Ian McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester, England, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1965. He has won the Locus Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He now lives in Belfast. He is on twitter as @IanMcDonald.
by Ian McDonald
Ghostbusters isn’t my favourite film but asking someone their favourite anything is a pernicious question. What kind of person has only one favourite? It’s a favourite. Busting makes me feel good. And a lot of other people feel good as well. From the moment I saw the video for the title song, I knew this was a film I had to see. I went, I saw, it kicked my ass. Ghostbusters 2 is sadly under-rated, and I count Ghostbusters: the Video Game (which features the cast in voice work) as Ghostbusters 3, which makes the reboot (to which I’m looking forward immensely) Ghostbusters 4, by my reckoning.
Much has been written about Wenkman, Stantz and Spengler, but not so much, I think about the Fourth Ghostbuster, Winston Zeddemore, played by Ernie Hudson. On screen it seems a thankless, fifth wheel role; St Peter to Murray the Father, Ackroyd the Son and Ramis the Holy Spirit. He’s the blue-collar dude who turns up looking for a job, and he finds a job and will believe anything as long as there’s a paycheck at the end of the month. It’s part of the enduring mythology of the film that the role was originally written for Eddie Murphy, to be largely improvised onscreen. Ernie Hudson is on record that he was disappointed that his role was cut drastically from the original script –he was there from page 8, with a full backstory and much more character development.
But what we do have is both classic, and important. Yes, Winston is a very important character. I’ve seen it argued that Winston’s character plays no role and serves no purpose in Ghostbusters.
Winston is a very important character indeed. He’s the rookie. Would we understand half as much of how Ghostbusters works on a day to day basis, if we didn’t have the new start asking questions and learning the ropes? Would we know how the containment device works, if we didn’t have the rookie being shown it? Yes, they could have shown the other three incarcerate a Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor, but that would just be info-dump. Show the rookie how it works and we learn about them, him and their work. The rookie shakes up the established social order and gives us new angles and insights on the main characters –note how the relationship between Wenkman, Stantz and Spengler changes when Zeddemore changes the threesome into a foursome.
The rookie is a fantastic tool for worldbuilding without info-dumping.
When I wrote Luna: New Moon, I was creating a world close to our, in the near future, connected to our world, but shaped by its environment, economy and society into one very very different from ours. I wanted to show the economy, the industry, the surface work, the blue-collar aspects of life on the moon. I wanted to show how Corta Hélio mined and sold Helium 3. I wanted to get an angle on the Corta family –the main protagonists of the story—that wasn’t their interactions with each other. I wanted to show readers how life up there is, on a day-to-day basis –a thing all the resident characters take for granted, but we, as readers don’t. I need a view of life on the moon from someone not from the moon. An immigrant. A Jo Moonbeam, in the lunar vernacular.
I needed a rookie.
So I created Marina Calzaghe, an engineer from the Pacific Northwest who comes to the moon to pay her mother’s medical bills and, by being in the right place at the right time, foils an assassination attempt on Rafa Corta, is offered a place in the family corporation. She’s the pavement-to-penthouse character (and back again, because it’s always more interesting to take away status power and privilege when it’s been earned) who starts as an up-and-out (the closer you live to the surface in the titanic, beautiful lunar cities, –the closer to solar radiation –the lower your status) and ends showing us the inner workings of lunar industry, society, law, sex, marriage and the Corta family.
Marina is our eyes, ears, fears and hopes. Our way into a dangerous, strange and seductive world. She has all-areas access, and she naturally, organically and without any info-dumps, shows us now the moon works, because she needs to learn. And we root for her. We always root for the blue-collar hero. Rookies can lift many times their weight in plot-points.
So let’s hear it for the rookie, for Marina Calzaghe, and for the great Winston Zeddemore.
Because Winston may not have a great role, his character may just come out of nowhere, he may (to those who don’t understand the importance of the rookie) seem superfluous, but you can tell Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis knew his worth, because every. Single. Line. Is solid gold.