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= Robinson Crusoe: Robinsonades =

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Not a Walt Disney Fuzzy Bunnies Cartoon. I enjoyed Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe as a child in Europe, where I wanted to build a raft on a forest stream (both in imitation of Crusoe and actusally also of Tom Sawyer, which I originally read in German). Robinson Crusoe is a a classical and archetypal story that has never been out of print in three hundred years, and it has been retold in so many ways in print and film that the genre acquired a name of its own as long ago as 1731: a Robinsonade.

I published my science fiction (SF) novel Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D. in 2003 (which Library Journal reviewed positively, recommended for large libraries, and called it a "fresh and original take on a classic." The initial reaction among a technologically savvy readership (who enjoyed and understood Speculative Fiction quite well) was overwhelmingly very positive. It sold thousands of copies and garnered about 90% great ratings. When Fictionwise ended its glorious decadal run in 2012, the novel wandered into the mainstream, where it was both ignored and at times savaged. Here I learned a stunning lesson about targeting a story to an audience. Come to find out, as revealed by university Literature Prof. L. J. Swingle, introducing the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Daniel Defoe's 1619 original, that the majority of modern readers have never read the original and tend to think it is (what I call) a 'fuzzy bunnies cartoon' by Walt Disney, filled with warmth and good feelings (like: let's get cozy and have a great time on this desert island). The truth, as Dr. Swingle points out, is far from that. Daniel Defoe, to begin with, was a Dissenting moralist and pamphleteer who told a parable of sin, betrayal, murder, cannibalism, and despair. It was also, among its many traits, yet another treatise among many about the superiority of the white man over silly little colored people like Crusoe's cannibal sidekick Friday.

To the point about my own writing though: I not only enjoyed the original novel, but was profoundly impressed by the 1964 release of what has become a cult classic film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I essentially made up my mind as a teenage (age 14) and aspiring SF author back then that, if they could put Robinson Crusoe on Mars, then I could do something even more futuristic with him. I wrote a never-published precursor of Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D. as a young soldier in my 20s, stationed in West Germany with U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR), but I would not seriously revisit the topic until the early 2000s. By then, I had seen various movie remakes of the novel over the years in addition to the SF film. As always, I sought my own ground and did a "fresh and original" take (Library Journal, 2003 review).

My Take on the Archetype. Without giving too much away, I set my story in the far future, where humans have become extinct. On the site of an ancient university, a former laboratory that has become a network of living caves continues to spew out occasional clones of long ago humans, who are tragically devoured by a new species of terrifying raptors evolved for that purpose. The hero of my story is Alex Kirk (named for Alexander Selkirk, the real-life marooned sailor on which Defoe based his novel). Robinsonades are inherently tough stories to write, as I found by carefully thinking it through. Consider that Robinson is all alone and has nobody to talk to, which makes for a story with no dialog and no human interaction. Tom Hanks, in the 2000 Robinsonade movie Castaway, very cleverly solves this problem by drawing a human face on a volleyball, calling it Wilson after the manufacturer name on it, and uses this ball as a foil for dialogue. My technique in the novel was purposely cinematic, almost like a film treatment, by choice. My premise was complex, like that of Blade Runner. In fact, we can see the overlap of classic, archetypal themes in most such works. I had feelings about another old favorite movie of mine, Planet of the Apes (1968 starring Charlton Heston among others; based on 1963 Pierre Boulle novel).

Alex awakens into a nightmare (I'll discuss this more closely in a weekly feature review coming up soon). He starts life as a helpless innocent, in the process of being devoured by a monstrous clone gone wrong, and goes from being a naked and defenseless victim to ultimately becoming something akin to ruler of the planet. Along the way, he meets a female clone who becomes the love of his life and the future mother of new humans. Her name is Maryan Shurey—first name from Daniel Defoe's wife; last name for the young Muslim who saves Crusoe from Ottoman slavery, only to have Crusoe betray him and sell him in to slavery with the Venetians. No, unlike Planet of the Apes, there is no Statue of Liberty figure because, initially, young Alex has no way of knowing if his memories (those of his original human tamplate who lived a million years ago) are reality or fantasy.

Gestupo. All of us as writers receive a variety of reviews, if we are lucky to get readers and reviews at all. Many are kind and well-meaning, offering welcome constructive criticism. Others just don't have the humanity to behave like adults, but remain petulant Trump-like toddlers whose only social mannerism is the hateful tantrum. Interestingly from a sociological point of view, and sickeningly, the novel was savaged online by some semi-literate right-wing loonies who only read Library Journal's words "cannibalistic clone" in the review, out of context, and raved that they did not need to read my novel to already know it represented the coming of U.S. Armageddon and social decay (all the usual ignorant claptrap of fascists). Hating and burning books they don't actually read is a prime trait of ignorant fascists. The entire panoply of ignorance and rage from several such troglodytes was eye-opening. I mean look, I have three college degrees, including one in English and Classical/Germanic literatures. I speak several languages, have U.S. and E.U. citizenship, and have lived many years in several societies around the world so I have a balanced view of life. If anything, my fault has been to be a too literary author. I was a published poet by 19 (Autumn Leaf), completed my first novel also by 19 (Star Mate, and was a professionally working writer (summer interne reporter, a major New England daily newspaper) by age 17. So I will match my talent and erudition against their destructive, mobbish ignorance, bullying cruelty, and predatory ferocity any day. Nazis like these deserve a term I coined: Gestupo.

In fact, these creatures are really a symptom of a kind of Post-Apocalyptic mob (think Mel Gibson in the Mad Max movies). Speaking of which, there we have similar themes again: post-apocalyptic, Robinsonades (in the sense of one or a few humans surviving after the world's end). Consider that the author of the original Frankenstein story, Mary Shelley, also in 1826 published a post-apocalyptic novel titled The Last Man, and you begin to see the wheel coming full circle.

Post-Apoc Robinson Crusoe. So unlike the ignorant bullies and trolls, the intelligent and critically thinking reader will appreciate that, without entirely intending to, I wrote a novel that is really a post-apocalyptic Robinsonade.

Post Script: Bambi as Horror Story. I'll begin by saying I am a lifelong Disney film lover, so keep that in context. The only reason I mention the deer story is because it too, like Daniel Defoe's dark, cannibalistic 1719 tale, has a very dark side. The original novel was Bambi, a Life in the Woods (Austrian, 1923, German language, author Felix Salten). This was made into a Walt Disney film (Bambi) in 1942. Again, those who think classics are simply sanitized Disney flicks full of fuzzy bunnies and warm feelings should think twice. I actually remember sitting in a movie house in Luxembourg at about age six, crying my eyes out because Bambi's mother has been shot dead just for fun by an evil human hunter known as The Man. NRA, anyone? Yes, the Disney version is relatively sanitized. Many Germanic fairy tales are indeed quite grim, or make that Grimm. As I pointed out in response to one psycho who graffiti'd my Robinsonade at Amazon, consider the world's great classics, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to certain Biblical stories (e.g., David betraying Uriah over Bathsheba) to Homer's Iliad and so on, and we have a veritable facsimile of human history itself with its bloody wars and injustices. We don't have far to look. Without facing these realities, we cannot hope to learn or progress beyond them. As the popular pun goes, 'Denial is not just a river in Africa.'

More info on this book at Cafe Okay Bookshop

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