1967 - FROM THE LAND OF FEAR

The SPIDER Symposion: in-depth discussion of specific Ellison stories and works.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Sat Feb 09, 2008 12:48 pm

"Soldier" (1959) is one of Harlan's better known stories, largely due to having been turned into an episode of The Outer Limits. A soldier from the far future is accidentally transported into our time, where he wreaks some havoc and is taken into custody. While he doesn't understand what happened, agents of the government come to the right conclusion and try to decide what to do with the man.

The story is one of Harlan's many anti-war statements, possibly his most powerful. It was obviously written at the height of the Cold War (the battlefield is in Russia) and just a brief time after his discharge from the army. The message here is that if mankind does learn from past mistakes, history will keep repeating itself. Harlan uses a lot of dark irony, for example by naming the war Great War VII. The soldiers are just chess pieces in a bigger game - they have no education whatsoever, and when they receive their orders by some kind of telepathy, they merely function. There is no indication as to what they are fighting for, but I doubt there are many civilians left.

I was somewhat surprised upon re-reading this that the writing style is no better than that of the average Harlan story of the time. If fact, I doubt Harlan suspected that people would remember the story at all since he didn't include it in his early collections. It will be interesting to read the script and see what changes he made. One problem is that the story is too wordy, it just slows down too much. Once again, Harlan makes no real attempt to engage the emotions, and while he shows the characters trying to figure things out, we're way ahead of them. We know who the mysterious stranger is, we know what place he has come to, we know it's English he speaks and we know what he keeps saying. We're just waiting for the punch. The ending is in keeping with Harlan's later stories about humanity's tendency to forget its lessons. Like "We Mourn for Anyone," what makes this story worthwhile is simply the way Harlan observes the world and draws his conclusions. Not sure how much serious anti-war fiction was coming out of SF at the time, particularly between wars. My rating: :| :| :oops:

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Sun Nov 02, 2008 6:36 am

Image

"My Brother Paulie" (1958) - Brad is the pilot of a rocket on a flight around the moon. Unfortunately, he is not alone - his twin brother Paulie wants to replace him.

Harlan calls this "an intense little study of paranoia, schizophrenia and psychopathic behavior". I guess that's what Rod Serling would have said too. Indeed Harlan saw this as a possibility for the Twilight Zone in retrospect when he wrote the introduction. He used an ending that TZ used many times, later. Confused? Well, he wrote this before TZ got on the air and then didn't make it to Hollywood in time to have any dealings with Serling.

Frankly, this is just a forgettable suspense piece, but one that, for the most part, works on a basic level. It is reasonably suspenseful. It was also written in pulp style, like "Soldier", with phrases like: "...his face had assumed a gargoyle cast--the eyes wide with hate, the mouth slashed open and hungry, like the mouth of a killer fish, the cheeks strained across in a death grin". I much prefer the flashbacks to the twin brothers' childhood, short as they are. These are what elevates the story above good versus evil, which is still essentially what we have here.

I don't think pulp fiction had to be believable, but since Harlan chose to put it in a book in 1967, it should be noted that no space agency would send out a large rocket with various compartments and corridors and have rotating sections for artificial gravity, mostly for the benefit of one guy. I also can't believe that twin brothers would be so different from each other. Harlan sure has no explanation. He was miles away from turning material like this into something meaningful such as "Shatterday".

The ending is interesting, but it's also a cheat. In my opinion you can't have it both ways. I guess such endings were in vogue at the time, or at least considered acceptable. Now they're old-hat, and this particular one, while not ineffective, doesn't make sense at all nor tells us anything. On the whole though, this yarn works okay, and it helps that there is no pretense. One thing Harlan did well was spread the exposition over a few pages while taking us directly into the action. Thus he managed to grab the reader from the start. :| :|


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