Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hey Gigolo Joe, what do you know?

I read “Super Toys Last All Summer Long” today.  I finally found a copy in my personal library of short story anthologies.  I’m actually a slow reader and was expecting a full length novella at least that would keep me going for days.  After all, it was made into a sprawling two hour movie with dozens of scenes and characters.  No, actually it’s a short story of about 5 pages, maybe 2000 words and even a lip mover like me can wade through it in the time it takes to toss down a tall Starbucks coffee, including the time it takes to add cream and sugar.

I write short stories, which I've always considered a sucker’s game.  Almost no one ever reads your stuff and you barely get any money for it.  But short stories are what the story fairy gives me, and the awful truth is I love short stories.  They’re my favorite fictional form.  A well crafted short story is a thing of beauty I still aspire to.

Here’s what amazes me, and if you’re an obscure short storyist it should give you pause also -  the huge number of movie adaptations made from short stories.  Philip K Dick alone has “Paycheck” (Paycheck), “Blade Runner” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), “Total Recall” (We Can Remember It For You Wholesale), “Minority Report”(The Minority Report), “The Adjustment Bureau” (The Adjustment Bureau), “Screamers” (Second Variety), “Imposter" (Imposter), “Through a Scanner Darkly” (A Scanner Darkly), and “Next” (The Golden Man) all made from his short stories alone.  Life being what it is sometimes, none of these were made during his life time in which he toiled in obscurity, mental illness and desperate poverty, the literary equivalent of Vincent Van Gogh.

I recently was snacking on a couple of favorites, Steven Speilberg’s “Artificial Intellgence”,  written by Speilberg from Brian Aldiss’ short story “Super Toys Last All Summer Long”, and Elmore Leonard’s cowboy story “3:10 toYuma” first published in 1953 in the pulp magazine “Dime Western”.  One thing that gives me hope is that all of these guys wrote short stories for the old pulps, writing for peanuts while they learned their craft. 
"3:10 toYuma", the short story, is maybe 3000 words tops.  A deputy sheriff is in a hotel with a bad guy named Kidd.  He's going to put him on the train to Yuma Arizona at - yes - 3:10pm.  Kidd's old gang shows up to get him out, and when bribes offered to the deputy are refused there's a gun fight and Kidd is killed.  End of story.

The two hour movie is considerably longer and way more complex.  Indians.  Ranchers.  Railroad barons.  Corruption.  Showdowns.  Ambushes.  Gun battles.  A father.  A son.  Honor.  Evil.  Heart break.  And of course that damn train to Yuma.  Where was that stuff in the story?

Adapting a movie from a short story requires an almost criminal infidelity from the screen writer and director because the stories don’t get you all the way home.  They pretty much drop you off in the middle of no where and you have to make up the rest. 

The short story “Super Toys” shows us Monica Swinton, a kind of wealthy suburban‘50s house frau in the far future, lonely and bored, where artificial humans are being experimented with, as well as super smart stuffed toys.  She’s looking around for her three year old artificial boy David, and has a conversation with a teddy bear named Teddy to find where he’s hiding.  Next scene is at Synthank where Henry Swinton is wowing them in the gallery with his new product line, an artificial Serving Man.  Their most successful product so far is a Crosswell Tape, which turns out to be an artificial tape worm that lives in your intestines, enabling you to eat like a fat man and still stay skinny.  Not a bad idea.  Scene shift, we find David writing love letters to his mother, letters he doesn't know how to show her and frequently asking Teddy if he is real, and if Mummy is real.  Like a little stuffed Buddhist, Teddy says “What is real?”  David plays at running away by jumping into a garden and hiding.  Henry comes home, with the artificial Serving Man in tow and announces they've been given permission to conceive a live child.  Which means little David the robot will definitely get the heave ho mighty fast.  Meanwhile David is asking Teddy, is Mummy real?  Is Daddy real?  What is real?

That’s it.  That’s your story.  That’s all you get.

If it were me I would have stuck it in a drawer and waited for further inspiration.

Spielberg found that inspiration by the dump truck load.  His version has David making a series of innocent but dangerous mistakes resulting in being callously abandoned on the side of the road by Monica, probably because a ten year old robot child is too big to flush down the toilet.  But he loves his mother and his great passion and desire is only to be reunited with her again if it takes him eternity.  He and Teddy wander the countryside, join a group of abandoned robots, make friends, have deep discussions, get kidnapped by robot hating gangs, almost killed in a demolition derby, escape with a male pleasure sexbot named Gigolo Joe, run, arrive at a robot pleasure city, escape, run, discovers his maker, is stricken with grief, throws himself in the ocean in despair, gets saved by Gigolo Joe, goes back in a helicopter to the bottom of the sea, waits 2000 years, mankind is extinct and he is rescued by space aliens who use DNA to restore his mother to him for one night.

Now that’s a story.  Why didn’t Aldiss write that one?

