1969 - THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD

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Jan
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1969 - THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD

Postby Jan » Thu Feb 09, 2006 8:08 am

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THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD

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"Written with an almost maniacal energy...the many Ellison enthusiasts here will be glad to have these stories available at last...including a longer, revised version of the Nebula-winning A Boy and His Dog."
-- Michael Moorcock

The book first appeared as a hardcover and was reprinted several times with corrections, the 1994 limited edition containing the preferred, (once more) corrected text and a new foreword by Neil Gaiman. This version also formed part of EDGEWORKS 4 in 1997. Let us know about any differences between editions that you have noticed.

Buy the latest edition | Langerhans page (notes, cover scans) | Webderland book review by Susanne Luesse | Our discussion of "A Boy and His Dog"

All opinions welcome.

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"The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World", winner of the Hugo Award:

This is one of those stories in which Harlan, at least on the surface, deals with madness and evil in the world, this time giving it a science fiction twist. It's not particularly easy to understand because you have to connect the dots yourself. I can only be the first in an attempt to summarize it solely as a basis for discussion, although a summary can hardly do the story (which was written in a circular form) justice.

Harlan envisions a mankind of the distant future (united with other races) which has long ago left Earth and freed itself from all madness, which is regarded as a kind of indestructible element of the universe. The only way to keep society free from the madness which may still hide in some dark recess (the dragon) is to use a machine which dumps the evil "crosswhen" - another place, another time, that is - thereby influencing our present and all of Earth's history. This is the explanation given for mass murders, terrorism, and wars.

On the personal level, this is really a story about a scientist having second thoughts and his inability to take back what he created. There is a discussion between the two protagonists - an inventor and his assistant - over whether the drainage of evil is the right thing to do. The assistant, Linah, feels that the aim should be to keep their society clean; from such a place, he hopes, it would one day be possible to exert a positive influence on the past as well. Semph, who believes that man is not made to live without struggle, tries to destroy the machine he has invented. In the attempt his sanity causes past insanity to cease for a moment (Attilla does not take Rome). However, his assistant stops him from carrying through his plan, and a court sentences the inventor to death. He is not granted the right to destroy his own invention because society feels it cannot do without it. This may be for purely selfish reasons or not, depending on whether their "hopes", as expressed by Linah, are merely an excuse or not. Semph certainly seems to think that the people of the past have been condemned to a life amidst madness due to Linah having saved the machine, but I'm not sure if he's really as angry as he could be.

He requests that a memorial be erected not in his honor (he has invented the machine after all) but "for them" - the people who have to deal with all the insanity that has flown down from the future. The statue had been found by humans earlier in the story because it was put into the past for space-faring humans to find. It represented a madman who had killed hundreds of people before being arrested, inexplicably claiming he loved mankind before being sentenced to death - words also uttered by Semph when he tried to destroy his invention.

Interestingly, Harlan described the 1968 story as "a serious stylistic and structural departure for me", although at least today we can clearly recognize it as an Ellison story. Not only the style gives the authorship away, but also Harlan's preoccupation with ethics, as well as the way he uses scale. At the basis, however, there's a straightforward science fiction idea that would have been turned into another kind of story by, say, Asimov.

The title story, "The Beast That Etcetera", was intended as an experiment. [...] It is not a sequential story. It is written in a circular form, as though a number of events were taking place around the rim of a wheel, simultaneously. The simultaneity of events around that wheel-rim, however, occur across the artificial barriers of time, space dimension, and thought. Everything comes together, finally, in the center, at the hub of the wheel. (Ellison)

My rating: :| :| :| :oops: (out of four)

Any thoughts?

Link: Review by Susanne Luesse.
Last edited by Jan on Tue Nov 18, 2008 4:36 pm, edited 17 times in total.

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Postby Victoria Silverwolf » Fri Feb 10, 2006 2:16 am

Very good article.

This is a powerful story indeed. I'll always be haunted by the image of the insane killer placing poison into milk bottles. (In a tragic way, this looks forward to things like the Tylenol poisonings.)

I suppose the complex structure of this story points the way to innovative stories such as "The Deathbird."

