George Clayton Johnson – The Gandalf of Speculative Fiction

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George Clayton Johnson George Clayton Johnson just turned eighty-four, going on fifteen. He is the author of such classics as Logan’s Run, Oceans Eleven and dozens of other ground breaking works.

Many of his series, introduced at the birth-of-television, include the famous Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Gordon Richiusa’s interview with the Gandalf of Speculative fiction is exclusive to L&L Magazine.

(GR): Hello there! This is Gordon Richiusa. Are you ready?

George Clayton Johnson: Yes I am. But, I need to remove my hearing aids. They were given to me by the VA. It’s nice the way they take care of us. I’m a veteran of WWII. God, how time flies!

(GR) Well, let’s start there. So, you’re a veteran?

George Clayton Johnson: I joined the army when I was 17 years old. They had a plan then. They called it the Apple-Chink plan. Apparently all the veterans were trying to get out of the army at the end of the war, and the war was winding down. They hadn’t quite signed the surrender, that’s MacArthur, on the battleship with Hirohito, so the war was not officially over, though hostilities had ceased. So they had this Apple-Chink thing trying to recruit a lot of young people. So, they lowered the age of enlistment to seventeen.  If you were seventeen and had your mother’s permission, you could join the army, now a peacetime army. So, I thought, ‘That’s not a bad deal, [I’ll have] somebody to take care of me.’ I hadn’t really learned yet how to take care of myself. So, I joined the army. A few weeks later, a month later, they signed the Armistice, and it’s all over. But, I’m officially a veteran of WWII.

(GR) Well, congratulations, and thank you for your service.

George Clayton Johnson:  Yes, I’m glad I survived all that and now, here I am in my dotage.  I’m looking backward; I’m looking forward. I’m not fearful. That’s an interesting thing to know. I know that the grim reaper is around the corner, but so far nobody has put an [expiration] date on me; so, seriously, I’m still feeling totally immortal, and very youthful, because I’ve fixed my own mental age at the age of fifteen. [It was then] I left home. I asked my mother’s permission, could I run away. I was going to run away, but I wanted her to understand what I was doing. We talked half the night. She finally gave me some money and let me go. I hopped on a bus and went two hundred miles to another city, settled in there, and eventually joined the army.

I was at that precarious age where I was totally illiterate; well, I had read tons of things from the age of five, but from the standpoint of schooling, I had been moved so many times, state to state, and within weeks or months I would sometimes live in a dozen different houses, in the course of a year. So, the fragmentary bits of schooling–they called it schooling; it was babysitting—in the sixth grade, I had to take that twice, because I failed it. I missed the second grade because I broke my leg at the time and had to go through months and months of traction, and a lot of daydreaming. I think it was what turned me inward and why I learned to write was the fact that I had to learn to entertain myself. I had no books, no magazines. The nurses were oblivious to the fact that I might conceivable want to have something to look at while I was lying there. Maybe it just helped to simplify their own jobs. I don’t know, but the result of it is what you see before you: self educated, read everything I could lay my hands on, totally interested in the past, totally interested in the future, not very aware of the now.  Most of the time, I’m daydreaming. I’m addicted to it. I get up. I go out into the front yard or carport, where I can see things, and people can’t see me too well. I sit there and I watch the world go by, and I have a pad to write on. Sometimes I have Coke, or coffee, or wine, or pot or something—and I sit there and watch the world. [I while it does] clickity, clickity, clickity my brain is going, and it knows how to function on a number of levels without notifying me. So, I just sort of turn it loose and I daydream, I guess. This daydreaming, which consists, a lot of it of scheming, and planning and organizing and categorizing, and noting and remembering; meanwhile, new ideas are flooding in, and I can go to it for hours and damned hours, without getting bored with myself, wondering if I shouldn’t really accomplish something. Because, I know that’s where I’m doing the work. Whenever I sit down to write something, it’s usually after I’ve done several middle or rough drafts, a lot of note taking, and maybe an experiment or two. I get into it subconsciously. One thing follows another. It’s all organized and categorized and simplified, and just keeping to the same subject. That makes it a hell of a lot easier.

