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.


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.


Green Light Delivery: Amazon|Barnes & Noble

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

6 Comments on “The Big Idea: Anne E. Johnson”

  1. This sounds like my kind of book. Just snatched it up on my Nook. Looking forward to starting it. Alas these silly bosses insist I actually do work until lunchtime.

  2. I had an attorney whose immigrant father sold fruits and vegetables from a hand-pushed cart. The lawyer dressed expensively, was driven to make a mark on society, and his big Cadillac had the license plate GOOMBAH.
    It looks from this fine preview that Green Light Delivery is well within the tradition of Asimov’s Foundation novels, where he battled on the plane of ideas between Historical Inevitability, and the role of the unusual leader in changing the course of History.

  3. Didn’t Michael Caine star in the film of this story?

    (Get Carter)

    Seriously–adding this one to the basket.

  4. As to the mutants who changed History (The Mule in Foundation; Washington, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, Mao…) As Robert D. Kaplan put it [Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism]:

    Henry Kissinger’s first book, on the Napoleonic Wars, explains Kissinger’s foreign policy better than any of his memoirs, and is striking as an early display of brilliance and authority

    The very subject of Kissinger’s doctoral thesis raised eyebrows at Harvard, as one biographer, Walter Isaacson, has observed. At a time when the threat of thermonuclear extinction obsessed political scientists, the court diplomacy of early-nineteenth-century Europe seemed quaint and irrelevant. Even if the technology of war had changed, Kissinger implied, the task of statesmen remained the same: to construct a balance of fear among great powers as part of the maintenance of an orderly international system — a system that, while not necessarily just or fair, was accepted by the principal players as legitimate. As long as the system was maintained, no one would challenge it through revolution — the way Hitler in the 1930s, categorized by the thirty-year-old Kissinger as a “revolutionary chieftain,” did.)

  5. I’d buy this one on the cover art alone. Yes, I’ve regretted picking books with unconventional covers on occasion, but it’s been a successful policy in the balance ;-)

    I love a book with a sardonic sense of snark. Humor can make the difference between an otherwise well-crafted novel being a sprint or being a slog,

    This isn’t the future, anyway; it’s an alternative universe, and the government is a mess. Things are falling apart.


    @ Jonathan Vos Post

    Henry Kissinger’s first book, on the Napoleonic Wars, explains Kissinger’s foreign policy better than any of his memoirs, and is striking as an early display of brilliance and authority

    You and I are both prone to get sidetracked by shinny off-topic discussions, so this is not to start any discussions. But I just wanted to mention that Kissinger, like Zbigniew Brzezinski and so many other Machiavellis throughout history, is a prime example of how an incisive intellect can plan such brilliant strategies with essentially zero regard for Muphy’s Law. I think we need a Nobel Unintended Consequences Prize.

  6. This book review made me think of the “Joe Schmo” delivery characters in the classic Dire Straits MTV video: “Money For Nothin’ ” (’84) And now I’m gonna have those lines from the song’s chorus on my mind all day: “♪♪ we’ve got to install microwave ovens, custom kitchen deliveries, we’ve got to move these… refrigerators, we’ve got to move these color TVs…♫”

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