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The Staff



Logan's Run creator William F. Nolan invites readers into his dark universe

By Michael McCarty

L ike his protagonist Logan in Logan's Run, William Nolan isn't afraid to journey to different worlds. The Southern California writer has written successfully in a variety of genres, including science fiction, horror, western and mystery.

He was a winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Annual Award Scroll twice, and on April 13, he will received the Living Legend award from the International Horror Guild. His book Dark Universe (Stealth Press) is also nominated for best short-story collection by the IHG.

Nolan is best known as the co-author of Logan's Run (with George Clayton Johnson)—a dark science-fiction novel that spawned a movie, a television series and comic, and three sequels he wrote solo.

Since 1951, he has sold more than 1,500 stories, articles, books and other works, and has edited more than two dozen books. He lives with his wife, writer Cameron Nolan, five cats and over 10,000 books.

When did you start writing?

Nolan: Very early, in Kansas City, Miss., my hometown (moved to California in '47, here ever since).

I was nine when I wrote a poem about a fireman that my mother carefully preserved (as mothers will). At 10, I was heavily into fiction, and wrote several lurid stories with such titles as "Vulture of the Wolf Patrol." Filled two entire school tablets with them—all about cowboys and G-Men and magicians and air aces. One was about a mysterious crime fighter who could turn himself into a snake. I called him "The Serpent." Terrible stuff, really. They show no evidence whatever that this young fellow could ever make it as a writer. Naturally, all my relatives in Kansas City thought the stories were great. That's what relatives can do to you!

What was your first published work?

Nolan: Well, if you mean professionally published, that would be a chapter on Max Brand in the book Max Brand: The Man and His Work in 1952, the same year I wrote and published my Ray Bradbury review. But my first paid-for work was a short story in If: Worlds of SF in the summer of 1954, "The Joy of Living," which, much later, became my first produced teleplay.

If you count non-pro works, I had a lot of stuff in my school paper and in amateur magazines starting from age 13.

What does the Living Legend award from the International Horror Guild mean to you? How does it feel to get such an honor?

Nolan: First of all, it feels wonderful, because when I get an award of any kind it is always proof that I have worked hard and pleased people. This is validation of my work. I'm always very honored and pleased to receive any award such as this.

This is satisfying to me because horror fiction and horror writing has been the principal interest throughout my life. I've written in a dozen fields from mystery, science fiction, fantasy, auto racing, technical writing on eye care, westerns—you name it—I've written it. I've always come back to horror because it is the one field that engaged my interest from boyhood. When I was a kid in Kansas City, I was reading Weird Tales in high school and that is where I discovered Ray Bradbury's work.

To be honored for this genre is a particular delight to me.

If you had to choose three favorites from your Dark Universe collection, what three would you choose and why?

Nolan: The first would be "The Ceremony," which was chosen for The Year's Best Horror. It is a particular favorite of mine, because it deals with an evil protagonist who is given his just deserts in a small town when he is trapped by these cult people who are worshipping a new form of Halloween.

Another story I like very much is "The Partnership." It deals with a very ordinary fellow, a very likable man who works with a demonic creature that lives in the water under the old funhouse. This fellow meets people and lures them out to the funhouse, takes their money and drops them into the lower part where this creature comes out of the water to devour them. It's about the strange partnership between a good ol' boy and creature who lives beneath the depths.

The third one that comes to mind would be "The Halloween Man." It's about a demon who only comes out on Halloween night in small towns with his bag, in which he captures the souls of young children that he encounters along the way. This young girl in the story hears about him, knows that he is coming and battles against the Halloween Man.

In the end, her father turns into the Halloween Man, or seems to. The ending is very ambiguous, you don't know whether the father is really the Halloween Man or if the girl's imagination has turned him into the Halloween Man. I leave the story open-ended.

Those are the three I would pick out.

What is the inspiration for "He Kilt It With a Stick," and "'Lonely Train A-Comin'," both stories from Dark Universe?

Nolan: Both "'Lonely Train A-Comin'" and "He Kilt It With a Stick" were developed from dreams. I woke up with them inside my head.

With "Train," I had the dream-vision of a cowboy sitting alone in a boarded-up depot on the plains of Montana, waiting for the train that killed his sister—waiting there to destroy it.

With "Kilt," the whole story, beginning, middle and end, came from a dream. I just put down what happened in my dream, and I had my story. I could never write a cat-killing story like that today, since I have cats of my own and love them dearly!

Dreams, however, remain of value. They reflect the fears of the subconscious and can provide wonderful story material.

There are several scary stories in Dark Universe. Are there times when you manage to even scare yourself with what you write?

Nolan: Oh, sure. That's part of creating genuine terror on a page. What scares my readers and viewers scares me. If a writer fails to scare himself or herself, then that writer is faking it, and the reader can always tell.

Who are some of your favorite writers of fright fiction?

Nolan: Ray Bradbury, of course. His first book, Dark Carnival, is still beautifully frightening—a real classic in the genre. Then there's Stephen King (loved Salem's Lot and The Shining) and Peter Straub. I'm also fond of the subtle horrors of Robert Aickman, the best of Shirley Jackson, and that terrific first collection, A Tree of Night, by Truman Capote. There are many others—far too many to mention here. Every writer of worth has been influenced by hosts of other writers. It comes with the territory.

Mentioning Ray Bradbury—you two are known to be friends. What is he like?

Nolan: Ray and I have been pals since the day we met in the summer of 1950, when he was just breaking through with The Martian Chronicles. We still get together every few months for an evening of chatter and a meal aboard the Queen Mary (berthed in Long Beach).

