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Retro/Active: Ryan North on ‘Back to the Future: The Novelization’

Retro/Active: Ryan North on 'Back to the Future: The Novelization'

Every time Marty McFly and Doc Brown stepped into their DeLorean and drove into the past, they had to be careful not to change history lest they alter the very fabric of the space-time continuum and wind up in a deranged alternate reality like the one where Biff Tannen ruled Hill Valley and Lea Thompson had enormous fake breasts, teaching us the valuable lesson that not all unintended alterations to the space-time continuum are as bad as others.

The work of art being systematically reviewed at the B to the F Tumblr by writer and cartoonist Ryan North feels like a chronicle of one of those alternate realities Doc and Marty might have accidentally created by misplacing a sports almanac or stepping on a butterfly.  North is working his way scene by scene, or in some cases line by line, through “Back to the Future: The Novelization,” published in 1985 to coincide with the release of Robert Zemeckis’ epochal science-fiction movie but bearing fewer similarities to the film we know and love than one might expect.  Right from its opening lines, author George Gipe deviates from the story of “BTTF:”

“Here, in the living room of a peaceful house in the suburbs, a typical family sits quietly.  Dad reads the evening paper, unaware that disaster is about to strike.  Mom cleans the dinner dishes, oblivious to the fact that in a few seconds their world will be reduced to a whirlwind of splinters and atomized debris.  The children are in their rooms, doing their homework, little knowing that only a few moments of life are left to them, that they will never have to worry about homework again.  The mightiest force ever created by man is about to be unleashed on them and there is nothing on earth they can do about it…


“A second later, there was a flash of white and the unnamed family were enveloped in a surge of power that tore their tiny frames to pieces, bending them curiously out of shape before separating bodies from heads, arms from torsos, legs from abdomens.  The solid-looking house simply crumpled into thin shreds of pulp and instantly ignited into raveling avalanche of flame.  A wind-tunnel effect then whisked the body parts and wreckage of furniture and plaster into a horrible whirling mass that was sucked into the tortured atmosphere.”

Remember that scene from the beginning of “Back to the Future?”  Where a whole family got obliterated by a giant nuclear bomb?  Me neither, and I even own the Blu-ray that has the footage of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly.

North’s Tumblr is witty and strange and definitely worth reading.  So far he’s covered just the novel’s first forty pages.  Please, readers, no one travel back through time and accidentally intercede in the meeting of North’s parents — at least not before he gets through the whole book.  Otherwise we’ll never find out how this version of Doc and Marty’s adventures turned out.

[H/T Dan Kois]

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