If you are deciding whether or not to read the book, likely you saw the movie and either liked it or were curious to learn more about the setting. Unfortunately, as either a classic of science fiction or as a better option than just the movie, this book fails completely. The writing is shallow, the story brief, and this feels very much like a pulpy dimestore novel but without the charm. More notably, the movie told the story better and made very smart changes.
Story: In a world where youth have taken over and society is run by a machine, everyone who reaches the age of 21 is required to go to a sleep center to end their life. Logan is a Sandman – a policeman of the governmental group responsible for hunting down and killing those who try to live beyond 21: runners. When Logan reaches his last day, he becomes curious about the place called ‘Sanctuary’ that all runners seek. With the aid of the sister of the last runner Logan killed, they will follow a series of clues left by the mythical ‘old man’ Ballard – clues that will take them to icebound jail wards of desperate men, gypsy camps with nubile women, abandoned city centers, ground zero of a nuclear bomb, and deep inside Cheyenne Mountain to the heart of the computer core running the world. Unfortunately for Logan and Jessica, they will face great dangers along the way and are being chased by Logan’s friend: the Sandman Francis.
Perhaps the biggest distinction between the movie and the book is that the book is a morality piece masquerading as science fiction while the movie is a dystopian. Written in 1967, at the height of the hippy and counter culture movement, Nolan makes his stance clear with the opening lines of the book: “The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength. By the early 1970s over 75 percent of the people living on Earth were under 21 years of age. The population continued to climb—and with it the youth percentage.
In the 1980s the figure was 79.7 percent.
In the 1990s, 82.4 percent.
In the year 2000—critical mass.” As a result of that critical mass, a “little war” was created that overthrew the government and then the youth instituted the mandatory age limit rule to control population overcrowding. I didn’t quite believe the logic in that change, especially since it was supposedly in response to breeding restrictions similar to the Chinese limit of 1 child per couple. But then again, very little about the world that Nolan created truly made sense. The logic holes are big enough to drive a truck through and characters act inappropriate to their age, aren’t believable, and are even unreliable narrators. The world is shallow, poorly defined, and only loosely held together.
The movie took the mess that is Logan’s Run and coalesced it into one focused story. Gone are the cross country trips to random places around the world (from cities in Washington and Los Angeles, under the ocean, to the arctic), doing random things, and the ‘big surprise’ at the end of the book was completely jettisoned. Instead, we are given a small insular city inside a dome and Logan forced through the master computer to become a runner and infiltrate the ‘sanctuary’ movement. Through that he meets Jessica and they travel through the bowels of the City to find a way out. The action is contained, the story much more focused, and by completely changing Francis’ character, we get much more pathos in the story. Indeed, who didn’t cry at the end when Logan was forced to battle his best friend with the US flagpole? As with a similar situation in Last of the Mohicans, the movie is far superior to the source novel.
The book greatly lacks structure and the message is so heavy as to be stifling (and very, very, dated). Of note, I listened to the Audible version and really disliked the choice of voice actors. His rough and mature voice completely defeated the feel of Logan and Jessica being 21. They sounded even more improbably mature than they were forced to be in the book. I would love to hear a narration of this by a YA author who can make the characters actually sound young. Of course, there is no helping the very silly and static 1960s writing.