Friday, April 2, 2010

Roller Ball Murder

ROLLERBALL (1975) contains a dozen short stories by WILLIAM HARRISON. The handful of people who have picked up this book over the years probably did it for the same reason I did, because of the now-infamous ROLLER BALL MURDER story which was the inspiration for the original movie (ROLLERBALL 1975) and a sequel (ROLLERBALL 2002). Just from flipping through the book I sort of figured out that the book was a collection of short stories, and that few or none of them were related to Roller Ball Murder. Still, I had hopes, and I was definitely surprised to discover that most of the stories aren't even science fiction.

Setting aside my disappointment that this book wasn't fully of cheesy, savage stories about retro-future, 1970's style, made-up blood sports, I was fairly impressed with the writing overall. One reviewer at likened Harrison to a cross between Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl, with a bit of Stephen King thrown in. This is a perfect characterization, actually.

The stories grow progressively darker as they move toward the terminal Roller Ball Murder story. The tales were written between 1968 and 1973, the earliest featuring more nostalgic or redemptive themes (THE PINBALL MACHINES and THE HERMIT).

The somewhat loose threads that bind the stories together are the characters. Most are seekers, chasing after some form of meaning which forever eludes them. Some of the characters chuck it and go for self-immolation or turn into predators who exploit those around them. Mostly though, the search for something "real" is honest. The title character of Roller Ball Murder, Jonathan E, is a good example. Despite the glory and thrill of the game his life is increasingly burdened with weariness and disappointment. He is a self-deluding hamster churning out his life on a wire wheel (albeit a bloody one with 300 mph cannonballs).

Of course, the grim vision of the future in Roller Ball Murder is enough reason on its own to read the story, especially for fans of dystopian fiction.

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