Chayefsky’s Altered States: A New Direction for Science Fiction/Paranormal

altered states


rating 4 of 5 stars
bookshelves read

status Read from October 12 to November 05, 2015, read count: 1
format Paperback (edit)
updates view all 4 status updates
review 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 had.

As a psychologist who tried sensory deprivation tank and LSD, I was anxious to discover what more, if anything, Chayefsky could have written about the then new approach to consciousness research.

I was even more motivated after learning of the dispute between Paddy Chayefsky and Ken Russell in filming that led Chayefsky to identify himself as screenwriter Sydney Aaron.

I 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 more involving.

It is the story–or obsession–of Dr. Edward (Eddie) Jessup and his longing to search for and find the absolute reality of one’s being.

Chayefsky’s intensive 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 book.

There 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 consciousness.

Overall, however, Altered States is an underestimated and undervalued novel. Chayefsky’s first novel is groundbreaking. It pushes beyond science fiction and 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 consciousness. 



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