1978 - STRANGE WINE

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Carstonio
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1978 - STRANGE WINE

Postby Carstonio » Mon Aug 07, 2006 9:49 am

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Warner Books edition with cover by Leo & Diane Dillon

STRANGE WINE was Harlan's acclaimed short story collection from 1978 (hardcover), re-released in 2004. There was a seperate discussion of the introductory essay "Revealed At Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs!" On to the stories. Comments are appreciated, including about the book as a whole, your adventures with it, and its various editions.

Buy E-Reads edition | Langerhans page | Review by Thomas M. Wagner | The Turn of the Page review

SPOILERS AHEAD!!

Moderator out.

_________

Carstonio's comments about
"The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (1975)

I'm 90 percent sure that the "well-known historical fact" that Harlan mentions in the introduction is not necessarily the Holocaust, but how many Jews who fled to America during that horrific period chose to hide their religion and ethnicity when they came here.

The story reminded me of Madeline Albright, who ABC producer John Green described as having "Jew shame" in his infamous e-mail. As I understand it, Albright's father raised the family as Catholic and never told the kids about their Jewish ancestry. Albright apparently learned about it from the media, and her discomfort apparently offended many Jewish-Americans. I assumed she was shocked at finding out that her father had deceived her for decades.

I posed that question to Gene Weingarten during one of his noontime chats at WashingtonPost.com, since he had discussed Green's e-mail. Below is his reply.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 01412.html

I can tell you that when it was "disclosed" that she is Jewish, a lot of Jews laughed. Like, duuuh. She looks EXACTLY like our grandmas.

Good point. However, Lenny Bruce once said that non-Jews who claim not to recognize someone's Jewishness are telling the truth. Why? Because when you grow up in America as a member of a social minority, especially one with unique customs and rituals, you are keenly aware of that fact every day of your life. Bruce made that point specifically with his people, but I think it applies to many other minorities. Apparently, it's an experience that people who don't belong to a minority will never understand on an emotional level. Albright, because she didn't grow up in a Jewish environment, wouldn't have known of her resemblance to those grandmothers.

As a personal note, my maternal grandmother looks a lot like Albright. She and my grandfather claimed to be of French and German ancestry. I would be fascinated and pleased if it turned out I was one-quarter Jewish.

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Postby David Loftus » Mon Aug 07, 2006 10:27 am

Carstonio wrote:I'm 90 percent sure that the "well-known historical fact" that Harlan mentions in the introduction is not necessarily the Holocaust, but how many Jews who fled to America during that horrific period chose to hide their religion and ethnicity when they came here.

Interesting. I don't remember the reference in Harlan's intro, and I'm at the office so I can't look it up; can you quote us the relevant passage here?

I'm wondering if he might be referring to a much larger and more historical event of similar pattern, when Ferdinand and Isabella officially expelled the Jews from Spain, where they'd be doing well for a good long while. Many of them spread across the Mediterranean lands to the East (the Sephardic diaspora), but many of them stayed, technically and publicly converted (they became known as "meranos" -- not sure about the spelling of that, but I remember making a crack in Torah study at our synogogue about "Mint Meranos"), and continued to practice their Jewish faith in secret. Just in the last year or so, there have been news stories about tiny, secret meeting places for Jewish worship that have been unearthed or discovered behind thick walls in Spain.

There's a different kind of dynamic going on in our household. I think my wife Carole WISHES she had Jewish ancestors. She was raised Catholic, drifted into agnosticism in mid-life, and became a Jew in 1997 (I kind of dislike the term "converted," because it sounds like a mechanical or commercial transaction, and I feel that when you take on a new faith, if it's the right one for you, you become more yourself).

Her paternal ancestors come from southern Poland and her maternal ancestors were from a small country that hasn't existed since the First World War, called Ruthenia (basically in the mountainous area the straddles southern Poland, eastern Czech Republic, and western Ukraine), and there were a lot of Jews in those areas, so it's not out of the realm of possibility.

