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
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? Serving Man.
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.