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I recently polled various groups on Google asking if they had read this Altered States seen the film both or neither The majority had seen the film but ignored the book as I hadAs a psychologist who tried sensory deprivation tank and LSD I was anxious to discover what if anything Chayefsky could have written about the then new approach to consciousness researchI was even motivated after learning of the dispute between Paddy Chayefsky and Ken Russell in filming that led Chayefsky to identify himself as screenwriter Sydney AaronI thoroughly enjoyed the book It mirrored the film in many ways and as it happens the imagery of the film helped make the reading even involvingIt is the story or obsession of Dr Edward Eddie Jessup and his longing to search for and find the absolute reality of one's beingChayefsky's research is obvious There are many references to neuroanatomy chemistry and anthropology that could be sticking points for the lay reader But the overall intensity wavered only slightly and I felt an urgency to push through the bookThere are negatives of course Jessup would not have been able to communicate from the tank in a profoundly altered state or his words would have been jumbled his concepts fragmented It also led to an overly simplistic and romanticized ending one limited by Chayefsky's experiences and learning as applied to human consciousnessOverall however Altered States is an underestimated novel Chayefsky dares to push beyond science fiction takes the reader on a daring and heart pounding tour of Eddie Jessup's inner universe although it is overly circumscribed and void of meaning It is a meeting of science science fiction and contradicting Gene Roddenberry's words in Chayefsky's courageous venture into a new genre the final frontier of human consciousnessMy novel The SHIVA Syndrome expands on Altered States Among its reviews Portland Book Review awarded it 45 stars The SHIVA Syndrome Trilogy is a sci fi thriller a mystery that unfolds on a background of myths and religions biotechnology military power politics and paranormal human abilitiesThe author’s profound knowledge of this field is shown in the extraordinary development of the story The descriptions of events and characters are very vivid and engaging Having the right amount of adventure and romance this crisscrossing genre tale isn’t just a good read but may also look great on a big screen This book has a pretty curious spot in film history due to the clout of the author and the stubbornness of the chosen director Ken Russell Russell is a notoriously visual director while Chayefsky was a writer's writer The amount of research and love Chayefsky put into this book really shows It is a shame it was the only novel he ever wrote and doubly a shame considering the stress of the production is said to have put him into the grave I really wish we could have seen a Chayefsky's intended adaptation of this instead of Russell's Still a pretty worthy cap to a formidable dramatist's career Now I just need to find a copy of the screenplay Chayefsky wrote There's always a danger with writing a book about science that it will become outdated and too simple over time Fortunately Chayefsky skirts past it by using ancient science and ideas that have been around for a long time This was a fast read with a lot of truths in it truths about human nature and about the vanity fair called academia Whenever someone hits a snag in the conversation or appears dull witted they respond by reciting the highlights of their cv which seems droll and is Even though not mentioned specifically there's a lot of brain worship going onThe narrative is fast moving and we progress rapidly to the intended outcome in a short uick read My only complaint is that the ending comes off a little corny like everything is okay and we can go about our lives like nothing happened even though something incredible did indeed happen I guess that Chayefsky ran short on endings or paper or explanations Still a fascinating read So the author basically interviewed scientists for two years about whatever silliness and then wrote a book about a scientist going to South America to hang out with natives and take magic mushrooms that are the ultimate hallucinogen Then he eats a lizard while he trances out Then he synthesizes the compound and takes it while in isolation tanks He takes so much that turns into a proto caveman ape from the beginning of time and physically manifests a goat to eat it Then he goes on a rampage and beats up a security guard and goes to hang out in a zoo Then he wakes up and tries it again but then turns into explosive white light and the black hole nothingness from the beginning of time But he later beats this because his wife gives him a hug then it got turned into an 80s movie Inspired by the work of John C Lilly Chayefsky spent two years in Boston doing research to write his science fiction novel Altered States HarperCollins 1978 which he adapted for his last screenplay In the film Chayefsky is credited under his real first and middle name Sidney Aaron because of disputes with director Ken Russell Some of the events portrayed in this film seem to be based on the studies of the French surrealist author Antonin Artaud; the protagonist visits a tribe of isolated Mexican tribal people participates in their sacred shamanic ritual involving local hallucinogens for the purpose of investigating the common religious experience Much of the setting of this part of the film also appears to be based on Artaud's description of the natural altho seemingly man made landscape of the people In the movie this was represented by huge stone mushrooms often called hoodoos attributed to the supernatural Urgent and practical prose bolstered with dialog that at times feels weighted with jargon while fully acknowledging the supremacy of story and at other times—stabs right into the heart of humanityThe story is driven by mankind’s mad singular all encompassing uest to break through the illusory perceptions of reality and discover what’s behind existence We follow the main character Eddie who serves as both protagonist and antagonist over the years as he explores the boundaries of science The plot centers around the main character ingesting hallucinogens and seeking the solace of an isolation tank almost as if he is attempting to time travel He’s actually trying to go back into a sort of collective unconsciousness to search out early man the archetype of the noble savage Eddie’s looking not only to go on a “trip” of his mind but to break through the boundaries and perceptions of reality to the heights of spirituality and the depths of physics He wants to breach past notions of time and space in a cosmic way Yet it is a personal uestIn many ways the prose reads as a sort of modern Jules Verne type tale with the author shoving layers of scientific theory and research into the story to explain what’s going on The overall read is smoother than older literature and the occasional dumps of jargon and theory are always countered with genuine passages of character emotion and grounded action I