Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Doug Engstrom's "Corporate Gunslinger"

Doug Engstrom has been a farmer's son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist, and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

Here Engstrom dreamcasts an adaptation of his 2020 novel, Corporate Gunslinger:
Corporate Gunslinger is set in a near-future United States where duels have become the last stop in the legal system. Companies are allowed to hire professionals to represent them; ordinary citizens must fight for themselves.

The duels are highly formal. A judge presides with the assistance of wards, who help prepare the combatants and enforce the rules. Combatants use identical single-shot pistols, and wear pants and tunics with no metal parts that might deflect a bullet. They start back-to-back, separated by an opaque hologram called the Wall. The Wall makes it impossible to get a clear shot until both combatants enter their respective “kill boxes,” a space about ten yards from the center. At that point, the Wall disappears, and the combatants are free to turn around and fire at each other. The last person to fall wins.

The story is told from the perspective of Kira Clark, a young woman who’s incurred huge debts for her education and secured them with a “lifetime services contract” that will make her property of her creditors if she fails to pay. She wards off foreclosure by training as a gunfighter for TKC insurance. We see her career from her first day as a trainee through a climactic match against another professional.

I’d like to see Emma Stone as Kira. Like Abigail, the character Ms. Stone plays in The Favourite, Kira has fallen from a relatively high social status, and is simultaneously an abused waif trying to make her way in a world she isn’t well-prepared to navigate and a relentless predator who’s determined to do whatever it takes to make herself safe. I think Ms. Stone could bring Kira’s dual nature to life on screen.

The key physical features of Diana Reynolds, Kira’s trainer, are that she’s tall, muscular, and intimidating. She’s also smart, cynical, and expert at manipulating the world around her to protect the people she cares about. Charlize Theron put those qualities on screen in a great way as the leader of a mercenary band in The Old Guard, and I’d love to see her do the same for Diana.

Kira rooms with another gunfighter, Chloe Rossi, who is also her best friend. Chloe is a short, red-haired Italian-American from a working class background. Her soft appearance and lack of self-confidence make her easy to underestimate. While Chloe isn’t anywhere near as cold as Arya Stark, I think Maisie Williams would be great in the role.

I’d love to see Lexi Alexander in the director’s chair. Although she’s probably best known for the big-canvas action movie Punisher: War Zone, I believe she could do some really interesting things with the smaller scale and more intimate violence of the corporate dueling field. Her background as a World Kickboxing Champion and Marine Close Combat instructor would also bring an important perspective to the story.
Visit Doug Engstrom's website.

The Page 69 Test: Corporate Gunslinger.

--Marshal Zeringue