#27 - On the Slab

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markabaddon
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#27 - On the Slab

Postby markabaddon » Fri Apr 07, 2006 7:04 am

[See ANGRY CANDY and DREAM CORRIDOR Vol. 2 - Mod.]

I have to admit I am a little uneasy posting a new topic on this board, populated by so many who know far more about Harlan's works than me but this is one of my favorite stories by Harlan that may be under the radar for others.

The opening scene establishes an almost Gothic mood, set as it is in a withered apple orchard that is constantly struck by lightning. When the orchard owner discovers the "great man" he is so shocked by his discovery that he lapses into catatonia, forcing his wife to sell the body of the giant to the first good offer that comes along.

What I liked about that part of the story is how honest it was. The characters did not act with any false nobility or bravado, instead there was legitimate panic that the wife could see long term hospital care for her husband in her future and acted in her short term interests to address that issue. This is just one of the reasons I love Harlan’s writing, because the people in his stories act in a way that makes sense.

The final confrontation in this story is one on which I would like to comment. When the destroyer comes to resume his torture of the giant, the main character understands that the giant is Prometheus, the giver of fire and, in this story, the creator of mankind. After driving the bird away momentarily, the main character is able to ask Prometheus one question (paraphrased): “Are you now what we once were?” Prometheus answers that he is what we would have become if we were worthy. It is then stated that the darkness was deep that night, but not as deep as it would become.

I have given a lot of thought to that ending and find it similar to The Deathbird in that it affirms the power of mankind. According to Prometheus, we do have the ability to become godlike but have squandered it. Even though he states that the darkness would become much deeper, Harlan does not say that it would consume us, leaving the reader some hope that mankind would eventually recognize its inherent greatness.

I was wondering if any else saw a connection between the themes in this piece and Deathbird?

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Ben
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Re: #27 - On the Slab

Postby Ben » Thu Apr 20, 2006 9:15 pm

markabaddon wrote:This is just one of the reasons I love Harlan’s writing, because the people in his stories act in a way that makes sense.


Damn straight - human beings who behave somewhat like actual human beings. This is a serious literary rarity, even among the very best authors today.

Speaking of which, I seem to recall from somewhere that this story was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's tales...

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Postby KristinRuhle » Thu Apr 20, 2006 10:54 pm

The Providence, Rhode Island, setting is an (openly stated) nod to both Lovecraft and Poe - "that locale where the odd and the bizarre melded with the mundane," as do the events in the story. From the vivid description of the opening sequence to the kicker - and I do mean _kicker_ , it just hits you viscerally - last sentence, "On the Slab" packs the "Harlan punch" we know and love so well.

It is a *dark* reworking of the Prometheus legend. I went back and read the beginning after reading the ending - which you can interpret in many different ways -and noted that things don't get better for the unfortunate George Gibree - were you supposed to forget him? it does note that the poor bastard ultimately committed suicide, which is what happens when the silence and darkness are *too* deep.

Interesting that you were able to read hope into such a dark story. Whack my head on the wall - the connection with "Deathbird" had never occurred to me, but both stories turn myths and archetypes on their heads.

Wow, now I've got ANGRY CANDY out and trying to read only one story in that is like trying to, oh, eat only one chocolate....

Kristin

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Postby markabaddon » Tue Apr 25, 2006 12:03 pm

The story reads more like a Lovecraftian tale, but the general feeling of dread pervading the story is certainly evocative of Poe.

It is certainly a dark tale, and George Gibree plays a rather unfortunate role in the story. His fate reaffirms that sometimes life just ain't fair.

However, despite that, I find hope in the story because it also shows that each individual has the capacity for greatness. Squandered in most, to be sure, but there are those individuals: an Abraham Lincoln, a Mozart, a Mahatma Ghandi, a Simon Bolivar, who are able to achieve some small fraction of their potential.

That is humanity's greatest paradox. Despite all of my professed cynicism towards mankind, I cannot believe that a race capable of such beauty is completely irredeemable.

I do reserve my right to change this opinion should the Republicans manage to gain seats in the Congress in the 2006 midterm elections......

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Rick Keeney
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slab

Postby Rick Keeney » Sun Apr 30, 2006 1:07 pm

i remember reading this way back in the day--although it doesn't seem that long ago, really--and thinking it was Harlan doing what I liked best, that is evoking a mood and putting the knife in, then turning the blade for good measure. this is from angry candy, right? that is an Ellison showcase. one of my favorites.

i'll have to consider ties to "Deathbird", Mark.

Rick

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Ben
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Postby Ben » Wed May 03, 2006 5:03 pm

markabaddon wrote:It is certainly a dark tale, and George Gibree plays a rather unfortunate role in the story. His fate reaffirms that sometimes life just ain't fair.


One solution to that problem: If it ain't fair, make it fair.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Sat Jun 10, 2006 12:04 am

Quite a magnificent one. Thanks to Mark for making me read it again. It WAS under my radar.

I'm tempted to compare this to "The Discarded" (1959) which I reviewed yesterday, and between the writing of which and this (1980's) Harlan has clearly made amazing leaps as an artist. He's long past conventions now (like traditional "dialogue" and "scenes") and seems in full cotrol over the art. He's composing instead of writing, using the language to full effect, telling a story and making it come alive for you.

