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The Grand Electric Zoetrope

By James A. Conan All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Adventure


Have you ever had a genuine brush with greatness? I mean, not just meeting someone by chance and shaking their hand, but actually having one of your idols sit down with you and bare his soul? It’s not something you can plan for. It just happens, and the results tend to change the way you look at the world.

It was three months ago that I was sent to a mansion in the Hollywood Hills for an interview. I didn’t know at the time who the subject of the interview would be, but my editor was assured that it would be worth his while to send somebody. Being new in town and lowest on the journalistic totem pole, that somebody ended up being me.

I didn’t just show up unprepared, I asked some questions first. This particular mansion has been the subject of fascination from neighbours and passers-by for over a year now. It is frequently dark and empty, but never up for sale. At night, lights can be seen only in several rooms of one wing. The staff is small, never more than three or four to maintain it, and the only other people seen coming and going are concierge medical team, who completely refuse to talk to the neighbours. Naturally there were rumours about who owned the place, but they seemed so far-fetched that I dismissed them as impossible. More fool me.

When I finally gave up on an afternoon of enquiries and walked into the unknown, I was met at the front gate by two rather harassed-looking nurses. One snapped at me, “What took you so long? He’s been giving us hell all day, he thought you would be here hours ago.”

I told them I didn’t know who “he” was, but that I was here now and if “he” didn’t turn out to be worth my time I’d be turning around and heading home. I wasn’t about to blow off a hot date (a lie) to sit for some nothing interview, no way in hell. They assured me that it would be worth my time, and that the subject of my interview was to be none other than Gabriel Anthony.

Yes, the Gabriel Anthony. Stardom itself. The very incarnation of fame and fortune in our time.

My heart skipped a beat. Like the rest of the world, I had believed he was dead. The nurses assured me he wasn’t, but that the end wasn’t far off. He had requested a journalistic presence to, as they put it, set the record straight. I had no idea what exactly they meant by this. As we walked up that long driveway I was lost in thought about the magnitude of what lay before me.

Mr. Anthony is best remembered these days for his charitable work following the Dead Year. The Seventh Seal tour raised billions to help those affected by the eleven month global outbreak and the massive casualties that followed it. His courage, stoicism, and dedication to helping others even in the hour of his own grievous loss are considered by students of the arts to be what sealed forever his immortality in our cultural consciousness.

All the same, that was just the final act of a monumental career as an entertainer and businessman, a career that spanned decades and that witnessed sweeping, unheard-of changes to this country and to the world. And let us not forget, this man knew Bruckweiler. Peter Robertson Bruckweiler, so frequently lionized and vilified. It doesn’t matter what view you take of him, you can’t deny that the world we live in is as much the result of Bruckweiler’s vision as it is of the combined works of nations or governments. He was the greatest tycoon who ever lived, an embodiment of the old world, who used his abilities to catapult us toward the new. It was he who discovered the original stars of the Holotheater, Gabriel Anthony included, so many years ago.

Think of it, dear reader, Mr. Anthony is one hundred and one years old. When this man was born, personal vehicles were still powered by liquid petroleum, which was, somewhat confusingly, called gas. Things we take for granted such as the Lunar colony and Martian expeditions would have been regarded as wild flights of fancy, unsustainable, and destined to be carried out only in the distant future.

Polygamy and even homosexual monogamy were not yet legally recognized forms of marriage throughout most societies. The military and police forces of the world still utilized chemical-combustion firearms as their primary means of maintaining peace by force. And, most importantly for our purposes, when people wanted to be entertained by moving images it was only possible to do so in two dimensions. How far we have come! Mr. Anthony is by no means the only person remaining from this bygone age, but he is by far the most influential. One would be hard pressed to find any man from any era who had a greater impact on his own culture in his own lifetime. Even the Bard didn’t achieve such recognition until well after his death.

I am, of course, too young to have seen Mr. Anthony perform live, though my mother and father claim to have had the honour three times, each in Chicago, where the original BroaderVision/Globe Holotheater Company made its home for so many years. But, like nearly every living person of my generation, I grew up with him. I saw his recorded Holos, in theatres and at home. As a boy I watched dozens of them and since then, hundreds. He was nothing if not prolific. My father used to tell me how fortunate I was, saying that when he was a younger man you had to get dressed up and go out just to see a Holoplay.

And so it was with all this very much in my mind that I entered this decaying mansion, which in my mind had been transformed inside of five minutes into an altar on which rested a cultural icon like no other. I was expecting to meet him, to be wowed by his wit, to hear his life story, and perhaps, if I was very fortunate, to have him relate a few personal anecdotes about his lifelong friendship and business dealings with the great Bruckweiler.

From him I would get all this and more. His attitudes were irascible, his claims occasionally outlandish, and his forms and methods of speech, well … unique. Let’s go with that. The final result is this volume which you are about to read. I have no doubt it will be the culmination of my career. More than that, it was something entirely unexpected. It seems Mr. Anthony dabbled in far more than just the business of entertainment during his time in the spotlight. I can’t claim to have been able to verify everything he told me―I’ll leave that to the scholarly types who enjoy that sort of thing―but if even half of it is true, it may cause us to need to revisit what we think we know about the history of the twenty-first century.

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