“I’ve got a bad mothersnerfing feeling about this.” –Han Job, intergalactic drug dealer, driver of the Millennium Impala, “Star Cars”
Shortly before Wyatt Duvall halted the publication of what was to be his second novel, “Tombstoned,” he made this curious assertion: the work was a reboot of reality.
This wasn’t a novel concept, of course. Duvall, the prankster behind the discredited self-help tome “Walking Sleep,” trafficked in half-baked homages and mutated memes, not original ideas. So, it’s no wonder many rightly credit the author’s boast as a not-so-subtle nod to Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a cinematic achievement that was intended to be an evolutionary device itself, a monolith of projector light and Dolby sound that would open man’s consciousness to new modes of thinking, much as the black monolith inspired the ape men to first create tools.
That the plug was pulled on “Tombstoned” before its publication, rendering the mission of Duvall’s work moot, the promise of this failure has achieved something of a legendary status among a small but fervent type of pop culture enthusiast, in particular those who oppose the cultural hegemony of superheroes, hobbits, and silly space fantasies populated by blaxploitation anti-heroes spouting Zen koans amidst a background of Arthurian chicanery and laser-tag shootouts at the OK Death Star Corral.
For them, “Tombstoned” was not so much an indictment of how things were during the early decades of the 21st century — a world that regarded “Star Cars” as not only a universal touchpoint but the defining creative work of all mankind, a piece of corporate-owned intellectual property that was at once infallible and beset by a multitude of heresies — but a sign of things to come. And that future could only be achieved if enough of us dared to admit that the black monoliths each one of us carry in our pockets — our smartphones — were gravestones of a dead culture, a gravestone on which each and everyone of us had etched their own epitaphs in the form of mocking memes, Tik Toks, and trending hashtags.
The deep, dark hole into which Duvall stared was not a universe of himself, much as many, if not, most suspected, but a singularly small black mirrorverse smudged by the fingerprints of every single man, woman, and child. And those fingerprints were, quite sadly, the same. Out of many, one. One mind. One soul. One single thought: Star Cars. Or something of the kind.
These single-celled, single-minded pop culture smudges were not things that Duvall, or you or I for that matter, wanted to see — our common collection of lowest common cultural denominator touchpoints of thrilling car chases, street-smart hot pant and halter topped princess prostitutes, shoot-first-and-crack wise-later afro-pic cowboy samurais in platform heels and leisure suits — but the truth that the true believers in the myth of “Tombstoned” saw for themselves. And these visions caused them to quake, to shake, to shiver in the very marrow of their bones. Now, in what appears to be the only surviving copy of “Tombstoned,” you can even hear Duvall’s bones rattling in their grave, years before his corpse had been placed in the ground, that is if even the worms would allow him to rest by their sides.
Over the course of a life spent searching for the gullible marks in our midst, Duvall understood better than most that the world of the screen was a common stage on which we all performed. Here, we are all free to be whoever we wanted to be and to seek out whatever we wished we had, and yet we chose to fill our days with lesser things, an ad-hoc reality ebbing and flowing according to the whims of a population who favored self-parody over any other pastime, perversion, or activity the present allowed.
We are a people raised on costumed creations, costumed heroes, and costume changes. For the men and women of the Glass Age, the era of the screen, slipping in and out of identities is less a second-nature diversion then it is a relentless, unforgiving tic.
At the core of “Tombstoned” is Duvall’s hypothesis that the world is our collective making, an act that actually masks the end of individuality and free will. It is a hollow world on which each successive fantasy is built upon a previously tired trope, until all originality has been trotted out and gawked at for so long that what was once a jaw-dropping beauty was to be transformed into a pinhead gimp eating raw chicken in a sideshow tent, a sad place where the one, if not the only, thing we desired was yet another installment in the “Star Cars” franchise. Mothersnerfing “Star Cars.”
And in the case of “Tombstoned,” the very thing before our eyes is the bathroom stall scribbles in which Duvall operated as a wordsmith, or what passes for a wordsmith in this day and age of emoji hieroglyphics and Rosetta Stone-less gifs — the funhouse mirror version of thought itself — all with the unmentioned promise that the mirror becomes the reality and the reality becomes the mirror and all else becomes an infinite tunnel of reflections of things that are not and never have been. At least before “Star Cars.”
As the intellectual giants once proclaimed, the medium was once the message. But today the medium is a massacre. Now that we have directed our free will to our smartphones, the very vehicles in which we record, explicate, and divine our thoughts, our smartphones –or tombstones as Buck Sparkman, the hero of Duvall’s lost work would say — have mapped a course to, at best, a dead end and, at worse, a brick wall of our own cultural construction.
In the story of “Tombstoned,” all roads lead to “Star Cars.” But with “Tombstoned” in our hands for the first time, we may finally touch the surface of the black monolith, embarking on an odyssey to a destination we have yet to explore, one that doesn’t lead to the very grave of mankind itself.