(GR) How did you get from school dropout to professional writer?

George Clayton Johnson:  When I was in the army I learned cartography and map-making. It became the area I found myself in, a drafting room. They were correcting and improving the maps of the Panama Canal, and all of that. As a matter of fact, I helped them make the original hard-shell maps of one of the islands, the Perlas Island (Pearl Island where Survivor, season 7 and 8 were filmed) off of Panama. They had fortified those islands, because they were protecting the locks from the Japanese. They finally abandoned all that; the war was over. They lose track of things, but the jungle overgrows the island again. They had to send a crew in to remap it, so there is a record of where all this damned work went. I found myself part of that, and as a result became an excellent draftsman. I was comfortable sitting in one spot for a long time. I like to have everything at hand, a big table to work on, precise instruments to draw with, and an assignment of some kind or another. I found myself doing that in the army. When I got out of there, I managed to get a job in the bird factories at Lockheed and Douglas, as a draftsman. I worked on various aircraft, the P2V5 which is a very special observation airplane. I worked myself up in the department. I got all that from the army.  Now, I was very comfortable at these jobs, but they paid peanuts. I think my first job when I got married, paid a $1.68 an hour! That’s one dollar and sixty-eight cents for an hour of my time. You get it. Right now, you can’t buy a pack of cigarettes these days for a buck sixty-eight, but back then $1.68 piled up over eight hours a day, for five days a week would turn into sixty or seventy dollars, or something like that. And, me and my wife could live off of that, and pay our rent. Everything was ratcheted down to lower numbers than we are accustomed to today. Anyway, I got to working with a draftsman. It never occurred to me that I’d write. I wanted to write. God, I adored writers. They were my heroes. They were my gods. I’d do almost anything to get my hands on a good book, but I didn’t think that I could write, because I’m a sprinter. I’m not a miler. I don’t like to do big things. I like to get it out of my hair in a couple of weeks and move onto something else.

So, then I read Ray Bradbury, and a few other writers. I began to see that there was a new kind of literature out there, and it’s not ponderous, and it doesn’t go on and on. It isn’t lengthy. Sometimes five pages could carry an entire world in it. Yet, all of it so intense that if you miss one word you’re not going to quite understand it because the writing is so…it’s a very hard word to find, to see the kind of unity I’m talking about. Some of Ray Bradbury’s short stories have become immortal because of it. They are almost clichés now. When they were new and highly compressed and beautifully glittery with wonderfulness in the sense of fresh reading, fresh rearrangement of words. They were odd stories. My mind floods with Ray Bradbury’s short stories that just knocked me out. In fact, one of them called Icarus Montgolfier Wright, I saw it in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, just astonished me. I was daydreaming about being a writer and then I read this short story. I had occasion to meet Ray later and I told him about that stories effect upon me, and that I saw it as an animated movie. I thought it could be made semi-animated because there were new processes coming out at UPA where they were making Mr. Magoo and things like that. I was there seeing this. He didn’t quite see it, but he gave me permission to do it and I was a nobody. I had no credits, no record of hardly any accomplishments that anyone would recognize.

(GR) Did you do it then?

George Clayton Johnson:  Yes, we did it and got a nomination for an Academy Award. We got involved with Joe Mugnaini, one of the great artists of our age. It took two years to put it all together and it got me a chance to get to know Bradbury very well. In the meanwhile, there I was.  So, Icarus was an experimental piece of artwork that started out with me writing a script, retyping the script and changing things, and me finding myself suddenly sharing a credit with Ray Bradbury.