I tried to find a good map of the area the once was Ruthenia, and got a good lesson on the intersection between history and cartography -- what people think is important to know as far as maps are concerned: In every atlas I pulled up, the relevant territory was always along the edge of a page.

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Postby Carstonio » Thu Aug 17, 2006 7:58 pm

From Harlan's introduction to the story in "Strange Wine":

(The story) demands knowledge of a well-known historical fact. A common fact that every immigrant to this country before 1955 knew as well as ... well, as well as his own name. I suppose I could say that this story is about the guilt of the survivor and tell you the fact you need to know ... but I won't.

I won't, because I think if you care enough to want to know what this story says (and it says something about which I care passionately), then you will ask you Lithuanian grandmother or your Russian uncle or your Polish grandpoppa. Or anyone who went through the horror of World War II in Europe.

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Postby Jan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 8:50 am

For the record, I think the historical fact Harlan referred to is simply the Holocaust.

I find the notion of survivor guilt intriguing, which Harlan says the story is about. I suppose it's a rare phenomenon that I'm glad I now learned about, so the fact that Harlan would publish a story about it is to be applauded. He was continuing his exploration of the human heart and that's part of what makes a story unique and intriguing which some might consider a conventional horror story.

On the surface, "Boulevard" is obviously fantasy because it does not provide any explanations for the highly improbable event it depicts - that makes it comparable to a nightmare. Yet the actual events it refers to, as well as the Nazis that appear, are very real. I love the way the story darkens along the way, and I'm sure comic book artists would have a ball with the material. The moment the Nazis were described as having a kind of glow, I knew I could take nothing for granted anymore.

I was asking myself if there was anything about today's society implied in the story. It's telling that Fenton's companions have no idea what he's talking about and don't manage to get a glance of the Nazis. Although the story is nightmarish in design, I doubt that Harlan was portraying hallucinations based on guilt. It strikes me as a warning about things coming back that we assumed would to be gone for good, and no one seeing them but those who are sensitized to them by what they saw around 1945 (or what they learned about it later). History has repeated itself several times in the past, and some people are just WAITING to take over when we're no longer looking.

After all Harlan closed his introduction with George Santayana's words: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

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Postby Carstonio » Mon Sep 11, 2006 12:25 pm

Jan wrote:For the record, I think the historical fact Harlan referred to is simply the Holocaust.

That's possible. But I think that would make the puzzle of the story too easy to solve. Particularly when I read the line "Changed at Ellis Island!" That line strongly suggests to me that Fenton suffers from a specific type of survivor's guilt from living as a Gentile. If I interpret the line correctly, Fenton's family hid their Jewishness when they came to America, and Fenton knows this, but doesn't tell his acquaintances that he's Jewish. (As I see it, if Fenton were a character in "Maus," he would be wearing a dog mask.)

My interpretation was also influenced by the "College Days" entries in the Hornbook. Harlan's collegiate mentor Don Epstein placed himself in the Jewish equivalent of the gay closet. (What would be a good nonoffensive slang term for that? Wiccans who hide their religious affiliation are often accused by other Wiccans of being in the "broom closet.")

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Postby Jan » Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:35 pm

I completely agree and subscribe to what you say and said, you're certainly right, except the "well-known historical fact" itself must be the Holocaust (Harlan has also complained elsewhere about people not knowing enough about it), even though it may help you to know about the choices the refugees made when they arrived in NY. I presume these choices were different for everybody and not a "historical fact" by any means. The way the survivors dealt with their survival in a post-war world is really what the story deals with and tells us about in a way, it's not something we have to know all about beforehand (which would be impossible anyway). In contrast, the Holocaust is not mentioned but some knowledge of it required.

That's the great thing about the story, it moves beyond the facts. And I suppose that at it's core it also personal, because after all Harlan is Jewish and had previously written about what that can be like in his early stories. The personal truth underneath the writing makes the horror all the more menacing and immedeate.

