similarities as coincidence, but OSCAR, FIST and the other elements make that pretty unlikely. Uncanny, and what weird timing for Jeff to get that book when he did!

Jeff Shyluk said...

Well, Earl and I did talk about this subject a little. When he posted about JJ Columbia, I originally remarked at his marked similarity to Marty Robbins, the race-car driving cowboy singer. It turns out that Earl knows a lot about Marty Robbins because of the Fallout videogames.

Marty Robbins was also the character prototype for Jake California in Interstate 10. My uncle gets used books, mostly from libraries and used book stores, but he has more books than he can store... remind you of someone?

My own book collection is extremely eclectic. The art books my uncle sent me have to do with Russian iconography. It's difficult to get books on that subject, so I was pleased to get them. The other books I got were Interstate 10, which is something I had been looking for since I lost The Savage Report to Earl, and a library copy of Steven King's The Long Walk, which I must have read decades ago. You can find and re-read Earl's blog post on The Savage Report. It's safe to say that Earl has written the most comprehensive book review of The Savage Report on the Internet, which is strange since Howard Rheingold is a respected name in the field of writing.

So the timing isn't all that weird, since my uncle knew a little about Earl from his blog - I pointed him to the Spirit of '77 stuff Earl posted, and he and I discuss old science fiction a lot since neither of us likes the new stuff. If I had known he had a copy of Interstate 10, though, I would have bugged him for it for forever. Like The Savage Report, it's one of those books that has the uncanny ability to see our future while being glorious in its ignorance of details, character, plot, or literary value.

Well, maybe that's more true of The Savage Report, although Howard Rheingold went on to be a very respected writer. Interstate 10 is crude in style and theme, but it does have a strong, positive empathy that runs through the dystopia. It's strongly Phildickian without any of PKD's style or ability as a writer. Think of maybe The Green Mile, except without the prison, the supernatural, and all the characters are dialled down a notch or two, and then imagine that it was written by a twentysomething who it seems had direct tutelage from PKD himself, and that it takes place as a road trip through a dystopic alternate-reality 1970's, with every fifth page or so drowned in trope or cliche. There's the reason nobody's read it. Still, it showed the potential for the author and a lot more "heart" than a book of its type should have. And except for the kung-fu fighters, the lady ninja, the girlfriend, and the gorilla with the gold-plated AK-47, Earl seemed to have channeled a good portion of it. Which is to say, there's a fair amount of plain coincidence. Likely Earl and I discussed I-10 back in the 1990's. I remember obsessing about it long before I met Earl at University, and now my collection is finally complete. Of course, human greed still works: now I really want to own and read a copy that isn't so damaged.