The Big Idea: Anne E. Johnson
When confronting the incomprehensible universe, it’s sometimes useful to have something to cart stuff around in. Simple, proletarian wisdom, or something more? Anne E. Johnson argues for “something more,” especially as it relates to her science fiction novel Green Light Delivery.
ANNE E. JOHNSON:
Sometimes life hands us things we don’t want. Things we don’t understand. But we have to deal with them anyway because, well, that’s life. We face inexplicable, nonsensical situations forced on us by destiny, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s pretty funny, if you think about it. And that’s the big idea in Green Light Delivery.
Webrid is just a guy, an everyman. He’s big, hairy, macho, and sort of lost. He has a menial job in the city of Bargival on the planet Bexilla, carting items either to deliver or to sell on consignment. But suddenly he finds himself tapped for a big job he doesn’t want. And he can’t exactly refuse it. A robot embeds a laser in his skull, and in order to get rid of it, Webrid has to take it…somewhere. If only he can figure out where.
Making Webrid a professional carter was integral to the big idea: For one thing, it helped the mechanics of the story. Webrid is being used by some entity (he doesn’t know who until the end) to transport something from one place to another. He’s accustomed to that concept because carting is his job. This helps him accept the ridiculous assignment that fate hands him. And because he doesn’t know who his client is, exactly what he’s carrying, or quite where he’s supposed to deliver it, Webrid feels like a pawn of fate, the toy of a snide universe that’s just playing with him.
Another reason I chose Webrid’s profession was for its humorous value. The ironic twist is that he doesn’t need his pushcart for this particular delivery, since the laser is stuck in his head. Yet he takes his cart with him everywhere out of habit and nostalgia, even when he travels between planets. It annoys everyone around him, but turns out to be a fateful choice. That cart is useful for all sorts of unexpected reasons.
The low-tech nature of a hand-pushed cart also appealed to me. I specifically wanted the city of Bargival to be like a major American inner city in the 1970s, not a gleaming city of the future. This isn’t the future, anyway; it’s an alternative universe, and the government is a mess. Things are falling apart. I was tickled by the vision of a big lug of a guy pushing a metal cart through streets that also had robots flying around them. And I wanted a person with no tech skills to be entrusted with one of his world’s most cutting-edge gadgets. He’s the last person anyone would expect to carry this thing.
Green Light Delivery is meant to be entertaining, but in truth, it grew from my sardonic belief that destiny is ridiculous and we are often not in control of what’s in our lives. Yet, most people persevere, which I realize on my less cynical days. Let Webrid be a lesson to us all: With a determined attitude, a strong-axled cart, and friends who can help you with the science stuff, nothing fate shoves in your face is too big to handle.