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Postby Jan » Wed Dec 05, 2007 4:33 am

Alchemical transmogrification in lotus land. Contemporary wine and wafer, if you believe. (Harlan's note, DEATHBIRD STORIES)

"Shattered Like A Glass Goblin" is a story published in 1968 that was nominated for a Nebula. It was apparently written at the 1967 Milford Science Fiction Writers Workshop and reappeared in DEATHBIRD STORIES.

Rudy is released from the army for medical reasons and wants to get back the girl (Kris) he had to leave behind several months ealier. They had wanted to marry, and she obviously hadn't taken his departure too well. He went to look for her in a house called The Hill where she has moved in with a group of substance abusers. She refuses to leave. Rudy hears strange noises all about the house that he cannot quite place, yet decides to move in, becoming a sort of spokesperson for the group, as long as he still looks kind of sane.

Harlan went back to the issue of drug addiction that he had begun to talk about in stories like "Gentleman Junkie". I think, the story could be considered Harlan's non-SF contribution to the psychedelic days of the late 60s. He does a brilliant job of getting into the minds of the characters in their altered states (though it's all written from Rudy's perspective). He gives us a snapshot of a peculiar time in American cultural history (and similar things happened in Europe), which he will probably not get full credit for due to "Shattered" being a genre story - a horror story, to be exact. Not being any more familiar with the times than most people who weren't around, I think I learned something from this, and it was an interesting, atmospheric story to boot. There is also something in there about how the military does not take into consideration that by drafting someone it might destroy a relationship, and with it perhaps even a life. Harlan had been drafted, as we know, so he knew about that, while the hallucinogenic experiences he describes were more of an educated guess, I presume. :| :| :|

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Postby Jan » Sun Dec 30, 2007 9:22 am

"The Pitll Pawob Division", written at the Clarion Workshop, the year after "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin", in 1968, is a short short story describing an encounter between two aliens. Presumably, teaching at Clarion had led Harlan to reflect on the current crop of SF. He parodies the pre-New-Wave realistic SF which often speculated about what extraterrestrials would actually look like and how difficult it would be to communicate with them (or for them to communicate with each other). If that's so, he probably had specific writers in mind. There is a nice punchline, too. :| :|

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Avon, cover by Leo and Diane Dillon

"Are You Listening?" (a.k.a. "The Forces that Crush", 1958) was rewritten for BEAST, although only the original copyright date is given. It's a story that was originally part of ELLISON WONDERLAND and later excised from that. It was also included in the resprospective volume ALONE AGAINST TOMORROW and adapted into graphic form for DREAM CORRIDOR VOL. 2. Given all that, it's safe to assume Harlan likes it.

A man named Winsocki wakes up one morning to find that neither his wife, nor anyone on the street or at work see him. He seems to be invisible and inaudible, but not insubstantial. However, when he touches or punches people, they feel nothing. Finally he runs into someone who's just like him. He's taken aback when that someone turns out to be rude and unwilling to offer any answers.

Despite the revisions this still reads like a story from the 50s, it has that simplicity and the stock characters from the era. There are many ways of interpreting the story. For example, I had the impression that Harlan got the idea from how people tended to overlook him due to his small height. That and Harlan's early need for attention after a difficult childhood. In my mind, nothing else really explains the pain Winsocki feels and expresses. In particular, I have a problem with the scenes in which he attacks people to get attention. That's just unnecessary violence to me, very inadequately motivated unless you have some idea what Harlan might actually have been tapping into. Here we have a protagonist who resorts to violence to get attention and to vent his anger, when in a later scene the protagonist himself condemns somebody else's attitute towards the situation. Sorry, can't follow.

Another way to look at the story is by keeping André Gide's words in mind (quoted by Harlan in DREAM CORRIDOR): Everything's already been said, but since nobody was listening, we have to start again. That's a great quote, and I *wish* the story was about that. To some degree it is, but I doubt Harlan had Gide in mind when he wrote it.

Ultimately, the story succeeds due to its message, never mind the details. "Are You Listening?" has more to say that you can't argue with than most of what Harlan wrote, especially in those days, and even if the story seems antiquated, the main observation doesn't. In fact, if someone were to write this today, we would ask him, "Now you notice?" Today a lot more facets of life would have to be taken into consideration, so the 50s was a good time to say what Harlan said. He wasn't the first, nor the last, but if we just take the final pages, he probably said it best. :| :| :|

The graphic adaptation by Elliot S! Maggin is its own thing. Among other changes, people actually fall down when Winsocki pushes them. The invisible characters are drawn in pastel colors, which I feel is a big mistake. As usual, the apparent need to cut the dialogue down to a minimum dilutes the experience.