Oceans ElevenUp until that time my credits had consisted of a lonely screenplay. When I was trying to learn to think like a writer, I was maybe twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-five I had started to think about this story. I met with some other people and we talked, with one guy in particular who became a good friend of mine, and we talked about how to pull off a robbery using military tactics, things that you could learn in the military that would prepare you. What if you had a bunch of people, who were experts at what they do, and you could integrate them into a team? Then, you could give that team an objective and then make it a story about accomplishing that objective. We call it now a caper picture. So, I dreamed up Oceans Eleven, and I sold it along the way for peanuts. Then it went into oblivion and I never heard of it, or about it for years.

During that time is when I met Ray Bradbury, did Icarus and later met Rod Serling. It’s always really been a case of opportunity comes and you’re prepared. The preparation, plus opportunity is what we call luck, just like. You were just the guy who just met the person who knew all about so and so and click, click, click. There’s a bunch of propinquity involved. It’s accidental, but it’s me trying to climb to the top, or meet the people at the top so I could get to know this god dammed thing if I’m going to spend a lifetime doing it. In the process of that, along the way, years later, people began to hear about Oceans Eleven, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Akim Tamiroff. The names flood into my mind from that damn movie!

Now, however, I had already gotten my second credit with Ray Bradbury, so whoa, Frank Sinatra and Ray Bradbury. When I met Rod Serling he took me seriously. I had met him in the company of other people who have illustrious histories such as Charles Beaumont and William F. Nolan and Richard Matheson. I knew these fellows, because I recognized what they were doing was very much what Ray Bradbury was doing. I was trying to get these people around me, get to know them. I wanted to hang out with them, to discuss stuff with them and schmooze and maybe even work with them. So there I was, in a position that when I got my opportunity I had a handful of stories. Rod Serling started to buy them from me and adapt them. He adapted All of Us Are Dying and Execution, two of Rod Serling’s prime pieces, are based on short stories by me. He called them short stories, but they were really outlines for television shows that I would write, or that I was writing for the Twilight Zone. He would buy these from me, but he wouldn’t hire me to write the script. When I say he, most of the time I’m talking about Buck Houghton; He was the producer of the show. [He was a] wonderful, intelligent, knowing, cagey, hip guy. When he would say something, I knew it was Rod talking. They were in perfect synch. If Buck liked something, Rod would like it. If Buck didn’t like something, Rod wouldn’t like it either. I could treat them interchangeably, and apparently I did it successfully to the point where I finally got into a position where I could literally bully them, into hiring me to write a script, by giving them a story outline that they offered to pay for, at the rate of five-hundred bucks per story–with me saying, “no,” starving meanwhile, having difficulties all over the place. I said, “No, I can’t do that unless you hire me to write the script.”  It was just tiresome working to create the goddamn guts of it, knowing that I could the finishing touches on it and make four times as much. [Everthing] would be better if I were writing the scripts. I said, “Sorry, I love you but I gotta go do something else if I can’t get into the game,”so to speak.

He said, “Well, no we’ve hired all the writers.”

“Charles Beaumont? Richard Matheson? William Nolan?” I asked.

“Well, yeah. Well, yes. Yeah,” he said.

“Well, then: George Clayton Johnson, too,“ I said. Why not?

And, finally he said no, and I went home heartbroken. I thought it was all over. I was looking in all new directions, quite frantic mentally.

