Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Least-Quantitative Generational Linguistics

Born down in a dead man’s town. —Bruce Springsteen

The Springsteen quote supplies the epigraph for It Returns, a post-Apocalyptic comedy of manners that is Stephen King’s futuristic vision of life in an anti-Darwinian utopia. The novel is richly peopled with thinkers gone mad, planners gone agley, and children gone to the dogs, and will inevitably be contrasted with King’s other post-hospitalization fiction, notably The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, and On Writing.

The story opens with Sheena, a process server, lost in the big city that symbolizes so much gone wrong in our modern society. Seeking to complete her court-appointed task, Sheena accidentally connects with Et Tu, a genderless alien traffic-expediter whose career has been sidetracked by its need to find a male, a female and a byneel of its species. Unless it can convince Sheena to help, its species will end with the present generation.
...after a while you think maybe there's a whole other universe where a square moon rises in the sky, and the stars laugh in cold voices, and some of the triangles have four sides, and some have five, and some have five raised to the fifth power of sides.
Under that square moon, World Coordinator Afgren Prime contemplates the school system on his planet. So many children are progressing from class to class without ever learning the basics of AFD and the Wovon physics they will need to succeed in life. Does he dare authorize a world-wide competency exam? Perhaps it will be sufficient to subsidize a Saturday morning cartoon starring a Wovon adept who can also see through windows.

Former Sec'y State Condoleeza Rice and Mia Love (R-UT)
Afgren Prime, Sheena and Et Tu are on a collision course that only a writer with the creative power of Stephen King could script. It is a thoroughly enjoyable tale; but one that has deeper implications for present-day issues at the time of its writing. For one thing, it is obvious King meant the Wovon disciplines to stand in for oil-field fracking, and AFD is certainly intended to symbolize building the Keystone pipeline. I can only speculate that Sheena is a loosely-disguised Mia Love or perhaps a young Condoleeza Rice, while Afgren Prime is clearly designed to remind us of Jon Stewart.

Beyond them, the rain had spilled out of gutters clogged with branches and rocks… The water had first pried fingerholds in the paving and then snatched whole greedy handfuls—all of this by the third day of the rains… But everyone agreed, the worst was over.

And what of Et Tu, the eponymous “it”? In reading this novel, I was struck repeatedly by the similarity of the neuter alien with the late bad-boy King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Jackson’s search for the perfect mate, unbounded by gender or maturity, seems drearily like that of the blue spam-warden Et Tu.

I don’t think we will ever know for sure—and Stephen King clearly doesn’t intend telling.

The movie version of It starring Tim Curry makes many of these same parallels. Curry reprises his gender-ambiguous role from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but adds a sinister twist not found in that earlier, more-innocent film. 

This book is not available on Kindle. I found my copy in a seedy book-store just off Pennsylvania Avenue in the Capitol District in Washington, DC, a stones' throw from the FBI Building. I also bought a slightly used edition of White Patent Leather Bondage Quarterly, Vol. 3. Strangely, only about the first 10 pages of the latter had been opened. Please note the date of the post!