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Postby Jan » Wed Sep 03, 2008 1:33 pm

"Try a Dull Knife" (1969) was started in 1963 and reworked/completed in 1965 and 1968. A man named Eddie Burma has been attacked and severely wounded when he enters a Latino club, where he proceeds to hide and collect himself in a toilet booth. He's an empath, drained empty at last by the people he has been caring for. - Click for Susanne Luesse's review.

This story is made up of two parts which form a direct continuity but were apparently written at different times. When five years pass between starting a story and ending it, it's only natural that a lot of things have changed and that there will be some kind of break in the narration. While the first half shows a certain amount of direct action related to Eddie's condition and capabilities, the second half, while fomally continuing the action, is really more of a meditation on human needs as they apply to people of charisma, artists, writers. The empathy angle is pretty much dropped, and it becomes more of a question of personality types, rooted in Harlan's experience.

Now, when we look at a lot of the stories from the late 50s and the 60s, Harlan often manages to come across as arrogant. The publishing of "Try a Dull Knife" can be considered one of the more risky things Harlan did. It's easy to find more than just traces of arrogance, if one looks at certain parts toward the end as pure self-expression. However, more importantly, Harlan made the story work by making a strong distinction, nourished by his own feelings, between people like him and the common people in the audience. One more time he suggests that people are normally devoid of authentic character. This creates special opportunities and duties for people like himself, who clearly have a style of their own.

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Photographed by Jim Freund

What Harlan examines is his relationship to society as determined by factors of personality and originality. When he pours himself out on the page or on the stage, what does he get back from largely silent audiences? And more importantly, why does he do it? Leaving money aside, Harlan reveals (or rather seems to reveal, but let's assume it's true) that he enjoys adulation. He enjoys being capable of things others aren't capable of. He enjoys it when people hang on to every word of his and ask for more. Eddie even enjoys the "worship of monkeys", something that Harlan certainly enjoyed for a while as well, as anybody would, but no longer does.

So the story moved from a sort of fictional arrogant stance of unrewarded helpfulness to an honest self-examination that's as important for us to consider as his more directly autobiographical works (like "Final Shtick"). Near the end we find Harlan re-tracing the psychological origins of his public-speaker self which was becoming a major part of what he is all about.

The worldview of the story, especially regarding his views on society, is similar to that expressed in several other stories and essays ("The Rocks of Gogroth" and "Xenogenesis" come to mind) but was never put into words so succinctly ever again. The beginning of the second half is simply one of the best things Harlan has ever done. And while one may find traces of arrogance behind his (fictionally exaggerated) views, the story is as much about society as it is about him, and the truth in his views about both can also not be denied. If you look closely, you may also find that Harlan was perhaps aware of imitators. They may have been people he felt were becoming like him or that were "inspired" by him and his stories. At the time, Harlan was a very innovative writer who challenged the "old ways", and many new writers did follow his lead, adopting this or that aspect of Harlan's fiction (the most famous example eventually being James Cameron). Harlan also talks about the creative well of a writer that needs refilling. After 13 years of intense writing and hundreds of stories, what was left over for him say? He had to push forward in order to stay relevant and interesting.

Since the late 60s, Harlan's role as a speaker and one-man circus has undergone some changes and he recently seemed to enjoy public appearances less. At least part of the reason seems to be that he's no longer able to reach the younger audiences as easily as he used to, like when he spoke at length to Texas students a year or two after this story, as described in THE GLASS TEAT. He also said he probably won't go to any more conventions. Still, the life Harlan references in "Try a Dull Knife" is preserved pretty well on the CDs (ON THE ROAD WITH H.E.) and on video/film.

In the book's introductory essay Harlan indicates that a six-year-long chain of paranoid events led to the writing of the story.

As I noted a few months ago ("Darkness Upon the Face of the Deep"), the outside editing on Harlan's stories often leaves a lot to be desired. While Harlan wrote a sloppy (if nonetheless quite good) last page, he can't be expected to catch and work up the energy to correct all his own errors after so much work. But I'm always disappointed how little attention is/was paid in the offices of Magazine of SF&F and similar publications. The story could have been improved by Harlan in just ten minutes with a pencil, paring down a monologue here, a description there, very minor things, and seeing to it that the final insight isn't given away half a page early. At the very least, it shouldn't have been reprinted in this fashion. This again proves that publishers apply lower standards to SF & F than they do to "literary" fiction, and they get away with hiring second-rate editors.

