Why is the SLIDERS novelization of the Pilot so terrible? It always struck me as strange that Brad Linaweaver's novel wasn't at least mediocre; I mean, he already had the story and just needed to convert it to prose.
Thinking about it recently: my take is that Tracy Torme's Pilot script is a love story, but Brad Linaweaver wrote the novelization as a hate story.
Linaweaver's writing career was defined by writing novels that expressed his contempt and loathing for Nazism and Communism. His magnum opus was MOON OF ICE, a novel about an alternate history in which Nazi Germany developed the atomic bomb first. Linaweaver developed his writing skills by penning angry essays about the triumph of capitalism over communism, Libertarianism over National Socialism. He wrote from a place of anger and contempt against that which he (not necessarily wrongly) judged to be evil.
Then he was handed a SLIDERS script to turn into a novelization. One would think he'd be a great choice. Unfortunately, Linaweaver's novelization is a cruel, grotesque affair. The emphasis is on Soviet America's violent bloodshed; the novel opens with the sliders observing a crowd being gunned down by soldiers massacring civilians and children with Linaweaver delighting and relishing the corpses and splatter, all of it giving voice to his hatred for Russian communism.
Linaweaver seems to disdain America and Americans too, however, but it's self-superiority as opposed to hate. Linaweaver is mocking towards academia and Arturo, mocking towards Wade's feelings towards Quinn, mocking towards Quinn's class and wealth in the family being able to afford a gardener. Linaweaver writes from a default level of looking down on others when writing Earth Prime. His writing turns to loathing and contempt once the story moves to Soviet America, laying out everything in the most repulsive fashion: the streets, the smells, the food. Everything under Linaweaver's pen is dirty and unpleasant, moreso in the parallel world of the story.
This may be why Linaweaver also did such a terrible job on the SLIDERS episode guide. SLIDERS: THE CLASSIC EPISODES was over a year late and with all the episode entries based on the shooting scripts with Linaweaver never bothering to watch the episodes and creating errors in his already slapdash plot summaries. Why did he do such a lazy, indifferent job on this next SLIDERS book?
I suspect it's because hate is cunning and cruel and knows loyalty to nothing and no one, not even its most devout practitioners. I suspect that Brad Linaweaver liked SLIDERS' scripts, he liked Torme, and he therefore couldn't tap into the fuel that made him write with passion. As a result, Linaweaver was paralyzed: he couldn't write SLIDERS: THE CLASSIC EPISODES as the only content he ever wrote well or would ever want to write: he couldn't write a hate story.
In contrast, Tracy Torme's Pilot script is a love story. The Pilot is about how Tracy Torme is in love with the United States of America. Now, we can argue whether or not anyone should love a piece of land or a government. We can note that Torme grew up the son of a wealthy musician, that Torme was able to enter screenwriting and earn a great living, and that Torme's love for America is because Torme had the great fortune to be born into privilege and comfort and associates that fortune with the country. We can certainly be aware that America has treated its citizens abominably.
But regardless, Torme's love for America is heartfelt, sincere, loving, patient and kind. While Torme's love for his country is at times boastful, arrogant, rude and overly insistent on its own way, it isn't resentful nor does it rejoice in wrongness. Instead, Torme presents the contrast between the United States of America and the parallel Soviet America through a series of gentle jokes.
In the United States of America, the legal system allows an injured worker to profit from his own misfortune and an opportunistic lawyer to ensure a payoff for a percentage; what's more, the legal system is daily entertainment. America's entertainment is filled with opportunity: an over the hill entertainer like Rembrandt Brown believes he has a second chance, radio news is provocative yet relatively harmless.
The homeless man ranting about communism is a silly curiosity. Capitalism and the free market allow smart young women like Wade Welles to turn down thousands of dollars in sales today for tens of thousands in a month. Trickle down economics allow Quinn to find all the scrap parts he needs to build sliding. The power of the US dollar is so prevalent and strong that everyone can have some.
In Soviet America, the legal system is a quagmire with TV court being for fascist show trials and entertainment is for suppressing free thought; the TV lawyer is a deadly interrogator, the homeless communist is a political leader, and holding the US dollar makes one a target of the communist regime. In Soviet America, everything that Torme loves about America has been twisted into something bizarre and uncanny, but Torme emphasizes the peculiarity and baffling humour of the situation and plays it all for laughs. Rembrandt's capture, interrogation, trial and sentence are played as comedy.
Torme doesn't play it for too much danger or fear; Torme clearly doesn't like communism yet, unlike Linaweaver, Torme doesn't use the Pilot to hate what he disdains. Instead, Torme uses Soviet America to create a sense of unfamiliarity, homesickness and longing for what he loves.
The characters are striving to return home; the skewed inversions of the United States in the Soviet America are all to emphasize everything that Torme loves by noting their absence in this world. Furthermore, ends the visit to Soviet America by offering the hope that even in this terrible place, what Torme loves might still be saved.
The Pilot novelization is a story of hate. But the Pilot script and the Pilot episode offer a story of love. A story of Tracy Torme's love for America.