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RANT FROM MARCH 1997
"When Life Imitates Art"
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     Art means fiction -- novels, stories, plays -- not how-to
handbooks, like HIT-MAN or HOW TO ASSEMBLE AN ATOMIC BOMB IN YOUR
OWN BACKYARD OUT OF SPARE PARTS FROM YOUR LOCAL MILITARY BASE.
     Writers of fiction imagine things, and then humanity hastens
to bring into being what has been described in fiction.  Life
imitates art.
     Carel Capek, a Czech playwright, wrote R.U.R., in which he
invented the word, robot.  Now we all use it, and many have
been built and many factory workers have been replaced by them. 
Capek forced us to ponder the human-like qualities of the robots
right off the bat in that very first attempt, and later fiction
continues to wrestle with that same topic.
     A comic strip called BUCK ROGERS entertained the little kids
of my generation fifty years ago.  Now rockets and laser ray-
weapons are less entertaining, since my generation has to pay for
them and duck and weave to dodge their effects on human life.
     Mary Shelley scared a lot of people with Dr. Frankenstein's
antics, and this week's top story is about scientists thrilling
some and scaring more, by cloning sheep and monkeys.  Humanoid
monsters will without doubt be next.  We will do it, moral
questions to the contrary notwithstanding, because we can. 
Hubris will be harder to harness than ever.
     I have bumped into several instances in which life has
imitated the art in my own fiction.  In Duke City Alchemist, in
DUKE CITY TALES, the alchemist unleashes an influence that
alters conditions.  One of these influences results in this
situation:  if the person sitting in the driver's seat of the car
or truck is legally drunk, the car won't run.  For me, it was
alchemical power, i.e. magic.
     Now in reality, inventors have presented judges with the
opportunity to sentence habitual DWI offenders to vehicles rigged
with a device which measures the driver's blood alcohol content,
and if any is detected, the ignition system will not function.
     In A WORLD FOR THE MEEK I describe the dolphins of the
future as so free of ego, i.e. meek, that they and their culture
and science constitute the great hope for our planet.  The only
human survivor finds himself moving beyond ego and possessions
and pre-conceived axioms, through keen awareness of his having
lost everything and aching gratitude that the dolphins have found
him, that he, too, is becoming meek.  At one point I note that he
is going Zen-crazy.
     Then years later a newspaper article appears, in which
philosophers and dolphin-researchers declare and illustrate how
dolphins are already advanced Zen Buddhists.
     And now just this week I find my opening story in VERMIN,
Johnny Plutonium, acted out in real life.  In the story, the
protagonist places little heaps of blow-sand in the grass at the
zoo, with a little sign labeling the material, plutonium, pu. 
When accosted by police, he declares that he is pointing out the
truth of the little-known and not-at-all publicized fact that
there really is plutonium in the grass at the zoo.
     A newspaper story now tells how Edward Grothus, proprietor
of The Black Hole, a surplus materials shop in Los Alamos, buys
canned vegetables, removes the creamed corn or string bean
labels, and replaces them with illustrated labels that state,
Organic Plutonium.  He sells the cans from his store.
     His activity hit the papers because he sent one of those
cans as a Christmas present to William Clinton, President of the
United States of America, at the White House.  The Secret Service
was not amused, and came visiting.
     Life imitates art.  It's a good reason to write, and to
read, fiction.  It stretches the mind.
* * *
Copyright © 1997 Harry Willson

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