So I don’t know.  When I look at my brief little scribbles and feel a wave of despair I remind myself of what other hands and imaginations can do with your stuff after you’re gone and wonder at the mystery of how things turn out.  Imagine what Vincent Van Gogh would have thought seeing someone dump $82, 000, 000 for “Portrait of Dr. Gachet”, when the most he ever got was $40.

I guess he’d have probably shot himself.  Or maybe made more paintings.


  1. Great post, Garce. I never really thought about the fact that so many LONG movies started life as short stories.

    You may lament the "criminal infidelity" required to turn a short story into a film. But you might just as well celebrate the way a brief, beautifully crafted snippet can trigger such an upswell of imagination.

  2. P.S. We walked out of AI about half an hour in. For some reason my husband and I both hated it.

  3. Ah, capitalism... The money gets made but after the artist is dead. Opportunism at its greatest.

  4. The late Robert Parker (my freshman comp teacher), when they were shooting the "Spenser" series around Boston, was asked what he thought of the way television rendered his character. He said the series is theirs, the books are mine. Then he happily cashed his checks from the producers. I think I'd look at it the same way if someone bought a story of mine and turned it into a movie. I'd happily cash the check. Damned mercenary of me, huh?

  5. When I was the "art-mom" for my kids' grade school, I used to ask the kids what is the best way for an artist to ensure that their works will sell for huge sums. After the kids made all kinds of guesses, I would tell them the answer: Die. That way no other pieces will ever be created by you, hence the ones already done become more valuable because they're limited.

    I was surprised at all of the good sci-fi movies that you mentioned all being based on stories by Phillip Dick. I gave a book of his short stories to my husband and he said he couldn't get into the stories because they were dull. But we've seen and enjoyed most of the movies you listed. Go figure. Maybe Dick was good at being the Ideas guy, but not a very good writer. Someone else had to take the ideas and create what he couldn't.

    As for denigrating your own work, we all do that, Garce. A good review makes me ecstatic that my work is being enjoyed, at least by ONE reader. A bad review depresses me for weeks, further convincing me that I'm a talentless hack who should be happy I have minimum wage jobs to bring in the money, since the crap I write never will, and the sooner my ego realizes that the better. Sigh.

    But writers write because it feels good to get those ideas out of our heads...because a mind filled with unwritten characters is a very noisy place, and the characters can get truly loud if you don't listen to them and write their stories so they can live in readers' heads as well. So keep on writing, and know that there are a whole lot of creative people like you who had to wait until they were gone before their genius was lauded as such. Irony reigns supreme, as someone else will make profit from your creations, and you won't be able to do anything about it! Just another cosmic joke.

  6. Hi Lisabet!

    Well, actually I'm not lamenting it even if I use that expression, I ADMIRE it! It's amazing when you think about it. You give a person this little snippet of a story, barely a plot at all and they just run with it to all kinds of places. Especially Spielberg, if you read the original short story its astonishing how he fleshed that out into something huge and unique.

    I'm sorry you and your husband didn;t like it. It's always been one of my favorites, because of the interesting questions it raises about love and consciousness. And of course once it hits take off speed its a rip roaring science fiction story.

    Hang in there.


  7. Hi Daddy X!

    I guess it is capitalism, but also it a kind of reverence, like fan fiction taken to its highest level. After all, we don;t make huge moviess about stories we hate.


  8. Hi Bob!

    Mercenary? Hell no. I should be so mercenary. Anyone of us wishes they'd seize on one of our little dramas and blow it up into Godzilla dimensions. Not only for the money, but for the sheer ego thrill of sitting in a theater and seeing one of our dear characters up ther on the big screen played by some famous movie star. If I had a bucket list, one of the things I'd wish for would be to see Amanda Seyfried play Nixie.


  9. Hi Fiona!

    It's true what you say, for people like Michael Jackson, Elvis, Van gogh and others death was really more of a career move than and end of any kind.

    Phillip K Dick is strange guy, I know just what you mean. I have an anthology of his stories on my shelf and they're not that easy to read. Some of them are pretty complex and you have to read them a couple of times just to follow what's going on, and he doesn;t go into much perceivable depth when it comes to characters. He's an idea man. Intensely. Someone recentable published something he wrote which is kind of like a diary of ideas and connective thought, and its huge and dense and almost unreadable. You have to be a little off the rails to write like that. He's got the ideas but maybe not a lot of empathy.

    I'm not quite denigrating my work, but like you I wish it were out there more. That's clearly my fault. I'm not very prolific, i think too slowly for that, and I've done so very little to promote my work its amazing it has any readers. Someday I have to fix that. But as you say, its wonderful to write. If God or the Universe would give you a gift like that, why wouldn;t you use it?


  10. Fascinating post, Garce. I didn't realize how many movies are based on short stories. In the process, movie-makers take so many liberties that I sometimes wonder why they didn't just create something new. The answer must be that something in the short story seemed to be asking for translation into another medium.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.