Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson

Which came first, the movie or the book? In this case, the book. Usually, an original is superior to an adaptation, but this one’s a bit hard to compare, because the two are quite different. It’s as if the film writer merely used some general elements from the novel as the framework for his own creation. Here are the most notable differences.

The movie takes place post-apocalypse, and is concerned with a surviving city, the City of Domes. It is sealed off from the outside world and is run entirely by a super-computer. When a person reaches the age of thirty, they are required to undergo a ritual called Carousel, where they are vaporised, believing themselves to be undergoing “renewal.” Nobody knows any better, and the citizens lead a lives of hedonism in blissful ignorance of the possibility of old age. A few reject this philosophy and go on the run when it’s their time for Carousel, searching for a legendary place called Sanctuary. They are termed “runners” and they are hunted down and killed merciliessly by the city’s police force, the Sandmen. The computer wants to know more about Sanctuary, so it turns Sandman Logan into a runner and tells him to go find the place and report back. In the end, it turns out there is no Sanctuary, and this information sends the computer into overload, freeing the citizens from the confines of the city.

In the novel, there is no apocalypse, no City of Domes, no Carousel, and people are killed at age twenty-one. “Sandman” is merely a colloquialism in the book, which is a pity, because it’s an excellent term. The book usually calls Logan a “DS man” – Deep Sleep operative. There is no city-wide prison in the novel; people are free and the whole world accepts the twenty-one-year life-span rule. How this happened is explained briefly, if somewhat unconvincingly, in a prologue.

“The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength. By the early 1970s over 75 percent of the people living on Earth were under 21 years of age. The population continued to climb — and with it the youth percentage.
In the 1980s the figure was 79.7 percent.
In the 1990s, 82.4 percent.
In the year 2000 — critical mass.”

Logan’s companion Jessica features in both movie and book, as well as Francis, the Sandman who pursues them, although Francis’s ultimate role turns out to be quite different from the screen version. Logan and Jessica spend a good portion of the novel travelling from place to place by means of a nationwide underground network of “mazecars.” Interestingly, Logan spends most of the story as a bad guy, a true DS man only pretending to run, secretly intent on finding and exposing Sanctuary. In the end, Santuary turns out to be a real place after all.

The novel is a bit trippy. I never quite grasped how Logan and Jessica ended up in all these bizarre locales. One chapter they’re in an undersea biosphere; next they’re in a freezing cold wasteland; then they’re on something akin to an indian reservation; then they stumble into the middle of an android reenactment of the American civil war. I never understood how the mazecar could take them to all these places, or how they navigated their way towards Sanctuary through all the craziness. Although I have to admit, these adventures were pretty enjoyable nevertheless.

The book is very small. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but this time I think the story was larger than the authors allowed room for. Especially the closing chapter; everything is wrapped up with disappointing brevity. Still, there’s no denying this book has something. This is evidenced by the fact that it spawned a movie and a television series. In recent years, the right to a remake have changed hands a few times. William F. Nolan has also written two sequels to the novel. I’m not sure I’ll try them. Logan’s Run is a self-contained novel, and the others smell like cash-ins on the success of the movie, especially when you read the plot of the third one, which you can do via the highly informative page about Logan’s Run on Wikipedia.

Overall, an entertaining above-average read. Fans of the movie should definitely read it, on the grounds that there’s so much that’s familiar and yet so much that’s different.