Science Fiction vs. Homeland Security


J. Neil Schulman, author of the Prometheus Award–winning science fiction novels Alongside Night: A Novel of 1999 (1979) and The Rainbow Cadenza (1983), numbers Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, Milton Friedman, and Anthony Burgess among his fans. His current film project is Lady Magdalene's, a thriller/comedy starring Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek's Uhura. Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie spoke with Schulman at FreedomFest in Las Vegas in July. 

Q: Tell us about Lady Magdalene's

A: Lady Magdalene's is a trenchant satire of everything that's wrong with Homeland Security, starting off with the traditional screening of grandma at airport security. By the time they're done, they're hot on the trail of Al Qaeda, thinking there's going to be a bombing plot against Hoover Dam. But of course they have that wrong. 

Q: And where does most of the action take place?

A: Most of the action takes place in Pahrump, Nevada, which is one of the areas of Nevada where you have legalized brothels. 

Q: I really feel like you're hiding the ball. So Lady Magdalene's refers to a house of prostitution?

A: Lady Magdalene's is a brothel in Pahrump. It is the fictional third brothel in Pahrump.

Q: What's your basic beef with Homeland Security?

A: They don't trust the public. They treat everybody in the public as if we're the terrorists. It's like the school teacher who says: If I can't find out who did it, you're all staying after school. Well that's what Homeland Security does. They basically treat us all as if we're terrorists. 

Q: Alongside Night is your next film project. It's based on one of your novels. Tell us the plot and where the movie is in terms of production.

A: First of all, it's no longer "A Novel of 1999." Back when it first came out in 1979, it was thought of as science fiction. We've gone past the 1999 window. I like to call it the novel of 1979, ripped from today's headlines. Because it starts out with the last two weeks of the United States before hyperinflation causes total collapse—the point at which they don't have any money to pay the Army anymore. 

Q: When is the movie coming out?

A: We intend to be in principal photography by the end of this year. It says on IMDB that the movie will be out in 2012, and that's what I'm aiming for.

Q: This is an incredible world to be both a producer and consumer of art, culture, and creative expression more generally. There are just so many more ways to make your stuff, and to get it out there, and for people to access it. How do you feel about this new world of culture on demand?

A: It's shifted the emphasis. It used to be that there was a gatekeeper of getting distribution. Distribution is copiously easy to get right now because you can just go on the Web and you could distribute anything you want. 

But we're now going through the problem of monetizing what you're distributing. Publicity, gaining eyeballs—there's still money in publicity and the advertising that has to go into that. Then you have to figure out a way to create a revenue stream going the other direction. I'm not just competing with a $200 million production of Avatar. I'm also competing with the actress who goes on YouTube, cries about the fact that she loves cats on a supposed dating profile, and gets 10 million hits absolutely free. So on the one hand I've got multi-hundreds-of-million-dollar productions that I'm competing with. On the other I've got these multimillion-hit free productions that I'm dealing with. And I'm stuck in the middle trying to figure out a way to monetize my investment.