Tuesday 23 October 2018

Oh, Atlanta

In January 1992 I made my first trip to the United States. I was 25 and had been consumed with the idea of visiting America for most of my life, a desire that had only hardened as I grew into my teens and twenties. It had begun, I think, with an almost indecent fascination with American cars - the big gas-guzzlers of the sixties and seventies - as featured in such period cop shows as Cannon, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, McCloud, The Streets of San Francisco and so on.  Toy models of British cars were alright but what I really wanted was a Lincoln Continental like the one Frank Cannon drove. It was something about that rakish overhang at the front, a feature lacking or much less evident in British cars.

American TV shows, and American music, shaped and coloured my mental geography of the United States. America was The Banana Splits, Ironside, Kojak, Starsky & Hutch, the Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files - all of which had more exciting title sequences and theme music than any British series of the period. By the Eighties, I was consuming shows like ChiPs and Hill Street Blues, but still no nearer to visiting America. Part of the attraction of a career in science, though - especially astronomy - was precisely the opportunities it offered for travel. It wasn't a TV show that came to mind when I thought of Georgia, though.

It was Tony Joe White:

Years earlier my dad had made me a tape of a Tony Joe White album and "Rainy Night in Georgia" was now imprinted on my mental soundtrack.

I can't tell you how thrilling it was to finally make it to the States. It was cold but crisp when I arrived in Atlanta for a science meeting, and I took a short train ride from the airport to the hotel and convention complex where I was staying. At that point, I doubt that I'd stayed in more than a dozen hotels in my life, so it was with some amazement that I checked in to the astonishing Marriot Marquis, a building like no other that I'd seen. It (and much of the surrounding part of Atlanta) was the work of the architect John Portman, as documented in this recent Guardian article:


What I didn't realise at the time was that this building was already iconic, and a popular location for film shoots. Later on the same trip I went to a reception in an art gallery across town and had the prickly feeling that I'd been in the building before. How was that possible? I asked around and it turned out that the location had been used as Lecter's prison in Manhunter, the 1986 adaptation of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon. When I got back to the UK I rented Manhunter again and realised that the Marriot Marquis was also in the film, although it obviously hadn't registered on first viewing. Atlanta (see that article above) was and is a popular shooting location, especially because so many of Portman's designs still look futuristic, in a sort of retro-seventies way. Indeed, another film - the not very good Freejack, with Mick Jagger - was shooting in Atlanta when I was there.

What of it, now? I haven't been back to Atlanta since 1992, but the hotel did have one lingering influence on my work which that article prompts me to mention. Those swooping interior elevators left a big mark on me, and when I came to write Revelation Space - which I started later that year - they became the model for the elevators in the Nostalgia for Infinity, especially the part where Ilia Volyova's elevator plunges through the vast interior of the cache chamber. When, in Chapter Two, Ilia's elevator announces its arrival at the "atrium" and "concierge" levels, that's all down to the Marriot Marquis. I'd never been in an elevator that spoke before.

As for Tony Joe White, it was with some enjoyment that I did indeed spend one rainy night in Georgia. That was just before the full-on blizzard that forced us to de-plane and spend another night in airport hotels. If anyone ever tells you it doesn't snow in the South, don't believe them.



  1. Thanks for the memory, Mr. Reynolds! Speaking as one on the other side of the pond, I'm glad to hear you had positive images of my country. For myself, when I grew up, I watched British TV shows such as Doctor Who, Monty Python, and Fawlty Towers, and I always wanted to visit the land of my heritage. I haven't made it there yet, but it's on my list. Perhaps if my writing career takes off, I'll come there to sign copies of my book, and I'll invite you in!

  2. Those Marriott Marquis elevators were also featured prominently in the second Hunger Games film

  3. Yes, I think I spotted them. I've yet to see the third Hunger Games film, ie the one they split into two. I rather liked the first two.

  4. That is an amazing piece of architecture! Very cool to know it inspired you for that scene in Revelation Space (Obviously one of my all time favourite books). That scene & the elevator in general was always very memorable 😊 (Adds go list of places to visit)

  5. Quite a bit has changed in Atlanta since 92 (I have only been here since 09 myself, but had visited it before). But one thing that has not changed much is the Marriott. As one of the core hotels for DragonCon I have been up and down its elevators more times than I care to count and they are indeed, still iconic.

    I am re-reading Revelation Space now (as inspiration for an rpg project) and it will be nice to put a visual to those elevators.

  6. Great Architect. Wonderful to have that connection now.

  7. Hey! Im new to your blog, just wondering, will i get an email each time you post a new thing on here when i followed you?

  8. I think so; I'll do a new post before long.