Albert Brooks, standup comedian, moviemaker, Academy Award–nominated actor (for Broadcast News), and, now, novelist, debuts with 2030, an ambitious take about the near future.
What made you want to write a novel?
It allowed me to do something that I couldn't do in movies, to go to that big of a stage. My movies are restricted by budget, and I had this idea and I couldn't think of a way to make a $15-million movie out of it. So when I started to write this, I felt like I was stealing something, I felt giddy, because I could write anything, and I knew nobody would say to me that it was too expensive. It was like taking some sort of brakes off my brain.
Why write a novel about the future?
I like the idea of a real future, something that might actually happen. I like the idea of 20 years from now. It's not too far; it's not too close. But it lets you use your imagination. The truth is, there are a lot of possible scenarios of what's going to happen to us. My imagination could go to a much more devastating scenario than the one I pictured, but I didn't want to write that. I'm not a big fan of the post-Armageddon stories, where Denzel Washington is walking around in a torn coat.
Have you written a novel about the future for a present of diminished expectations?
They took away the Concorde. Here we are in 2011 and we're back to flying 580 miles per hour. Remember that Reagan idea that he kept talking about, the space plane, where you took off and right up and right back down, so you could go from New York to Los Angeles in eleven minutes? All these things are fine. Where are they? Things don't necessarily move in a futuristic direction.
What was the future like when you were growing up?
Let me tell you something, when I was a kid, and Disneyland opened, I still remember, we went to Tomorrowland—this was in the '50s—and the coolest thing they had was an electric toothbrush. And flying cars, which they predicted in magazines back then. Today, people crash 11 times an hour on the freeway. Do you think they're really going to let people fly around?
In your novel, the young are extremely resentful of the old. Do you think baby boomers should give it up and make way for the next generation?
Nobody will leave any place unless they're forced out. That's the nature of humans. Once you're there, you're there. I've never seen anybody get up voluntarily and leave any place. People have season tickets to the Dodgers, they've had them for 40 years. I don't see them giving them up. "You know what, I've had these good seats long enough. Give ‘em to someone else." People just don't do that.
This is your first novel. Did it ever occur to you, you might not be able to write it?
Here's the thing. I didn't take any money from anybody. And if I had wanted to, I could throw it in the garbage. When you take an advance, you can't hand in what Jack Nicholson wrote in The Shining, or they'll sue you. But if you're writing for nothing, the only fear is what you might think of yourself. It was like a challenge. My screenplays, because they are mainly dialogue, I dictate into a tape recorder and have them transcribed. This I wrote at a keyboard. I think this is the first time I actually used a keyboard to write.
If there is a movie adaptation, is there a character you would like to see yourself playing?
Well, it depends. If the movie was made in the next year, President Bernstein would be interesting. But if it takes as long as movies normally do, Brad Miller [an octogenarian character] would be the only one.
What do you like to read?
I like books like The Shadow Factory and The Puzzle Palace. Right now I have an overwhelming passion about the Voyager. I think it's the most amazing thing we've ever done. I want to see what I can read on that. It's still sending back signals. Do you know they have an 8-track digital tape recorder in there? There's more computing power in your cell phone than in Voyagers 1 and 2. And yet they're still getting signals back. It's almost at the end of the heliosphere. That little thing that's still yelling back and it takes sixteen-and-a-half hours to get a signal. Maybe that'll be my next novel.