found myself skipping over a lot of the technical talk as I have in other such books but the terminology is appropriate to the subject and may be appealing to others looking for hard science in their fiction The point is that the author is a highly skilled storyteller and hits all the right beats he should even with the heavy tech referencesThere were definitely science fiction elements and even some horror present in this tale What I enjoyed most was that everything felt realistic and tension was maintained without going overboard on the action This reads primarily like a thriller moving fast and light It was very visual and the author’s steeped and much lauded background in television and film sort of came through almost as if I was reading a three act structure screenplay which he eventually did too—when this was adapted to filmWhat the author is known for is his dialog in screen plays This is present in the novel There are masterful monologues where the characters give grand yet grounded speeches professing their innermost hopes fears and desires These give real gravity to the material and bolster the fantastical elements—not that those were flimsy The crescendo of this novel is as fitting as any such solid movie of its caliber My only complaint and perhaps I went into reading this with some bias having researched the author a bit beforehand was that sometimes the shorter bits of dialog felt a little stilted and redundant the uick back and forth Also the other characters who also tell the story the wife and colleagues of Eddie felt a bit two dimensional at times Though this was not always the case and when the author allowed them to fall into monologues of their own they did come aliveAnother interesting aspect of this book was the way the author made the main character compelling despite his unlikable personality He’s driven to the point of neglecting those around him Yet he’s aware of his faults Not that his awareness will stop him He’s simply not a monster ironically In many ways the main character is searching for himself in his scientific uest to alter his own consciousness It’s like he knows there is something wrong with himself and that things might be better if only he could get outside of his own head He is in continual uest for a primal consciousness A primitive self A simpler animalistic time Which is a counterpoint to his own personality that comes across almost roboticOn the book’s jacket the author noted that he was thinking about the intersection of science philosophy and spirituality This book very much explores that idea The characters are all scientifically driven however they get into such heady and technical science that the clear answers drift away and everything becomes just as fuzzy as spirituality might be consideredIn the end it seems that the author is saying all these elements in life which appear to be in conflict with one another ie spirituality and science are actually in conversation with one another That they come together in the final euationI don’t necessarily recommend this book for everyone but it is a curiosity for those looking to explore another aspect of this famous script writer’s body of work or as a further exploration of the film—and perhaps those looking for lots of science theory in their science fictionPodcast If you enjoy my review or this topic this book and the movie based on it were further discusseddebated in a lively discussion on my podcast No Deodorant In Outer Space The podcast is available on iTunes Tune In Radio Spotify Stitcher Google Play Music YouTube or our website wwwnodeodorantcomEpisode Link Altered States is definitely a book of its time published 1978 The core is Man v Himself and I don't think Chayefsky would have made it as an SF author The story is well enough told simply not told well After 180 pages of the protagonist being a stereotypical not uite mad scientist who'll let nothing stand in the way of his research we learn love conuers all with only a few paragraphs documenting this transition I'm glad I read it it explained some aspects of the movie and am not sure if I'll read it againFor the writer Paddy Chayefsky was a gifted writer who won several awards Some of those gifts are on display in Altered States I learned a great deal during my reading I would recommend it to other writers who want to see how much the concept of good writing has changed in the past fifty years and to see how too much research can slow down a novel I have a background in the sciences Chayefsky draws from and I found myself slowing down in some parts His research didn't add validity so much as torpidity Not good Paddy Chayefsky wrote only this one novel as well as the screenplay for the motion picture so both can be considered as mutually amplifyingI saw the movie when it came out and only read the book when years later I found a used copy of it for sale Frankly I preferred the movie partly for the Artaud inspired seuences partly because I expect less of a movie than of a bookAlthough inspired by Lilly's very real experiments with sensory deprivation and psychotropics the novel gets too far out in having a physical transformation seem to occur to the protagonist I can handle the suggestion of other dimensions of being and of the possibility of accessing them by such means but not the contravention of physical laws in this dimension Somewhere in here there's a story I want to know Its buried under mounds of useless technical detail translucent and cliched character development and a twist that is handled in such a ham fisted way that I nearly stopped the book completely with less than 50 pages left It really is a shame because the opening seuence to this novel got its hooks into me deeply and uickly The concept of the isolation chamber research into the far corners of physiology it had the makings of a cool creepy plot Sadly it just didn't work I wish that I could have Rod Serling re write this because his subtlety would have turned this into one hell of an entry into the Twilight Zone series I loved this movie but was always so obsessed with Ken Russell the director I never took realised it was based on this great novel by Paddy ChayefskyIt is a gripping readintelligent and mystifying but accessible perhaps because I saw the movie firstIt covers a lot of themes that seem to me relevant now than they were when the book was published in 1978 particularly the idea of sensory depravation being the key to enlightenment of true self But mostly it is just a fantastical romp with drugs love and geneticsIt's a pretty short novel but son dense with ideas and philosophical musings it feels incredible rich Altered States


About the Author: Paddy Chayefsky

Sidney Aaron Paddy Chayefsky was an American playwright screenwriter and novelist He is the only person to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best ScreenplayHe was considered one of the most renowned dramatists of the so called Golden Age of Television His intimate realistic scripts provided a naturalistic style of television drama for the 1950s and he was regarded as the central fi


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