What's he like? I can't sum up a man I've known for over 50 years in just a few words. Ray is always bursting with new ideas for essays, stories, novels, poems, scripts and plays. He's a powerhouse of energy. Always excited about what's coming up next in his life. And he infects everyone around him with this high-voltage enthusiasm. I'm the same way, so we do a lot of happy yelling when we get together.

Your first novel, Logan's Run, was a best-seller, turned into a movie and TV series. Were you surprised by the success?

Nolan: Not really. From the outset, I knew the idea was unique and would find wide public acceptance. I also knew that Logan would make a great movie. And I wrote the pilot show for the TV series. Right now, Warner Brothers is working on a major high-budget, high-tech remake of the novel—so Logan continues to run. The fact that Logan's Run was my first novel (with another dozen since) and took off the way it did was very nice. Most first novels sell maybe a dozen copies and are never heard from again. I was very fortunate with Logan.

Can you give us more details about this remake of Logan's Run?

Nolan: For the past five years, Warner Brothers has had a new film version in development, but they don't, as yet, have a satisfactory screenplay, nor do they have a cast. They do have a producer, Joel Silver (The Die Hard, Lethal Weapon series, Matrix, etc.), but you must realize that things move very slowly in Hollywood when it comes to production of big-budget, high-tech films.

The writer/director is Skip Woods. I had several conversations with Skip Woods. He grew up reading Logan's Run, he loves the novel and considers it a classic. He told me in a three-hour meeting at a coffee shop that he wanted to restore the novel to its original form, put back Crazy Horse Mountain, the sky gypsies and all the things that MGM left out.

It still in an embryonic form. Warner Brothers is still going to do it. I don't think there is a script, there is a treatment that has been approved or hasn't been approved—I don't even know that—with a $100 million budget.

That is what I really can't answer. I know it is in the works, I know that Skip Woods is going to write and direct it. But beyond that—it is in the lap of the gods to when it going to happen.

MGM took eight years to produce their version of Logan's Run, so it may be several more years before we see the new Logan picture in release. But they do intend to make it, and with today's great special effects (which didn't exist in 1975 when MGM did their film) it should be worth waiting for.

Logan's Run was a collaborative novel you co-wrote with George Clayton Johnson. What are the pros and cons of working with another writer on a novel?

Nolan: As to working with another writer on a novel, it can be done, but with difficulty. Each novel is a very personal journey into one's inner self. I don't mean to sound pretentious—but novel-writing is often a search for one's soul. It's tough, dividing your soul with someone else. George and I tried to write a sequel to Logan's Run together, but it didn't work out—so I went ahead and wrote Logan's World, Logan's Search and Logan's Return on my own.

In the '70s Logan's Run movie, Logan is on the edge of turning 30 and is about to be subjected to euthanasia. But in the novel, he was 21. Was this because of the "don't trust anyone over 30" era or were there other reasons?

Nolan: There were other reasons. The main reason was casting. MGM told me at the time, they couldn't cast a film with 21 years or unders as major stars and supporting cast. They had to move the death age up to 30 so they could cast Jenny Agutter and Michael York, who looked older than 21 in the film.

It just happened, coincidentally with the period of the Logan film, there was that slogan "don't trust anyone over 30." But that didn't have anything to do with MGM's decision to move the death age from 21 to 30. That was a decision made strictly through casting.

Logan's Return is an e-book. Any plans of publishing it as a paperback publication or including it with the Logan Trilogy?

Nolan: Logan's Return is a novelette, it not even a short novel. A long short story you might say. It is not suitable for book publication without other material surrounding it.

What I'd hope to do is when Warner Brothers puts Logan's Run into production—when they have a principal day of photography, things are really rolling with a cast, etc.—then I'd hope to do a book called Running With Logan—which would be an account of the making of the motion picture, with me on the set, with interviews with the stars and so forth.

As an appendix to that book, I'd put Logan's Return, the novelette. That would be an original paperback or hardcover and paperback, depending on the publication. It is far too early to speculate—but that is what I want to do with it.

What scripts of yours have you had produced in the science-fiction or horror genre?

Nolan: Let's see—I wrote the Bette Davis shock movie, Burnt Offerings. I did a two-night miniseries on (Henry) James' Turn of the Screw that was filmed in London with Lynn Redgrave. Turned out a new Jack the Ripper script, Terror at London Bridge, that made the producer a pile of money. Did a walking-deadman movie of the week, The Norliss Tapes. Wrote both Trilogy of Terror (1975) and Trilogy of Terror II (1996). Had a horror story of mine, "The Partnership," adapted for the Darkroom series. And others I can't recall at the moment. All great fun and very successful.

What happened with your adaptation of Peter Straub's Floating Dragon?

Nolan: I wrote a two-night miniseries based on that novel for NBC and everyone at the network seemed to love it. But it was killed at the last moment. After paying me 80 grand to write the script, the network fired all of its top execs just a week before the project was due to get a green light for production. And that was that. Another producer wanted to do it, but couldn't afford to pay back the preproduction cost to NBC.

This kind of thing happens all the time in Hollywood, and you just have to grit your teeth and live with it. Half the scripts I've been paid for down the years have reached production, and that's a high average in a town where you're lucky to score one out of 10.

Any advice for beginning writers?

Nolan: Sure. Stay tough. If you know you have talent (and it takes a while to find out), then hang in there. Don't be put off by rejection. I wrote for 15 years before I made my first sale at 25.

Beyond talent, a writer needs to be persistent. Have the strength to bounce back. Whenever I receive a rejection in the mail or from a producer I begin a new story or project that same day.

Don't let the bastards get you down!

Last words?

Nolan: I would like to thank all the legions of readers throughout the decades who've contacted me, written me, phoned me and who read my work and encouraged me all the way. This is what is is all about—pleasing the reader. People ask me what I'd like on my tombstone; I just want four words, "He was a storyteller."

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