I first read this about ten years ago, loved it, and remembered the philosophy but not the action. The story was included in ALONE AGAINST TOMORROW, Harlan's first retrospective but is missing from THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON. :| :| :| :oops:

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Postby Jan » Tue Nov 18, 2008 4:27 pm

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"Phoenix" (1968) is another story written at Clarion. Red, Marga and her husband Grant are on an expedition in a red desert. They have lost one member, Red's friend and colleague Tab, and have little hope of finding anything or surviving their adventure without him.

This is a science fiction story about hurt feelings and animosity that hasn't anything outstanding to offer on the face of it, but somehow it all becomes more than the sum of its parts - the characters, the despair, the anger, the world, the ending. As we all know, Harlan had come into his own by the late 60s, and his prose really clicked - this reads better even than a lot of later stuff. Granted, this is a minor story, but it works well. The twist at the end may not be so new; more significant, however, is that Red (the color of anger) makes an unexpected decision that rings true. He is another of Harlan's flawed human beings, somewhere between good and evil, probably a reflection of himself and, by extension, of a whole lot of people who aren't often used as narrating characters, especially not in SF. :| :| :|

Link: Review by Susanne Luesse.

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Postby Jan » Sun Jun 05, 2011 4:18 am

"Along the Scenic Route" (1969) - Family man George feels his masculinity threatened when the driver of a Mercury overtakes him on the freeway. and he requests authorization for a duel. - Also in Deathbird Stories, again as the second story, and The Essential Ellison. Reviews by David Loftus, Susanne Luesse.

This is a solid, action-filled and cinematic SF story published at the height of the New Wave. It deals with American masculinity and draws a parallel between the Old West and modern freeways, although the story is set in the future. Consequently, Harlan basically re-framed and exaggerated old male behavior patterns. Cars were playing a major role in people's lives by the late 60s, in some cases less as a means of transportation but as an extension of the driver's ego or maleness. They had become part of the way of life as indicated here by the government sanctioning of the duel. The datails may hold some interest, the story however, which is somewhat reminiscent of the later Mad Max movies, is basically predictable, very on-the-nose and rooted more in comic books than reality. As an aside note, Harlan incorporated a large amount of male chauvinism into the relationship between George and his wife. :| :|

"White on White" (1968) - A hedonistic ladies' man yearns for true love. - A very short story that is only notable as an early approach towards the subject matter that became the basis of "Grail" (in Stalking the Nightmare). :| :oops:

"The Place With No Name" (1969) - A pimp named Norman, who’s also a cocaine addict and then a murderer, finds himself transported to an unknown place on a journey to Prometheus. - Also in Deathbird Stories. Reviews by David, Susanne.

Published in the late 60’s, this story, more clearly than “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”, is one of the earlier attestations of Harlan’s penchant for the contemporary Latin American writers. It's one of the earliest stories written full-on in the vein of the Deathbird stories, in which Harlan was looking for alternative literary ways fit to handle the modern world and which showed him more fascinated than before in history, geography and mythology. I believe he was working in this direction throughout most of the sixties, but it took him a while to bring the newer influences to fruition. Here we still have Harlan’s themes of the fifties and early sixties, but the prose has a different ring to it from the beginning, and the action then takes a fantastic turn which the writing style had anticipated. The style is a sometimes less than optimal mix of both the traditional and the experimental styles of Latin America which Harlan made his own without giving up anything his fans of earlier days would have missed.
Still the story is not a complete success on any level. There is a pseudo-provocative “dangerous visions” aspect helping to ‘justify’ it, but I prefer to see it as an interesting magic realism twist on Harlan’s older, ‘moral’ storytelling. (The biggest god in Deathbird Stories is clearly Harlan himself.) If there is one actual flaw, apart from too much travelling to a known destination, it’s the ending. Harlan’s ambitions still exceeded his grasp slightly. With all the background elements surprisingly well in place and the writing at its peak, the ending as conceived can’t help but strike a false note along with the right one. :| :| :oops:


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