Rod Serling

Then, I got a call from a fellow who was a lawyer. He tells me that he knows who I am and he asks if I would meet with him. When I met with him, he presents me with a contract, and identifies himself as Gerald Saltzman. He worked for one company, who was associated with another, and after awhile it all becomes rather meaningless. However, he wants me to sign a contract, and he had a check for me if I signed, and the agreement was this: I would write the teleplay for one of my stories and if they didn’t like it, they were going to cut me off. I said, “Cool, cool. That’s fine with me,” and I signed and started to work on this little story, A Penny For Your Thoughts. I had dreamed it up to make a very intelligent television series out of it. With their approval, I changed it to make it something else, so that it would not destroy my plan. I wrote the script, turned it in, and got approval on the script…first draft! It went to the cameras. I was invited to come and I brought my wife. Rod Serling was there, and he brought some people along and introduced me saying, “Here’s the guy who wrote this dandy piece we’re working on right now. Everybody on the set was very, very kind to me, and my wife. I realized that this was a home for me, if I could find a way to prepare myself for it. I started to have regular meeting with them, submitting things on paper. I got a chance to talk with Buck. Each opportunity I got to talk with him, I furnished him with four or five or six stories, out of which he would choose one, and discard the others, saying, “No, I’m sorry George, we’re already thinking of doing that,” or “I don’t want to disappoint you, but remember we already did that.” And back and forth we would go.

As a result of that, every once in a while he would pick out a story and I would put it on paper and it would begin to make its way to Rod Serlings television series, while I was talking with other t.v. series. Unfortunately for me, aside for things like Gunsmoke, or all the tried and true things, Wanted Dead or Alive…I finally ended up writing one of those things with Charles Beaumont. Truly, that profession was a new profession, the television writer. T.V. was kind of new. I had been a grown man before I saw my first t.v. set, and before they got to drama, they wen’t to live theater. It became New York’s big deal, live t.v.

(GR) Would you say that television writers of old were perhaps more literate than TV writers of today?

George Clayton Johnson:  No, but I think they must have shown a great deal of ingenuity, because it became pretty clear after just a few seasons that there was a format for how these scripts should look. At first, everybody was trying to write a play. That had been everybody’s training. Most t.v. writers hadn’t seen this television thing with its quick cuts and its changes of scenery and uses of the narrator and voiceover, its use of dissolves and montages and all the things that we were doing were being invented during the 60s. I had my career as a tv writer during the 60s at roadshows like Kung Fu and Route 66, Honey West that I would put my own twist to, to make it interesting to me to work on.

Twilight Zone

(GR) How many Twilight Zones did you write?

George Clayton Johnson:  I wrote four teleplays and I furnished material for four others. All in all, I think I have eight or nine credits on the Twilight Zone.

(GR) So, prior to this period where you are hobnobbing with Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling and the like, and even before Oceans Eleven perhaps, what was the first thing that you wrote that you were really proud of, or you thought that maybe you had some talent as a writer?

Nothing in the DarkGeorge Clayton Johnson:  First…Those kinds of questions baffle me, because my memory is so poor. It’s true. My wife is amazed at how little of what she thinks of as important that I have any interest in at all. Right now, I’m collecting a series of stories and putting them into several books. One is called, Magical Thinking, a collection of Scripts and Stories. One is called, The Ring of Truth, Scripts and Stories, one A Penny for Your Thoughts, Scripts and Stories and one, Kick the Can, Scripts and Stories. These four books constitute the bulk of my writings, with a Twilight Zone episode in each book. Each book [is] the same general size and shape so that they will all fit as part of a package, with a book I’ve already published called, Twilight Zone Scripts and Stories, which were part of the cannon of stories that make up the Twilight Zone series. Many of these stories were adapted by others, such as Charles Beaumont. Perhaps you know one of these, Prime Mover. It had Buddy Epson and Dane Clark running a little restaurant. Buddy Epson had this power to move things with his mind. His partner sees that and uses it to control the dice and make money off of it. That was the story. Charles Beaumont wrote the script based upon my short story. So, I have a very few titles in there, but they are pretty memorable ones. Let’s see, there’s A Game of Pool; There’s Nothing in the Dark, which I think is just a masterpiece. I’m afraid to try and remake it. What’s the point of screwing up something that’s already perfect? It’s out there. It’s been seen. It’s part of the cannon, and it’s Robert Redford’s first real big flash, Pow, there he is: Mr. Death.

(GR) Yeah, that was a good one.

