Posts Tagged ‘Scott Pruden’

Here’s an interview with author Scott Pruden about his book, “Immaculate Deception,” on the radio show called “Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction.”

When I listened to this, it made me realize why I like the book so much. It’s got a real 1960s-era science fiction feel to it, And by that, I don’t mean some kind of self-conscious retro tone — as in space aliens with beehive hairdos and Nehru jackets.

It’s more in the overall approach of the book. See, I read a lot of 1960s-era science fiction when I was a kid back in the ’70s. That was an exciting time for the genre. It was starting to break free of its shackles as strictly a genre about laser guns and rocket ships. The writers at the time realized that the nature of science fiction — the ability to create entire worlds, entire histories — freed them up to explore ideas in a way the more staid dictates of mainstream fiction would not allow. Some of the stuff that arose from that movement was great. Some wasn’t so great. And some was just weird and confusing. But there was still an underlying excitement to all of it, even the ultimately unsuccessful experiments. It was an exhilarating experience, starting on a book or short story and having absolutely no idea where you’d end up.

Don’t get me wrong, There’s still plenty of great science fiction out there. But it seems to me the genre as a whole has become kind of a victim of its own success. It’s become simultaneously more mainstream and more insular. So much of it is locked into either offshoots of one franchise or another, or specific sub-genres such as steampunk — all in the interests of delivering what amounts to a processed product to a predetermined audience. All calculation. No exhilaration.

So that’s what I like about “Immaculate Deception.” It’s a well-written book. The plot hangs together, The characters act like real people. It’s not just a bunch of weirdness for the sake of weirdness. But it still has that wildly experimental flavor to it, which first turned me into a science fan back in the day.

See, the story’s about … Ah heck, just listen to the interview.

typewriterSo I was hanging out with the Drunken Comic Book Monkeys (aka Brian Koscienski, Chris Pisano and Christine Czachur) at the York Emporium’s Science Fiction Saturday event last weekend.

I was there to sell copies of my friend Scott Pruden’s science fiction book “Immaculate Deception,” from Codorus Press. My own book from Codorus Press isn’t due out until next month and it isn’t really science fiction. But since I was planning to go to the event anyway, the York Emporium’s owner Jim Lewin generously gave me some table space to sell Scott’s book.

Anyway, the subject of money came up. And I mentioned to Chris, Brian, and Christine something that a friend of mine recently said when he learned I had a book coming out. That when I got rich off it, I could buy the beers from then on.

Brian, Chris and Christine all laughed, as did several other writers within earshot. Why? Because the idea of fiction writers — especially writers with small, independent publishers — getting rich these days is so absurd that it’s actually comic.

I didn’t realize that when I first got into this a couple of years ago. (more…)

You know what sucks about hearing writer Scott Pruden read a chapter from his novel in progress? Knowing you’ll have to wait for the rest of it. Oh well. From this sneak preview, it sounds like it will be worth the wait. In the meantime — if you haven’t yet — check out his science fiction novel “Immaculate Deception.” It’s REALLY good. Enjoy.

Once again, I join the talented and charming Carlette Norwood Ritter for her “Lette’s Chat” broadcast. Here we interview Scott Pruden, author of the satirical science fiction novel “Immaculate Deception.” How is being a book lover these days like being an indie music fan back in the day? Can men really write erotica? Is junior high more survivable for the young science fiction geeks of today? And what are some creative uses for grapes? Listen and find out.

I go to the Gaithersburg Book Festival in search of enigmatic and reclusive science fiction author Scott Pruden. Weirdness ensues.

Affairs with electronic women are overrated.

Time may prove me wrong on that one. Robot technology is, after all, still developing. Maybe a bunch of clever scientists will beat the whole “uncanny valley” factor and produce a robotic mate with whom an affair seems appealing, rather than creepy on a very large number of levels.

But the idea of having a relationship with an electronic simulation of a woman apparently seemed a lot more romantic in decades past than it does now.

The thought occurred to me recently when I traveled to Delaware to see a community theater production of Alan Ayckbourn’s play “Comic Potential,” because my friend Scott Pruden was acting in it.

For the record, it was an excellent production. All of the actors were very good — Scott in particular. (And in addition to being a fine comic actor, he’s an excellent writer. I highly recommend his science fiction novel “Immaculate Deception.”)

The play is a romantic comedy set in the near future, centering on a romance between a young man and a beautiful female robot. It’s entertaining.

But afterward, I reflected on the science fiction trope of a guy getting involved with a robot woman. It seems to me that plot device has become as anachronistic in its own way as those old science fiction stories about rocketship voyages to the verdant, inhabited surface of the moon.

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of old-timey science fiction. Come to think of it, I still am. I think of them as fables, in which the writers draw on the more fantastic possibilities of technology to make some kind of statement about the human condition. (Is it possible to use the phrase “the human condition” without sounding pompous? Apparently not.)

And I remember the human-guy-hooks-up-with-robot woman storyline coming up fairly regularly. A couple of examples I can cite off the top of my head are the 1938 short story “Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey, and the 1959 “Twilight Zone” episode “The Lonely.” Classics, both.

While “Comic Potential” had its winning moments, I wouldn’t consider it a classic. And since it premiered in 1998, that anachronistic element I referred to earlier seemed all the more puzzling.

It’s set in the near future, where robots serve as the actors in soap operas. A young writer encounters a beautiful robot actress who possesses a spark of humanity that sends her on a Pinocchio-like quest to become a real girl. Along the way, naturally, she and the young writer fall in love.

And in a standard feature of this type of story, it has a scene where someone tells the guy, in effect: “She can’t love you! She’s just a machine!” We the audience, of course, know better. And the Philistines who question the sincerity of their love are inevitably proven wrong.

