Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"THE LINK" by Richard Matheson

Thinking about a story in terms of how it can be told on television is a daunting task. Several years ago, myself and a friend of mine threw around a concept for a television show entitled Skewed. We started out with a concept, started sketching out what's know in the biz as a Series Bible, and began work on the script for the pilot. Before we'd wasted too much elbow grease on it, we fortunately realized that (a) the show was probably a bit too hi-brow, and (b) that production costs for the historic sets would be prohibitive. At any rate, the process gave me some insight into thinking about the pros and cons of writing something for television. With that in mind, I just finished reading Richard Matheson's The Link.

Matheson originally pitched the idea for the story to ABC in the seventies and was given a "go" to start up a treatment for a 20 hour-long mini-series. Somewhere along the way, ABC first wanted him to cut back the story to 7 hours, then wanted an entirely new storyline added to the project, before they finally lost interest.

Matheson then toyed with the idea of turning the entire project into a novel. When Part One of the story came in around 800 pages, his agent advised him to drop it as the entire book would end up at around 2,000 pages long, and as such be unsellable.

Fast forward a few decades when Gauntlet Press decides to publish not the novel, but the treatment for the mini-series, and you have The Link.

In a nutshell, (and considering the size of the story it's one heck of a nutshell) the book tells the story of Robert Allright, a man who's family has a psychic past. He's hired to help write a film about psi - parapscychology et al - with the help of two "technical advisors" from England. Throughout the book, Robert and his companions, Cathy and Peter, have an opportunity to delve into every aspect of psi through a wide ranging variety of experiences and setups. They work psychically on a crime with a police department. They investigate two separate hauntings. They travel to Russia to meet with people involved with everything from psychic healing, to remote vision, to telekinesis. They meet dozens of psychics who's abilities range from the mundane to the fantastic. The whole history of psi is discussed via flashbacks, (which led me to wonder if this entire project wasn't Matheson's impetus for Mediums Rare...) and a host of theories are brought in from both sides (pro and con) of psi that round out the story and make it not seem like a commercial for parapsychology.

So, that's the backdrop. Through all of this, Robert is trying to solve a family mystery that seems to become clearer through each of his experiences.

A mini-series?

After finishing this book I felt like I'd read the synopsis for a nine-season network drama. There really is enough material contained within The Link for something so much more... broad, for lack of a better word. How would it have worked as a television show? I'm not sure. There's a lot alluded to in the book that would have been difficult to convey on the screen without a lot of elaboration that wasn't. But it sure as hell would have been fun to watch.

The Link - novel or not - is a masterpiece. The story is sweeping, engaging, and written so well that you don't even realize how much you're learning while you're reading it.

You can purchase signed, limited, numbered copies of Richard Matheson's The Link from Gauntlet Press.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Orignally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on April 15th, 2007)

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