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Two Gentlemen from Lexington by Jack Womack

Like me, Walter Tevis grew up in Lexington, Kentucky. Tevis never wrote about Lexington’s nobility: its fine-boned thoroughbreds, its finer-boned centers, forwards and guards. So as far as Lexington goes, Tevis may as well have never existed, except in the memories of the Lexingtonians who knew him.

“He wrote some science fiction. We were big on science fiction,” Toby Kavanaugh, his boyhood friend and the dedicatee to his last novel, The Color of Money, remembered during a 1993 interview. Tevis was sick a lot, and wasn’t much of an athlete, Kavanaugh remembered; he and Tevis killed time shooting endless games of pool downtown, next to the Phoenix Hotel. “He kind of got picked on when he was young. They didn’t bother him later on.”

If you don’t like horses, or basketball, Lexington can do a bang-up job of making you feel as if you were an alien, fallen to earth for no good reason, or at least for no reason worthy of the attention of Lexingtonians. I knew the feeling well, and as soon as I could, I left. Tevis left, years earlier. After he left he wrote this book.

I saw the movie before I read the book; saw it in a suburban theater in the south end. Still lived in Lexington, that summer before the summer I moved to New York. Never one for reading science fiction in my younger days — generally I found my sense of wonder in other, unlikelier niches of human behavior and belief — I always liked science fiction movies. I very much liked this one.

It wasn’t long after that I discovered that the man who wrote the book also wrote The Hustler, another movie I very much liked; and that he went to Henry Clay High School, wherefrom I’d recently escaped; and had in fact lived around the block from where my grandparents once lived, when they were alive. All this made me feel rather close to Tevis, and so I did something I rarely did — bought a science-fiction novel; bought this one.

Heretic that I am, I’ve nearly always been disappointed in the science-fiction novels upon which science-fiction movies were theoretically based, but not this time. This book was the first one I read which didn’t disappoint me. It made me realize that in the right hands, something lovely, and tragic, and subtle, could be done with this kind of material. If any science-fiction novel led me to think that I should someday consider writing science-fiction, that novel would be The Man Who Fell to Earth.

I have always had the very distinct feeling that by writing this book Tevis was able, finally, to clear a lot of Lexington out of his system. I’m still trying, myself.




This essay was commissioned by Del Rey Books to be the introduction to their reissue of Tevis’s The Man Who Fell to Earth., under the publisher’s new Impact imprint. It does not appear in the book and this is its first publication.



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Copyright © 1999 by Jack Womack and Event Horizon Web Productions, Inc.