An animated short film test by Ralph Roberts, ©2004 Creativity, Inc.
Farthest Star SF is pleased to publish TALES OF THE GALACTIC MIDWAY. Like many, we asked its author: "Where do you get all those crazy ideas?" This is Mike Resnick's reply:
Science fiction writers hear that question more than any other, and they usually develop less-than-earnest answers to it. The most popular these days is that we all subscribe to an Idea Service run out of a post office box in Schenectady.
Actually, the truth of the matter is that I get a lot of my ideas from books, plays and screenplays where I feel the author has missed a better story than he told.
Like The Elephant Man, for example: the play (brilliant) or movie (pretty good), take your choice. They both got me interested in reading about John Merrick, the Elephant Man, and I finally came across his autobiography--and found something so unusual, so aberrant, that they left it out of both the movie and the play.
It seems that the carnival owner, the man who knew full well that Merrick was a sensitive and artistic soul but treated him like an animal for more than a decade, came by the hospital where Merrick had found sanctuary. He was dead broke, and asked Merrick to come on tour with him until he put together a grubstake. Sir Frederick Treves and all the other hospital staff assured Merrick he didn't have to go--and yet Merrick did go back on exhibition, touring the freak shows of Europe all summer before returning to the hospital to die.
Now, that's the story that should have been told. The more I thought about it, the more I kept wondering: What hidden virtues were in that man to make Merrick willingly humiliate and endanger himself when he could have refused?
Finally, I decided the only way I could figure it out was to write the story, and since I'm a science fiction writer, I created Thaddeus Flint and Sideshow --and when I was finished, the grudging affinity between Merrick and the carny owner finally made sense to me.
It seems to have made sense to a lot of other people as well. My editor, Sheila Gilbert, asked me to turn it into a series, and while I was doing so, Signet published Sideshow in October of 1982. It went through four quick printings and got universally favorable reviews.
Sideshow was told by Tojo, because I didn't want the reader to know what was happening inside Thaddeus Flint's head until I was ready to tell him, and omniscient third-person narrators don't have that luxury. But by the time the carny takes off for the stars, Flint is no longer a cypher and Tojo is no longer present in every scene, so I told the rest of the stories in the more traditional third person.
I'm less pleased with The Three-Legged Hootch Dancer than I am with the other three books in the tetralogy. Nothing wrong with the writing or characterization (he said immodestly); it's just that the identity problems of a stripteaser didn't (and don't) seem as important to me as the themes I tackled in the other three books, and the ending's a little too easy.
I'm a sports fanatic, and a competitive person by nature. I don't play to compete; I play to win . My one saving grace is that I realize this can become self-destructive, so I examined it at its most outrageous in The Wild Alien Tamer. By now the carny crew was beginning to shape up, and I started getting very fond of them, even Batman and Julius Squeezer. (I should add, parenthetically, that of all the reviewers--and everyone seemed to like the book--only Tom Easton of Analog was perceptive enough to realize that the real wild alien tamer was neither Monk nor Batman, but Thaddeus Flint.)
The best book in the series--in fact, the best of the 13 novels I wrote for Signet in the early-to-mid 1980s--is The Best Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gunslinger in the Whole Damned Galaxy. The crew got bigger again, with the addition of Fuzzy-Wuzzy and (perhaps the series' best invention) Jiminy Cricket. I like the little snippets of "The Ballad of Billybuck Dancer" (and readers of Eros at Nadir will know that it was written, some five millennia later, by Nate Page, and that its rhyme, meter and general quality were severely and rightfully criticized by a computer named Cupid.) I like the Doc Holliday robot (Doc himself has always fascinated me, and one of these days I plan to write a novel about him). And I like the ending.
A lot of people have asked about the ending, especially about why Tojo had to die. To which I always refer to Ruffian and Landeluce.
Ruffian and Landeluce?
Ask any 30 horse racing experts who was the greatest horse of all time, and you'll get between 15 and 25 different answers. Ask them who was the greatest filly of all time, and the answer will be unanimous: the fabulous Ruffian, who was unbeaten until she broke down in front of 75,000 people and 80 million televiewers during her match race with Fo olish nPleasure.
And yet, less than a decade later, there was a filly named Landeluce, also unbeaten. Her times were faster than Ruffian's, and her winning margins were larger. But Ruffian died half a length on the lead, in the sunshine, on television; Landeluce died alone in her stall at four o'clock on a rainy morning, and almost no one remembers her.
Billybuck Dancer died in the sunshine, doing what he did best; Tojo died alone, in the small hours of the morning, in bed. The Dancer will be remembered in song and story forever, and Tojo will be remembered by no one except maybe Thaddeus Flint ... but which of them was the better human being? I can't say, any more than I can say whether Ruffian or Landeluce was faster; all I can say is that it's a lot closer call than tricks of fate and twists of memory make it seem.
Will there every be another carny book?
Well, if some publisher asks me, and offers me enough money, yes, there will be. And lest you think I'm totally mercenary, let me add that there will never be another Eros book, or Penelope Bailey book, or Widowmaker book (other than the ones that are in press--i.e., written and waiting to be printed). Those stories are done. The only two characters I would ever write about again are Lucifer Jones and Thaddeus Flint.
What would the story be about? I don't know. But I have a feeling it would begin 10 minutes after the epilogue to The Best Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gunslinger in the Whole Damned Galaxy. Thaddeus is preparing to go to sleep when he's visited by Mr. Ahasuerus.
Remember how the ship could never produce decent coffee or cigarettes? Well, I suppose another thi ng it couldn't make properly were condoms. Thaddeus had an awful lot of sex with the ladies of the carnival. I imagine one of them was pregnant when he left, and produced a hell-raiser that neither she nor gentle beings like Jiminy and Mr. Ahasuerus can control.
I wouldn't think that Thaddeus and his son would hit it off, in the beginning or ever. I think there'd be a hell of a battle of wills. And I think when Thaddeus leaves for the stars this time, it will be with the full knowledge that, at his age, he'll never come back.
Who knows? Someday I may tell the story. I do know this: of all the many characters I've created over the years -- and there have been a ton of them -- I'm still fondest of Thaddeus and the gang. He may not be the guy you'd want for a neighbor or a partner, but by the end of the fourth book, he's the best Thaddeus Flint he can be, and what more can you ask of anyone?
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