The major change in Harlan seems to be that he's able to use more restraint - he no longer has to put everything on the page, he no longer has to impress and hit you on the nose. He tells us what we need to know with as few words as possible and without resorting to traditionional devices such as dialogue (although there is some) and a character's train of thought. (The reader experienced "The Discarded"mostly through thoughts.) One line about Kneller's cigarette tells you more than a whole paragraph of "Discarded". We don't need to know everything about Kneller and his sad childhood and how his dog died last year.

Harlan can count on his readers trusting him by now, he does not have to reveal what he's up to until nearly the end of the story, he doesn't tell us that "something bad is surely gonna happen, so stay put". All of this amounts to ridding his prose of residual banalities, I guess, for lack of a better term, thereby making room for true craftsmanship. It's hard to imagine better prose than this.

The effect Harlan achieves wth his ending is quite unique. Again, it's partly because he doesn't explain too much, and he doesn't need a character's banal thoughts about the situation. He doesn't need to explain what the great man means by what he says. The ending just MEANS. I think I said the same thing about the ending of "The Deathbird" and "Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral". We know EXACTLY what it means.

A tie that binds these stories (and also "The Discarded") together seems to be Harlan's cultural pessimism (again, for lack of a better term) which may or may not be completely what he feels, but it's definitely nothing that lacks conviction behind it. He's dead serious, and whenever we as a race seem closer to self-destrucion than at other times, a story like this hits home even more.

I had forgotten that this has already been adapted for the Dream Corridor comic book, but it occured to me that this could look amazing in in ink. Harlan obviously thought the same thing. The only problem with the comic book format is that it makes this story look a little short, all build-up and punchline - it could have been spread out over a few more pages.


Mark: To me there was no hope in the ending, and yes, I saw a connection to "Deathbird" to the degree I mentioned. You see the theme as similar as well. Maybe. Yep.

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markabaddon
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Postby markabaddon » Tue Jun 13, 2006 1:49 pm

Jan, you are welcome, glad you enjoyed it. I have a feeling that I am probably the only person to have read anything hopeful in the final scene of the story. I think it comes from this tiny kernel of optimism left in my otherwise cynical body that shrieks, "If people realize they have the power, perhaps one day they will actually wake up and use it in a positive way". Or it could just be the voices in my head talking to me again....

With the filming of The Discarded starting this Summer, I definitely need to read the story prior to seeing it on television. Paingod is one of the collections I do not currently possess, so I will probably download the story from fictionwise.

Your points in terms of Harlan's restraint are very accurate. The pervasive sense of dread is almost Hitchcockian, in that nothing overtly bad happens until the end, but much is left to the reader's imagination.

Did not realize that this had been adapted for Dream Corridor, would anyone know which issue it appeared?
Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristrocratic forms. No gov't in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, gov't tends more and mroe to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Tue Jun 13, 2006 4:10 pm

The issue doesn't have a number, but I think it's the first (HE DC Special, second edition August 1995), and it's in the graphic novel, of course.

(Looking up the comic book makes me wonder what the difference between the first and second edition is. There's an additional editing credit on the second one.)

The thing about it is that you see the monster from the beginning, so the story sort of becomes something else. It doesn't destroy the story, because you're not making the connection to mythology, but still...

It didn't occur to me that this story was Lovecraftian, and it does become more and more uniquely Ellison towards the end. The fact that Harlan calls it a hommage in the graphic novel (not in the regular comic book, which, to my surprise, has a different interstitial section following it), seems to have to do mostly with the beginning. I resist the idea of thinking of it as an hommage.

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markabaddon
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Postby markabaddon » Wed Jun 14, 2006 2:50 pm

There certainly are Lovecraftian elements within the story, as Kristin pointed out, but it definitely reads much differently than a Lovecraft story. My take on this is that Lovecraft provided an inspiration (a powerful being found in Providence) and then Harlan ran with it and made it uniquely his own.

Definitely going to have to purchase the graphic novel.

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Postby Jan » Mon Sep 23, 2013 12:08 pm

Harlan in the Pavilion on Friday, September 20 2013 16:31:34 wrote:I called Paul to praise him, and he mentioned, en passant, that BOB BOOTH had outfoxed his doctors' diagnoses of imminent death more than a few years ago but, nonetheless, had, finally, at last, just passed away. And Paul reminded me that when we first met, in Rhode Island, long ago, that it was at Bob Booth's house, at a party where I sat in the midst of a large gathering, after a university lecture I'd given, and began writing--sitting there on the couch, portable typewriter on the coffee table--one of my favorite stories, my Lovecraft-hommage (we were in Rhode Island), "On The Slab." I still think it's one of my best efforts, and I remember Bob, his house, his hospitality, that night, and meeting the great Paul Di Filippo, as one of the most important in my life.

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markabaddon
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Re: #27 - On the Slab

Postby markabaddon » Fri May 16, 2014 1:25 pm

Jan, I missed this when it was posted by Harlan, so thanks for re-posting it here.

On The Slab, as you know, is among my favorite Ellison stories
Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristrocratic forms. No gov't in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, gov't tends more and mroe to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class


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