It is almost certainly true that Logan’s Run is more famous as a 1976 film than it ever was as a book. At a mere 133 pages, the latter is little more than a novella, and while it’s certainly interesting, it’s far too thinly-written to allow us to empathize with the characters in the way that the film is more likely to do (and, let’s face it: all the male views liked to ogle Jenny Agutter). Ultimately, Logan’s Run is an example of tremendously wasted potential.
In the United States of Logan’s Run, every person is essentially killed on their 21st birthday. This extreme idea is an exaggeration of Asimov’s Pebble in the Sky, which forms the basis for things such as a Star Trek: TNG episode (in which case the death comes at age 60). If such a thing seems ridiculous, that’s because it is: at least in the case of a 21-year limit for living, the imposition is not merely unethical, but completely unsustainable. The product of a youth uprising and eventual “war”, this age limit ensures that even the most talented or intelligent people will have, at most, 5 years from the point of adulthood (which appears to be 16). But no one ever said Logan’s Run was a space opera of Heinlein’s calibre.
More insidiously, this dystopia, like those of Orwell, are filled with euphemistic language. On a person’s “Lastday” they go to a “Sleepshop”; words like “kill” and “execute” don’t come into the picture unless the person attempts to escape to the Sanctuary, a mythical place where no such age rules apply. At that point they are hunted down by Sandmen, special operatives who spend their five useful years chasing runners and shooting them. Our protagonist, Logan 31, is one of these operatives, and as the story begins he is hunting Doyle 10, a potential escapee. Perhaps I am simply used to such storylines by now, but the fact that Logan 3 is a real bastard, and a part of the System-with-a-capital-S, telegraphed to me that he would inevitably become a good guy and sympathetic to the underground. Sure enough, that’s what happens, since Logan 3 is mere days away from his 21st birthday and impending execution. By a confluence of circumstances, he ends up on the lam with an attractive woman named Jessica.
I give the book’s obviousness some degree of latitude since it was published in 1967, and predates the various media which have made these plot devices old hat for me. I am less generous about is the erratic and wholly ridiculous sequence of events that comprise Logan and Jessica’s attempt to reach Sanctuary. It is poor enough writing that, by the barest of contrivances, they manage to travel across the globe in the span of paragraphs and meet or fight a variety of mean, mutant, or malcontent beings and get the shit kicked out of them in the process. What annoys me the most is how very perfunctory everything is. Each encounter seems to merit no more than a few pages; the obstacle is dispatched and the couple proceed to the next ridiculous encounter as though on an assembly line of bad writing. Just dispatched a sociopathic cyborg in the frozen north? How about fleeing Deep Sleep Operatives into a robotic Civil War reenactment? Or perhaps fighting a band of oversexed gypsies? All cool enough, admittedly, but it becomes difficult to become engaged when every bit of action is over before it ever gets going, our poor two-dimensional characters slightly worse for the wear.
Logan’s run had the potential to be a good book, but execution was too poor: Nolan and Clayton brought very few novel elements to the table, skimped on the writing, and ended up with a meagre novella that didn’t age well. It’s little wonder, then, that the movie version is so much better known: a more sensible version of the story, sympathetic characters, and less seemingly random plots twists makes for a significantly more pleasant experience.
- Even the names of this dystopia are so circumscribed that they’ve run out of them, and now append a unique sequence number.[↩]