George Clayton Johnson:  I look back on all these things that I’m attached to and marvel at the fact that most of the celebrity and the fame that I have today…I did that work when I was thirty years old, and now I’m eighty-four. For fifty years it’s percolated in people’s minds and gotten bigger and bigger, though rerun after rerun. So, here I am and I really am a product of those days we’re talking about, hanging out with [some of the great writers], and a number of interesting people.

(GR) Interesting that you mention the age of thirty, and we haven’t talked about Logan’s Run yet.

George Clayton Johnson: Well, I’d like to make two comments about the age of thirty. One is that it seems in life that your average guy starts out young, finally gets out of school and gets a job in his early twenties. By the time he’s thirty he’s pretty much near the top of that particular trade. He’s making pretty good money and by now he doesn’t have trouble meeting his mortgage payments. He’s got a certain amount of fame, so in a way that age thirty is a kind of benchmark. After that, it’s a whole different game. Now he’s got the notoriety. Now he’s got the access, but what does he do with it? Where is he going? Does he have anything to say? Does he know anything?

I asked A.E. Van Vogt about scripts. I asked, “You must get a lot of writings, people asking your opinion,” and “Do you read it all?”

He said, “A little bit of each, maybe three, four, five pages.”

I asked, “Well, why there?”

He said, “By that time I know whether he knows anything.”

By that he’s coding it, because what he really meant was: Is he going somewhere? Does he have a point? Is he going to surprise me by what he has fitted together? Does he know something? He said he could tell by that time.

So, I started thinking defensively, “How do I protect myself from my reader?” I’ve got to let them know that I know something, even if it’s a little over their head and they’re not interested in it, before they will really take me seriously.  They can see that I must have some direction I’m going in, even though they can’t understand what it’s all about. That’s the beauty of a short story. It concludes with a real bang and it gives itself away from the very beginning, but your astute reader, normally can’t spot it until it’s too late, the story is over. They’re very satisfied, because that writer knew something. What he knew was how to manipulate my mind in a certain way but reveals some universal truth, I suppose. I search daily for words to describe. I’ve talked for hours in front of a camera about writing, and I’ve gotten really into it [how words reach the reader].  It’s got nothing to do with writing. All this talk of protagonists, and story arcs…I heard Stephen King say something that I thought was inspirational. He said that he tended to think not of characters but of situations. You know, a lady gets her handbag stolen and the crook breaks his leg on his way to the thing and the doctor sees a way to get the money…and he builds a little community of relationships in his mind. He sees each of these relationships as a situation. Then, he can choose which situation’s story he should focus the action at, and as a result you get a Stephen King story. He gets you close to the edge of the cliff, but he doesn’t get you up to the rim where you can get pushed off. Once in a while, those writers will do that.

Like John Collier’s story about the lady who hides out in the department store and pretends to be a mannequin, so that she can be unobserved. That’s her home, the department store. Collier wrote that story, but you see Rod Serling doing it again with some little variations in the manipulation of the characters. Same idea and all that goes with it. There aren’t very many stories that are the first one. What a simply strange and powerful idea that is hidden in that short story.

(GR) Let me ask you this: What female writers are you impressed with?

George Clayton Johnson:  Well, I don’t tend to see that. I’ve met a lot of lady writers and some of them are quite good at what they do.  I really don’t know that much about male authors. I’m mainly interested in Ray Bradbury and Dashiell Hammett. I see there is a real separation between those two. Hammett is hardboiled. He’s been through a few things. He’s not easily taken in. You can’t shock Hammett, but you can shock Ray Bradbury, because he’s still fourteen going on fifteen in his head. He says, “Wow!” You’ll never get Dashiell Hammett to say wow. He’s not that naïve. He’s been around the block a time or two. Those two attitudes in literature appeal to me. So, I can see Thomas B. Dewey, who is a writer of mystery stories, detective stories—he created a detective named Mac, and I can see how he’s influenced by that Bogart and Robert Mitchum image, you know, the soldier of fortune. When I look at writers out there, I tend to see stories first, then say, wow what a powerful story that is. Who wrote it? Then, you know the name. I liked a lot of British writers’ stories so much that I began to notice who was actually writing them. As a reader that part doesn’t interest me much. It’s more, where does it go? Does it really capture me? Am I really sucked into the story by the third page? If I am, I don’t want to put it down. People can shake my shoulder and I say, “Just a minute. I’ll be with you in a minute,” because you’re on the trail of that particular little tale.

