“Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The Time of Odd Innocence
other day I watched a movie that had a huge impact on me when I saw
it on TV: Beach Party.
It was released to theaters in 1963, but didn't make it to my TV set
until about 1968. I was nine years old, and it rocked my world.
could say the same thing about Godzilla,
The King and I,Jason
and the Argonauts,The
Pink Panther, and dozens of
other movies my impressionable young brain soaked up from the TV, but
unlike the other movies, Beach Party
and its sequels and impersonators were about something I thought was
actually going to happen one day: I would become a teenager, go to
the beach, and get a boyfriend who surfed and played the guitar.
all, isn't that what happened with Gidget and Moondoggie? To me,
this seemed like the True and Only American mating ritual. Never
mind the fact that I knew nothing about actual sex. And watching
Beach Party did not educate me in that regard. Seeing the
movie almost fifty years later, I was struck by the artful balance
between what the characters said and what they did not say.
The adult characters use the word sex several times, but the
young characters, the people I thought were teenagers (on the second
viewing, they struck me as college-age), never do.
here's what really blows my mind. They never mention the word
marriage, either. Prior to that time, you had to imply that
couples were heading in that general direction if you were going to
make it past the ratings board, but by the time Beach Party
came out, everyone had grown up at least a little.
are two couples at the center of the movie, and the younger one,
whose age group was undoubtedly the target audience for the movie, is
having trust issues. He wants to be alone with her; she's afraid to
be alone with him. As an adult, I can see that he was hoping their
relationship could move to the next level of intimacy, the one that
would require at least one of them to use birth control. But she's
afraid of that level, because she's not sure he's in it for the long
haul. If she ends up “in trouble,” she may be on her own.
as an uneducated kid, I understood her fear of abandonment. And
since the movie was a musical, it also seemed natural that the
characters should burst into song from time to time. (I'm convinced
this is the reason we insist on blasting music in cars, stores, and
malls – we think real life is supposed to have a sound track.) The
surfer guys all looked like the handsome guys from the Mystery
Date game (I rigged the door on the one I owned so it would
always open to show my favorite guy), and a general silliness held
the plot together, so even when I didn't know what was being implied
in the sex education department, I could go with the flow on the
surface emotions. I was thrilled with the ride.
1968, the real world was coming to pieces and trying to remake itself
into something new. Viet Nam divided the younger and older
generations, people were beginning to question whether war caused
more problems than it solved, whether a 9 to 5 job was the only
worthy goal in life, whether drugs should be illegal. And the family
itself was a reason for conflict – was it really a
one-size-fits-all proposition? Was Western religion the only true
philosophy, or did Eastern religions have something to teach us? In
another year, the pinnacle of hippie culture would be realized at
Woodstock, the nadir in the Manson killings. Younger people felt an
irrational hope; older people thought the world was coming to an end.
relevant to the two couples in Beach Party, the first birth
control pills were approved by the FDA in the late 60s. The idea of
a relationship outside marriage was about to get some moral support
(though many still called it immoral).
the whole love theme was only half the story in Beach Party,
because another phenomenon had already started to re-shape pop
culture: the Tribe of Surfing. The writers of Beach Party
were right when they sicked a couple of anthropologists on the main
characters, and Paul McCartney was right to worry that Brian Wilson
of The Beach Boys was his biggest competition. Once Dave Sweet and Hobie Alterdesigned
light-weight surfboards that more people could use, anyone who had
access to a beach at least gave it a try. The Gidget movies
turned surfing into pop culture, Dick Dale perfected surf music that
summed up the surfing life and the lingo, and Hawaii suddenly seemed
like a happenin' place to a new generation.
me? I lived in Arizona. I bought into the beach myth with all my
heart, and it was with great dismay that my balloon was burst many
years later, when I made my first trip to an actual beach in
California, thinking it would be Pavones. But every square foot was taken up by a human being, and
almost none of them looked like those fabulous people in the movies.
They were old and fat, or screaming toddlers, or people who gave me
the creeps. The sand was hot, the water was cold and full of icky
stuff, and I got a sunburn just by walking from the parking lot.
(All of you people who didn't belong on my beach, I still hate your
guts 30 years later – especially now that I look like you).
I did glean one useful thing from Beach Party. At the end of
the movie, the surfers protect the Anthropologists from evil
bikers by forming a moving ring around them and singing their own
version of Ring Around the Rosey (“Punch You in the Nosey”).
I tried that trick on the playground after I saw the movie. I can tell
you with authority – it's a great trick. But it only works once.
Nine of my novels were published in the U.S. by NAL/Penguin/Roc, under three pen names. I've also been published in the U.K., Italy, China, and Israel. My novels are Shade, Larissa, Scorpianne, EggHeads, The Kronos Condition, GodHeads, Broken Time (which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award), Belarus, and Enemies. I have two new novels from Tor: Medusa Uploaded (May2018) and Medusa in the Graveyard (July 2019).
My short stories were published in ASIMOV'S SF MAGAZINE, the Full Spectrum anthology, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju, UNCANNY, CICADA , SCIENCE FICTION WORLD, ALFRED HITCHCOCK, CLARKESWORLD, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and ABORIGINAL SF, whose readers voted me a Boomerang Award.
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