“Salesman, impresario, merchandiser of illusions, rainmaker, image-publisher, gun for hire, programmer of protocol, spontaneous demonstration organizer, the advance man is one part Willy Loman, one part Sol Hurok, one part Al Capone, and one part Emily Post.” – V. Navasky
“Cain slew Abel, and Romulus slew Remus; violence was the beginning and, by the same token, no beginning could be made without using violence, without violating.” –Hannah Arendt
2012 is already living up to its reputation. End of the world, here we come!
In brief, a team of retired astronauts are planning something big – so big it’s the biggest secret in the history of the world. In the years since they got home from their mission to Mars the former crew of the Celeste Farrow (literally: “pigs in space”) have worked feverishly to save the Earth from overpopulation, environmental degradation, moral degradation, and peak everything. That they want to do it is noble enough, but how they plan to do it is problematic to say the least.
In the beginning, Amelia Cooke, wife of Captain Bill Cooke, suspects a conspiracy is afoot. She hires Lynn, a private dick, to spy on her husband to see if he’s having an affair with one of the lady astronauts from the Celeste Farrow. Meanwhile, Bill and what’s left of the crew are trying to convince rich investors to pony up for a scheme to turn marshlands into vegetable gardens. One of the former crew members, Connor Wells, was turned into a mysterious, outer space, catatonic Rain Man on the journey, and another crew member, Tim Wiley, was mysteriously killed on the angry red planet.
I won’t give away the ending — see it for yourself! — but as Amelia suspects, things are not what they seem on Earth or in space. Bill’s son Abbie knows the score. Abbie is the sensitive dreamer type who intuits the big cataclysm that’s right under our noses, the one we can’t see because to recognize it would drive us mad. Ronnie, Bill’s daughter, is just the opposite. She’s the hard-headed fighter who isn’t going to let some bogeyman push her or her loved ones around. One thing is for sure, when the big secret is revealed everyone is going to have to take a stand, take a side, and move! Now!
Mac Rogers makes no apologies for loving genre and sci-fi in particular. And personally, I agree with him. Genre is much more revealing of an author’s talents than free-form realism or high (Post) Modernism, which are often simply intellectual excuses to bore an audience for two hours while getting your “Artiste” on. Advance Man is fast paced and the dialogue crackles. Though sometimes the family drama and the apocalyptic sci-fi drama appear to be from two different plays, there is rarely a dull moment. Belly laughter erupted from the audience at all the right times (and none of the wrong times).
Beyond mere technical proficiency or pure entertainment, however, Advance Man also provides food for thought. Science fiction imagines what technology can do to solve — or exacerbate — our all-too-human problems. Sometimes science takes us to a new and better world; sometimes we stick our noses where they don’t belong. Advance Man is, in this sense, typical of sci-fi’s utopian-dystopian roots. Rogers examines two questions that arise from this hope for / fear of utopia in Advance Man: 1) will a revolution save us from overpopulation and human extinction, versus 2) how likely is it that we will be enslaved by the technology intended to set us free? Do Bill and crew have the moral right to save our species at the cost of taking away our freedom? Substitute “the EPA” for “Alien Invasion,” and you have an endorsement of the politics of climate-science doubters.
Bill and Co. are romantic idealists. They have seen our world from the outside, and they know how fragile and precious it is. Bill, the charismatic captain of Ark America, wants to wipe the slate clean and start fresh for the human race. But, as Arendt notes in the quote above, since ancient times revolutionary beginnings have been stained with the blood of brothers. That’s certainly how Ronnie sees it: just because my dad is a scientist doesn’t give him the right to make essentially political decisions about which of his human brothers lives or dies. For her, to be human you have to be free.
To Rogers’s great credit, he only dramatizes these fundamental questions; he doesn’t try to answer them. At least not yet. This is the first installment of three, and there may be room yet for some preaching about good and evil. But in Advance Man we are left deliciously ignorant of our ultimate fate, making the show a perfect entertainment to ring in 2012.