(GR) A couple of things come to mind. One is, perhaps youth is wasted on the young…that old expression, but maybe the creative element is really more powerful in the young. Maybe being human is being creative.

George Clayton Johnson:  From my point of view, when I was young, I would meet people who were over thirty-five, and a lot of them were very depressing people. They’d act like, “Is this all there is?”  I mean, come on now, they say,“Well, I’ve had sex. Learned to scuba dive. I’ve jumped out of an airplane. I’ve been to Paris,” and they’ve got that attitude of “Is that all there is?” at age thirty-five. I’ve never had that feeling of is that all there is. Haven’t they looked? Here’s the point: You’re either with this thought or you’re not. The universe is a magical place. Everything about it, if you look at it closely, is magical. Water is magical. It’s made up of two, odorless, colorless gases and it’s wet! Where did it get that? It’s magical. Same thing with light. Light is magical. They try to describe the photon; oh they’re silly. They don’t know understand. They probably got the wrong nomenclature in there, because this elusive quality emits  from the sun. It travels to us in a direct line, but it travels to everything else in a direct line too. How can that be, when we’re all not in the same place? It’s because it’s everywhere. What can we compare it too? It’s magical. Green things growing are magical! Out of the goddamn earth you get a peach! How could you get this pure, beautiful thing out of the dirt? The mind boggles at it. Everything about the world is magical. The sky is blue and kids ask, “Why is it blue?” Well, that’s the color of oxygen. Why is oxygen that color? We get lost and we don’t know. We don’t know. Why is chlorophyll green? Why is that so restful to our eyes? Green doesn’t pierce us in the same way that blue does. All of it is magical. Substance is magical, holding together little pieces of sand that have all got sticky somehow. They are so stuck together you can’t cleave it apart. That’s magical. I look at everything and its magic and I don’t really try to understand it. I realize, I really am living in dream. It’s a composite part of a lot of people’s dreams…like Mr. Edison with his ideas that he could create illumination. How could he do that?

(GR) I would have to add right here that awareness itself is magical. Self- awareness is magical, and the things that are derived from that, and our ability to communicate and words are magical.  Without those words and the desire to communicate it would be like an incantation that’s unexpressed. No magic could come of it, without our ability to put those words together in the right order.

George Clayton Johnson:  What a mystery consciousness is! What a mystery life is! We use this word, God. Are we talking about life itself? Are we talking about awareness that goes out to the end of the cosmos, because it’s all one designed thing? You know they take photographs of the night sky, with a bunch of stars. Then, they search around and try to find a place in between those stars that’s another night sky. Then they focus even further in the blackness until they see more stars. Then they focus on the darkness and photograph that through this telescope at the space between those stars, and so on. You get the feeling that is impossible. One galaxy smashes into another galaxy. Oh, that’s bad design. Why waste all that compactness?

So, back to awareness. What is consciousness? To be aware that you are aware, very few people experience that, with a sudden realization until it suddenly becomes real. There’s a lot of things I accept consciously, but I never really look at them closely.  One day I will look at them closely, or potentially I can. Then, my God! I see my fingers for the first time. How many times have I looked at them and not seen them? But, now I suddenly see them. What does that mean really? What is going on synaptic-ly inside the brain?  I’m working on a story that [boils down] to having a Penny For Your Thoughts, a penny that accesses other people’s thoughts and this provokes the question: If you didn’t have a mind of your own, if you were not self-conscious, how could we talk about it? There is no way on God’s Earth that I could explain to you what consciousness is, except by referencing the fact that you have it too. It’s thinkingness itself, to which I am addicted. That’s what the daydreaming is. I love to think. I love to propose questions to myself, and then reason out an answer to it without anymore information. I just want to find something to make me want to believe it.