So why do I say that story line has become outdated? For much the reason those stories about the inhabited surface of the moon have. Technological advances have actually taken us to the moon. And we know it’s not like that.

Similarly, electronic simulations of beautiful women with whom men can interact are no longer just science fiction plot devices. They exist, and men actually do become obsessed with them.

Want evidence? I just did a Google search on the term “Lara Croft erotic fanfiction,” and got 1,890,000 results. (For the record, the Google search is as far as I got. Yeesh!)

Turns out the Philistines were right. She can’t love you. She’s just a machine. And the guys who can’t wrap their heads around that concept aren’t romantic idealists, so much as rather sad individuals.

Then again, the best examples of the human-on-robot love stories, like the aforementioned “Twilight Zone” episode, dealt with the artificiality and ultimate emptiness of the “ideal lover” fantasy. And some more recent science fiction works have dealt very compellingly with that theme. I’m thinking “Blade Runner” and “A.I.”

So maybe that plot device isn’t as anachronistic in the age of Lara Croft erotic fan fiction as I originally thought.

OK, I just patched a big, gaping hole in my cultural literacy. I read my first Ian Fleming James Bond novel.

Wow! I was pretty blown away. It wasn’t at all what I expected. That’s both good and bad, but mostly good.

I started at the very beginning with “Casino Royale,” the first Bond novel written in 1952.

Aside from any inherent merits of the work itself, which were considerable, I found it interesting in much the same way as when I first read “Dracula,” or a collection of Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard.

In all three cases, I was dealing with characters who had gone on to saturate modern pop culture. I’d taken in derivations of those characters. Interpretations by other writers and filmmakers. But I’d never checked out the source material.

I found out that James Bond, like Conan and Dracula, was a considerably different character at his inception than the guy who emerged from a decades-long stay in the pop culture echo chamber.

You could argue that Bond was the most influential of the three. Ian Fleming virtually invented the modern thriller. 007’s influence persists in everything from action/adventures like “The Dark Knight,” to spoofs like Austin Powers, to works that fall somewhere in between, like Scott Pruden’s “Immaculate Deception.”

So how does the original Bond, James Bond (yes, that phrase is in “Casino Royale”) stack up?

Let me give you a warning, in case you intend to read “Casino Royale.” Some minor spoilers are coming.

So if you just want to know if you should read the thing, my answer is yes. The stories are very different, but in some ways I see “Casino Royale” as comparable to Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs.”

Like “Straw Dogs,” it’s very much a product of its time. Like Peckinpah’s film, it’s problematic, and those problems pretty much begin and end with its treatment of women. But the two works are so skillfully done, so gripping and suspenseful, that you can almost tune that out.

Now, on to the review.

I grew up watching James Bond films. I loved the Roger Moore movies when I was a kid, but considered them too lightweight as I got older. Although I still enjoyed the Sean Connery movies, even those I basically considered to be frothy, male-fantasy escapism. A sharp contrast to John le Carre’s works, which explored the gritty side of espionage.

Le Carre and Fleming, I should note here, both drew on professional experience in espionage for their works.

To my surprise, I found that “Casino Royale” was far closer to Le Carre’s stuff than I had imagined. It wasn’t quite as psychologically complex or intellectually rigorous. But it was a lot more raw and dark — flat-out bleak at times — than I’d expected. In tone, it was more like the 2006 version of “Casino Royale,” the “gritty reboot” of the franchise starring Daniel Craig (which I really liked).

I might as well address this now. The sexism in the book was very over-the-top and very off-putting.

Look, I’m no politically correct scold. I’m not going to pick up a book written 60 years ago and expect it to conform exactly to modern sensibilities. And the James bond franchise has never been renowned for its enlightened attitude toward women, so it’s not like I was expecting “The Feminine Mystique.”

But the James Bond in this novel is not the double-entendre-spouting charmer that Sean Connery and Roger Moore portrayed. He’s a sneering misogynist with an overweening contempt for women.

To be fair, Fleming doesn’t present this as a sympathetic trait. And as the book progresses, it becomes clear that Bond maintains that attitude toward women as a psychological shield, because getting too close to someone is a potentially fatal mistake in his job.

But it’s hard getting around cringe-inducing moments such as Bond’s speculation that sex with a female character will be enjoyable because her emotional inaccessibility will give it “the sweet tang of rape.”

Still, one thing that surprised and impressed me about the book was the extent to which that job exacts a physical and emotional toll on Bond. He’s far from the stoic, indestructible hero. More like a man desperately trying to maintain his stoicism in the face of overwhelming tests.

Sure, it starts out as pure male fantasy. Glittering casinos. Beautiful women. Big money and cool spy tricks. You see how seductive the job can be.

Then the book veers sharply away from male wish fulfillment territory.

The villain, Le Chiffre, kidnaps Bond. Then he takes Bond to his sprawling, underground headquarters, where he straps him into a fiendish high-tech execution device. He explains to Bond his plans for world domination, then exits the room to carry it out and leave Bond to die. But Bond cleverly escapes by …

Actually, that’s not what happens. What really happens is that Le Chiffre brutally tortures Bond by beating his genitals. It’s a long, harrowing scene that rivals the sodomy from “Deliverance” for disturbing, sadomasochistic intensity.

He ends up in the hospital, because this Bond doesn’t take a beating and then show up in the next scene looking impeccable in a dinner jacket. There, he tells a colleague he’s thinking about retiring, because he can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys anymore and the memories of the men he’s killed weigh heavily on him.

Does this sound like anything you’d see in one of the Roger Moore films? Not exactly.

I’m not going to give away the ending, although it won’t surprise you if you’ve seen the 2006 remake. I’ll just say it ends with Bond back in the game, but at the price of even greater emotional isolation.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a fun, campy romp, don’t read Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale.” But if you’re looking for a good book, by all means do so.