Rodney Whitaker Is Dead
December 17, 2005 8:12 AM   Subscribe

The author Rodney Whitaker is dead, taking along with him Trevanian, Nicholas Seare, Benat Le Cagot, and several of his other pen names. Under the name Trevanian he wrote The Eiger Sanction (1972) (which became a Clint Eastwood movie of the same name), Shibumi (1979), The Loo Sanction (1973), The Summer of Katya (1983), The Main (1976), Incident at Twenty-Mile (1998), and others. In real life, Whitaker was the Chairman of the Radio, Television, and Film Department at the University of Texas. He was believe to be 74 years old, and died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow (14 comments total)
posted by hnnrs at 9:34 AM on December 17, 2005

I think 'Shibumi' was the main vector how I caught yellow fever...

For those interested in Japanese, Shibumi = Shibui + mi, where Shibui is the adjective for bitter/aged coolness (a sharply-dressed Sean Connery would be 'shibui'), -mi is the adjectival noun suffix to nominalize emotions/feelings/sensations. Tokyo's famed Shibuya district means 'bitter valley'.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2005

Thanks Heywood, Shibumi was an early influence for me, too.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:40 AM on December 17, 2005

Damn, I never knew his real name and Shibumi (and its porn offshoot, SheBlewMe) was a huge influence on me. And I'd forgotten all about Summer of Katya until now. Maybe its time to dust off some old reads and enjoy them again.

Thanks for letting us know, NotMyselfRightNow.
posted by fenriq at 9:50 AM on December 17, 2005

I loved Shibumi as a kid, and I can still appreciate its wit, its spectacular caricatures and it's acid absurdism, but as an adult I came to find the racism and breathtaking revisionism -- particulary with respect to Japan in WWII -- distasteful. There's something a little infantile about it as well. A great book if you're under twenty and a little unread, it'll get some things ticking over in your mind, but you can outgrow it and I wouldn't like to be around anyone who adopted its worldview. Come to think of it, I know someone who did just that and, no, I don't enjoy his company. The Eiger Sanction was a terrific, well structured story but the Loo Sanction was just an angry grotesquerie from start to finish.

IMO, for what little it's worth.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2005

Oh, I have to confess it was years before I suddenly got the joke about Miss Swivven's name.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2005

Just for a second, I thought Roger Whittaker was dead...
posted by mattr at 10:31 AM on December 17, 2005

Wow, I will always remember Shibumi as hands down the worst book I've ever read all the way through.

RIP, Mr. Whitaker.
posted by 31d1 at 10:44 AM on December 17, 2005

Here's another vote for thinking Shibumi was a lame, lame book. The sex stuff was absurd - my (imperfect) memory is that there was something about the "Fourth Level" of sex where a man and woman can sit across from each other in a hot tub, not touching, and give each other orgasms from thoughts alone. Or something.

Anyway, COPD is a horrible way to die. My guess is that he was probably a smoker. Sigh.
posted by beth at 10:59 AM on December 17, 2005

my (imperfect) memory is that there was something about the "Fourth Level" of sex where a man and woman can sit across from each other in a hot tub, not touching, and give each other orgasms from thoughts alone. Or something.

That is the one thing that remains vividly in my memory after all these years! I never really made it to the fourth level-- although I am always striving. If only I was good enough at sex I should be able to make my husband come by just looking at him!

That and "the pocket Venus," a character in the Loo Sanction, who if I remember correctly was a perfectly proportioned babe who looked like a 5'10" model but was really 4"10" and had a pussy that was so incredibly muscular she could damn near rip off a penis-- yet another mark for me to fail to achieve.

Thanks Whitaker for filling my tender teenager brain with such unattainable goals.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:42 AM on December 17, 2005

Okay, I asked someone to try that once. She laughed at me.
Yes, we'd achieved the First Level already. Or one of the interim levels.

And Shibumi had a theory the protagonist was pursuing about the relationship of Basque to Etruscan -- which seems to have been disproved by recent linkage of the latter to a proto-Lydian tongue. If I understand that correctly. I'm not sure that the original theory was backed by anything worthwhile.

But yeah, the Eiger Sanction is so ... shibumi. I've always wished the movie could be redone by Eastwood with his later craft. It feels like an A movie trapped in a B movie.

But frankly, who would want to read The Loo Sanction? What, a man gets assassinated in a toilet?
posted by dhartung at 12:35 PM on December 17, 2005


I just picked up a collection of his short stories a month ago. Pretty clever stories, too.

I think most of the over-the-top sex stuff parodied Fleming-esque spy thrillers. That said, I seem to recall seeing something on HBO about a Japanese guy who makes videos purporting to show women being brought to orgasm without physical stimulation.
posted by orthogonality at 1:50 PM on December 17, 2005

I really liked Shibumi when I read it 25-30 years ago. It didn't strike me as being racist but what did I know, being a remote-living, public-libraryless American. I also scarfed up all of the James Clavell novels and found them fascinating. Was his Asian characters' portrayal bunk? I don't know. I'm asking to learn.
posted by maggieb at 5:05 PM on December 17, 2005

Incident at 20 Mile was a really good western to me. Perhaps his books were simplistic, but I thought they were well done for the genre. Perhaps people prefer Dan Brown as a pulp fiction author. I give him credit for excellent characters, pretty good plots, and better writing than most popular fiction. I also thought that "Summer of Katya" was quite good, but not fit for popular consumption. Then again, what do I know.
posted by Eekacat at 7:20 PM on December 17, 2005

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