As a result of all this, I’m a fiend for media. I love it, in all of its aspects. With the totality of the value system out there, don’t talk to me of money. Talk to me about what you know. Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something that will be useful to me. Point out something that I’ve overlooked. I’ve always lived my life with money not being the main concern. Is it good? That’s what motivates me. I want to be associated in my lifetime with things that are good. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, no. I’ve read one of his stories. It’s a piece of crap.” That would hurt me. In my grave I would flinch and take the blow. I admire people, like Bradbury who get it right so goddamned often. I’ve been his disciple since I first read some of his short stories.

I’m less impressed with Farenhiet 451. Give me, The Golden Apples of the Sun. He’s got an attitude that is so useful.  I mean, he sees two sides of everything, and he shows you both sides. I find this sort of thing more productive to me than all the other books about climactic moments, or situations, or all the other jargon. When I try to talk about writing, when I get groups of people together, or someone wants to hear George talk about writing, I’m not concerned with that. I’m more concerned with consciousness itself. What the hell is going on here?

Logan's Run

(GR) Let me throw a word out and see what your immediate response is. Let’s talk about war.

George Clayton Johnson:  Oh, Hell. I’ll talk about Logan’s Run and you think about war and let’s see if you make the connection. In the book, Logan’s Run it’s death at twenty-one. It’s a world full of kids, and those who finally get to what you’d call manhood go to the Sleep Shop where they are destroyed by the Sandman. It’s death at twenty-one. As a result, we don’t have one L.A on top of another L.A. on top of another L.A. as you do in Blade Runner, with the world overrun with humanity. No, we have a strictly controlled number of people in vast spaces of land. We keep a few cities together, for nostalgic purposes, like Paris or London or New York, but most of the cities, townships…Bam! Back to dissolution they go. Back to debris and before long, they are nothing. It’s a world, in which the robot called the Thinker in Logans’s Run, a computer, runs everything. You need just a very few people to run things or to do anything you might call work. There is no need for money. There’s plenty of candy, because we’re all kids. The world is a park, if we want it to be, and/or it contains odd places. In this new work I’m doing in the Logan’s Run mythos, a book called Jessica’s Run, there’s a place called Punishment Park. In the world of the future, there’s a punishment park, a place where there are no laws. You have to pay to get in, it costs a bit so you don’t feel that it’s silly. You have to give up a lot to get into Punishment Park. But, once you get in there, you have murder in your heart? Go find somebody to kill. They’ll probably kill you first, because they probably have murder in their hearts too, or some other cruel idea. We come to discover, when the Cell, a creature who is ¼ human being and specializes in anger, violence, doing…when she gets upset everything around her rattles…now you have a very different world when you control population, as this society does…she goes into Punishment Park to avoid capture. While she’s in there, she encounters this guy who has this theory. In the future, they’ve abolished all prisons. They think the idea of locking a person up is cruel and inhuman. The Constitution itself says, “inalienable right” to life, liberty. Who’s got the right to take that from you? It’s an inalienable right [like] the pursuit of happiness. So, taking this stuff very literally they’ve found a way to eliminate that whole idea of locking people up. In Punishment Park there’s this guy, known as Lefty. He lassoes people, because you can’t take weapons into the park. You go in, you come out and nobody asks you any questions. They’ve got machines to clean up the mess. No sweat. Now, the whole idea of discussing punishment in the Logan’s Run books…it makes some kind of weird sense…in terms of a future society, it asks the question: What do you want the future to look like? If you control death, then having a sixteen year old president would be no problem. Everybody would be happy with it. If you want to use something, you just use it. Do you want to use The Maze that was bequeathed to us by our ancestors, you don’t need to understand how it works. You just get into the damn thing and it’ll take you to Tokyo if you want it to, and it’ll do it quickly and efficiently and it’ll feed you along the way. This world of the future, what will it be like? What do we want it to be like? What sort of natural impulses must it satisfy, in order to be what we call The World?

