April 30, 2011

Automan, The Novel!

"Wally, would you consider coming home with me after we eat?"

His heart skipped a beat, and he nearly choked on his pastrami. "What for?" he gulped.

Roxanne hesitated. "I don't want you living in that house all alone... At least, not for a while."

Walter couldn't believe what she'd just said. With dry throat and thumping heart, he moved over to kiss her. Gently, she took his head and pressed it against her chest. The room seemed to shake and tremble.

Another subway train had passed by below them.

Softly, she raised his head and moved slightly away. "We don't have that kind of relationship, Wally. I just want to mother you."

He swallowed and looked down. "It's better than nothing. If you knew how long I've stared at you from that computer room."

As with the merchandising Tony wrote about last week, the one and only print tie-in for Automan was exclusively available in the UK. Published by Target Books, the company best known for novelizing all but five storylines in the original Doctor Who series, this book is an adaptation of Glen Larson's pilot script by an obscure author named Martin Noble. I can't find much in the way of info regarding Noble, and he may in fact be a pseudonym, but he also penned novelizations for Ruthless People, Bloodbath at the House of Death, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (a novelization of a film that's already based on a novel - that's rare).

Nobel writes the adaptation well and captures both the gritty street cop aspects as well as the fantastical humor, at times blending the two even better than the show itself. The big problem is that he was obviously only working off the pilot as the book lacks any context of the episodes that followed, despite this being published the year after the show went off the air. After the first few episodes, Automan's power limitations became more random and vague, and the aspect of him going dead each morning was dropped. Here, Noble keeps the night based missions and the fading of Automan as the breakfast appliances are turned on. After a few episodes, Walter proved himself surprisingly capable in a fight, complete with spinning midair roundhouse kicks. Here, he's as meek as that guy getting sand kicked in his face on the beach. As the series went along, the romance between Walter and Roxanne grew and blossomed into something genuine. Here, as you can see in the excerpt above, they're nowhere near making out. Also, later episodes introduced people Walter knew from his programming days. While Noble does flesh out a backstory for Walter, none of these people are present in it.

Now, all of this is understandable as Noble was likely working of a script and/or video of just the pilot episode, so he himself probably didn't have any context from the stories that followed, but it's still a shame he wasn't given the opportunity to rework and tweak it a little so as to more closely follow what the show became than it does the awkward beginnings.

I mentioned before that Noble creates a backstory for Walter, and that makes up the largest chunk of new material he's added to the story. Here, Walter was childhood friends with a kid named Ralph "Donut" Donetti. Despite their physical shortcomings, they constantly roleplayed as heroic protectors of their neighborhood. One day, while huffing it to the school bus, Donetti was hit by a car and killed. Walter thus retreated into the world of computer programming. He put out a string of games called Mousetron and Guzzlemat, and though he wanted to join the police force, he caved in to his parents' fears of that career and instead received an electronics research scholarship to MIT. While there, he scored a huge success with the game Space Monkeys and used the earning to fund his experiments in holographic technology; first, for a new game called Starfighter 3D, second, for a certain you know who. He also managed to finally join the police force as head of their computer department, thanks to that section being partially funded by a grant from the parents of none other than the late Ralph "Donut" Donetti.

I think it's a good backstory. The Donut part is a little much, but it otherwise does a nice job of getting to the heart of our beloved Walter Nebicher, and I can't help but chuckle at his name being tied to games called Guzzlemat and Space Monkeys. The only bit of awkwardness is an introductory scene where Walter first demonstrates Starfighter 3D to a media agent named J.P. Hawkins, then blows his load by whipping out Automan, only to then pull back and say it's not ready. This is only after Automan makes his dramatic appearance, complete with the dialogue from the prelude bit of every episode. J.P. is, of course, blown away and thinks they can make a mint off of this technology, yet, when Wally turns him down, he's never heard from again. Why introduce this character if you aren't going to make a subplot about him? Maybe J.P. starts striking deals behind Wally's back, maybe he tries to steal the technology himself. There's so many places this can go, but it's never again brought up.

And that speaks to the entire novelization in that there's so much room for expanding things, but the majority of the additions are just little bits like Wally being a terrible driver so as to contrast with Automan; or Wally being a terrible dancer, leading him to bust out some expert Michael Jackson moves during his first merge; or a group of teens in a hotrod who spend half a page trying to take the AutoCar on in a drag race; or Walter owning a cat for no reason; or a prologue covering Walter's backstory that's written from the POV of Lt. Jack Curtis, from a point in time where he knows all about Automan; or the computer room being lined with coffee cup towers from Walter's late nights.

These are all fine, colorful details, but they don't really add much to the story. What I'd really love to see is an exploration of the past between Jack Curtis and Interpol agent Tanya Du Bois. Or what about the three kidnapping victims who hook up at the resort? I always thought a missed opportunity of the pilot episode was an escape attempt on their part, and this would have been a perfect place to build on that. Or even have Jack try to break loose after he's nabbed. We briefly hear of several attempts at freedom, but we never get to witness any first hand.

But that's a small complaint. For any fan of the show, this is a fun, colorful read, and still left me with the same smile I had during each episode. Just be aware that it follows the pilot and only the pilot, and that nothing you enjoyed from any of the following episodes are covered at all.

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1 comment:

Anthony Williams said...

So this was published a year after the pilot? It makes you wonder why they didn't go the "Further adventures of 'Automan'." route instead.