Written in 1993, before the 1990s flowering of TV science-fiction/fantasy in The X-Files, Buffy and Angel, it has points to make about what television can accomplish when it tries to be something other than soap, hospital drama or police procedural. For example, he is fond of V, which he describes as "handsomely-done and moved along with great verve, but it fell badly at the Stupid fence". Here's what he has to say about writing it:
As far as getting a range of good and interesting stories is concerned, it strikes me that there's an interesting lesson to be learned about TVSF from past examples. There's a pattern. In the original Star Trek, some of the best episodes came about when a practising SF writer was approached for material. The writer would then turn in a script which would be great writing but not produceable. A hasty rewrite by the production team on the night before shooting would produce a cut-down and more TV-conventional version which would a) earn eternal enmity and sometimes litigation from the writer, and b) go on to win awards and admiration and generally be remembered as one of the series' best achievements (cf Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever, and Norman Spinrad's The Doomsday Machine).
How much credence you give the remarks of someone who wrote episodes of the cheesetastic Bugsis up to you, but it's worth your time nonetheless.
It strikes me that given his love of placing fantastical elements in contemporary settings, his natural playground might have been a concept like The X-Files. Most of his novels trod that sort of path. I loved one of his early novels, Valley of Lights, which concerned a killer who moves from body to body, inhabiting people as if he were wearing a new set of clothes. It was the first book I read to use such a concept, though the idea has been used multiple times by movies and TV shows since. I think the Denzel Washington film Fallen nicked it but with a religious spin.
It also has a vivid Arizona setting, based on time Gallagher spent there researching, so he picks up on the things a foreigner might. I can't tell you whether it is accurate or not, as I lent my copy of the book to a complete fuckwit who never returned it in 1995, and I've been meaning to get a new copy ever since.
Give his articles a go too. I particularly like the one about Stephen King and "the most expensive fuck-off note in history".
* * *
I like reading James Lileks. I find him utterly infuriating. Sometimes I think he's right, often I think he's funny but mostly he's infuriating, like a testosterone-infused Julie Burchill. Maybe I like reading him because I find him infuriating. Who the hell knows.
Anyway this column about the anti-war marches -- or as he puts it, "The Movement to Reinstall Saddam", ho ho ho, very good, Mr L. -- is my favourite of the week for inducing the "you are so full of shite" reaction.
(I should say here that the "you are so full of shite" reaction isn't necessarily a bad thing and nor will it prevent me from reading further. It's even affectionate in some cases. "Aw. You are so full of shite. Bless!" A second cousin to "I could've guessed your reaction to that".)
Let's begin with the parts where I agree with him. Yes, I think the man with the 'I love NY' sign is unforgiveably crass and stupid and disrespectful and needs a good slapping up the side of the head.
I don't think oil revenues should go to French oligopolies either -- but permit me to take a minute to *laugh in Mr Lileks' face* at the suggestion that they are now going to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi oligarchy, western oil companies and Halliburton maybe.
And now we're done with the parts where I agreed with him.
Mr L starts off with his tumour metaphor. I can tell he likes this one because he uses it with great relish. It's a good metaphor except for the part where he misses the entire fucking point.
Imagine if you woke from an operation and discovered that your tumor was gone. You’d think: I suppose that’s a good thing. But. You learned that the hospital might profit from the operation. You learned that the doctor who made the diagnosis had decided to ignore all the other doctors who believed the tumor could be discouraged if everyone protested the tumor in the strongest possible terms, and urged the tumor to relent. How would you feel? You’d be mad. You’d look up at the ceiling of your room and nurse your fury until you came to truly hate that butcher. And when he came by to see how you were doing, you’d have only one logical, sensible thing to say: YOU TOOK IT OUT FOR THE WRONG REASONS. PUT IT BACK!
Okay then. Let's flog this metaphor to death.
So let's imagine that you're in hospital and you're surrounded by doctors. And all of them agree that you've got cancer but they don't know how this tumour relates to it, they're divided about what to do about it.
So the most powerful doctor, let us call him Dr Bush since we're being blindingly obvious, says "we're going to open your abdominal cavity using *this* surgical strike and we're going to take out the tumour".