That brings us back to consciousness as you were talking about. Media, for me has always been the intriguing part. That’s why I’m a writer, I suppose. I’m the guy who composes sentences you see on the front of T-shirts. Writers, they come in all sizes and shapes. I see books dying…that scares me. I’m putting together a couple of packages that you can download if you are interested in the material, but I’d probably be happier to publish these as paperbacks. Some material should be handled, looked at. Let’s look at a book in a new way. It’s a form of a cassette. You access this particular cassette by opening the cover. On the first page or second page you’ll find an index and it’ll tell you what’s in the cassette. And, they’ve numbered all the pages so you can find things later on. I think books are going to survive very nicely. I think that it will be a status object; in the future to have a library will be much more impressive to people than it is right now. The Library itself is a magical institution. How smart we were to establish it, but how dumb we are selecting the materials we put into it, in terms of what media people should know about. What should be instantly accessible to people?

I have now been a member, for over forty years, of that comic book convention in San Diego… Comic-Con. Right now they have a convention center that only hold 125,000 people. Legally, you can only sell 125000 tickets. People are finding that if you didn’t go on the Internet to reserve your tickets, you cannot buy them at the door. It’s been closed down for months now, hundreds of thousands are interested but only a hundred and twenty-five thousand can get in. But, another twenty-five thousand show up, so you have one hundred and fifty thousand people jamming the city. No cars move. If you park your car, you’d better leave it there. Same with restaurants, you can’t make reservations. They’ve got people standing out the door of every café, restaurant and bar in the city. Just crossing the street, a mob crosses, hundreds and hundreds of people at a time. Hundreds and hundreds of people, if you move against the tide, you have to be very careful you don’t get yourself knocked over. People carrying objects are in a hopeless situation. To get to a hotel, if it’s not absolutely nearby is a nightmare. The media that they are interested in at this time is comic book level movies and TV, like Iron Man. But, I’m interested in cartoonists, guys who can draw. Getting to meet big name cartoonists is the fun of going there, knowing that some artist I’m a fan of, I will meet there and they are a real person. I can sit down and have coffee with these people, and all kinds of things.

Comic-Con is an example of too many people, too many people interested in the same thing.  I’m not alone at being a real junkie where anything regarding media is concerned. When anything new happens in that world, I want to know about it. To me its got a lot of importance. Along the way, it gets me on the cutting edge of activities in the world, what’s being thought about, what’s being made real…As a result of that, I make up more stuff to write about. So, in my writing, I try to figure out why someone would want to be a Sandman as a primary profession, putting people to death when they could be sitting on the beach somewhere enjoying the sun.

(GR) Well, you did come back around to the original question, didn’t you?

George Clayton Johnson:  I wonder what the gods think about all this.

(GR) Here would be a good place for your Message in a Bottle? That is one brief message that sums you up for posterity. It’s the most important message you can send about life, people, yourself, the future all in one place. We call it your Message in a Bottle, like the Pioneer Spacecraft that was sent out to take pictures of our planets, but Carl Sagan convinced NASA to put this message on board in case intelligent life ever found one of these things. He just wanted potential aliens these craft might encounter to know we were here on Earth, and could think. What would you put in your Message?

George Clayton Johnson:

 

 

Gordon Richiusa is an Italian American who has been a martial artist for some 50 years. He teaches the Five Bird System. Gordon earned a Master of Arts degree in English and has written numerous articles, stories, books and scripts under his own name and his pen-name, Gordon Rich. He has been a teacher of English Composition, Film as Literature, Creative Writing, and Scriptwriting and He holds two teaching credentials.

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