And then all the other doctors say "Isn't that a bit drastic? You don't even know where that tumour is yet. And the tumour in the stomach isn't what's actually the problem. Yes it's bad but it's not killing the patient right now. Perhaps we should wait, find out a little more, not risk surgery that might make the condition worse until we have more information."
It's not that the other doctors think the tumour can be persuaded, it's that it's not the tumour that's killing this patient.
A big row ensues. Dr Bush declares that he is going to open up the stomach anyway, whether anyone else agrees or not. His second in command, Dr Blair, scurries about compiling evidence that the tumour is where Dr Bush says it is, but problems ensue when it turns out that the X-rays he uses as evidence were in fact copied off from an article entitled "Know Your Own Stomach" in the 1993 Blue Peter annual.
The other doctors plead with him to wait but Dr Bush has a big performance review in 2004 and he's on a strict timetable -- operation now, payment by end of 2003, patient the hell out of his hospital by June 2004, everyone's a hero.
Except now we've operated and the patient is worse, not better. The patient is slowly bleeding out on the table. Cancers are multiplying in his body. We're asking the other doctors, who we disdained a year ago, to help out now. We have a patient plan to guide his recovery but if all goes to plan we're not going to be treating him after June 2004 so who knows if he'll pull through? But we don't care because by the time it comes to the performance review, we'll be out of there.
The trouble with Lileks' analysis is that it ignores the fact that many people who are protesting are not the hard-left he so despises, but ordinary people who are honestly troubled by the lies, half-truths and bloody-minded stupidity that went on in the prosecution of what they believe was an unnecessarily divisive war, fought to a timetable driven by the US economic and electoral cycle.
Yes, some of those protesters are "no war under any circumstances" merchants, but a lot of them are not. They wanted Saddam gone (and preferably dead and gone) as much as the next person.
But they also foresaw that an invasion of Iraq without UN backing when the evidence of links to al-Qaida was so pathetically flimsy was handing the jihadis a hugely powerful propaganda tool. In occupied Iraq, they also have a top-notch training ground for the next generation of brainwashed young men who are so spiritually void that, in the chilling words of the Madrid bombers "you love life and we love death". There's a reason that Tony Blair, pop-eyed weaselly git though he is, was trying to build an international coalition to fight the war.
(And while I am here: the Spanish socialists victory was not a victory for al-Qaida. It's insulting that you should say such a thing. Had the Aznar government not tried to persuade the public and other countries by all means, fair and foul, that it was ETA and not an al-Qaida franchise so they could win the election, they might have clung onto power, even though some 90% of the Spanish electorate was against the war in Iraq. It's funny how the exercise of democracy is so valuable in Iraq yet so despised when it occurs in Spain and France.)
The worst is, it didn't need to happen. The UN inspectors were not bumbling, ineffectual amateurs. They could have found weapons if they existed, though it would have taken time.
A coalition for war could have been built, if the Bush administration had not expressed its utter contempt for any kind of international bridge-building agreement, from weapons limitation treaties to the Kyoto protocols on global warming to the international criminal court. There would still have been mass protests but there might yet have been a war that could have lopped off Saddam and his vile sons without causing such widespread bitterness in both east and west.
*That*, Mr Lileks, is what most people are so angry about. Our service personnel are still being killed in a foreign land, those killed by the terror attacks in New York and Washington and now Bali and Madrid have not received justice because the perpetrators were *not* in Iraq, we've spent millions and must spend millions more, and Osama bin Laden is still out there, Iraq is still a casus belli and an unstable mess -- and all so that George Bush could force through his own unfinished business with Iraq.
We're a bit peeved that so many of the Bush administration's favourite companies are getting very rich pretty quickly thanks to the taxpayer handouts, but that's not the issue.
The issue is this: we're not safer. The world is more dangerous now, not less. They *lied*. Not just national security lies, which are understandable, but big honking lies to bump up poll numbers. We've handed a propaganda victory to the hardline Islamist fanatics, and in a world where propaganda is power, it's the last thing we needed to do.