Anyway, what Harlan may have been refering to in the foreword is really beside the point, as we're not contradicting each other's remarks about the story itself.

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Postby Carstonio » Wed Sep 13, 2006 12:54 pm

Jan wrote:(Harlan has also complained elsewhere about people not knowing enough about it)

In one of the Hornbook introductions, Harlan expressed his sorrow that someone in his audience didn't know what Dachau was. I knew what Dachau was before I read the book, but I wouldn't have understood the term either if I had been in the audience. I wasn't aware until then that it was pronounced "dak-ow" and not "datch-ow." I felt ignorant that I didn't know the proper pronounciation. When I read about Gibraltar as a kid, I thought it was pronounced "GIB-rul-tar" instead of "ji-BRAL-tar."

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Postby Jan » Tue Jan 02, 2007 12:14 pm

Perhaps the context provided the necessary hints for Harlan to expect that everybody would understand, especially since there aren't any similar words. The German pronounciation is the only official one anyway, I suppose (we have the "ch" that sounds like a gas-cooker, it's a soft sound). Maybe that makes you feel better.

A lost post from Carstonio, posted in the wrong thread on Sep 30th 2006:

This is related to my original question about this story - it came out this week that Sen. George Allen from Virginia is of Jewish ancestry. He says he didn't know until a month ago. Many of his critics don't believe him, saying that his mother comes from a well-known Sephardic Jewish family. I had never heard of that family, the Lumbrosos. In fact, although I had heard the term Sepharic, I had no idea what it meant.

Carstonio quoted from a Washington Post article - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 01965.html

Etty Allen said that she and the senator's father, famed former Redskins coach George Allen, had wanted to protect their children from living with the fear that she had experienced during World War II. Her father, Felix Lumbroso, was imprisoned by the Nazis during the German occupation of Tunis.

"What they put my father through. I always was fearful," Etty Allen said in a telephone interview. "I didn't want my children to have to go through that fear all the time"...

"I said, well, I just didn't want anyone to know," she explained. "I had said, 'Please don't tell your brothers and sister and your wife' "...

Allen's mother said she first began concealing her Jewish roots after meeting her future husband, afraid that she would not be accepted by his parents and fearful that her religion could harm his budding coaching career...
Last edited by Jan on Sun Jun 01, 2008 10:06 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Tue Jan 02, 2007 1:43 pm

David Loftus wrote:I think my wife Carole WISHES she had Jewish ancestors.

Everyone with European ancestry is extremely likely to have at least one Jew among his/her ancestors. Jews did mix with other races (and vice versa), so much so that we know that they usually have more in common from a genetic standpoint with the Non-Jewish people from the region their recent ancestors came from than with Jews from other regions.

Carstonio wrote:I'm 90 percent sure that the "well-known historical fact" that Harlan mentions in the introduction is not necessarily the Holocaust, but how many Jews who fled to America during that horrific period chose to hide their religion and ethnicity when they came here.

I think I didn't mention yet that this obviously would not be a kind of behavior specific to Jewish refugees since Jews in general (as well as members of many other ethnic groups) were not held in high regard everywhere (see Harlan's story FINAL SHTICK).

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Postby Jan » Sun Jun 01, 2008 11:24 am

I've been re-arranging this thread, so here are my story comments from Nov 7, 2007 to May 26, 2008, plus new comments for "In Fear of K".

"Emissary From Hamelin" was first published in 1977 and is about one of the descendents of the Pied Piper visiting California in 2076. He insists on talking to a certain reporter who then reports about the boy drowning all the rats of New York by playing his flute. The child also has a request: "We want everyone to stop what they are doing to make this a bad place, or we will take the place away from you." Harlan not only makes reference to the fairy tale, he also makes the boy look like the Little Prince, which is where the characterization seems to come from.

I would suppose that the story was written specifically for Edward Bryant's anthology 2076: The American Tricentennial. The ending, or rather, the moral, is rather standard-issue, I'm afraid, similar to what Harlan later did more effectively in "On the Slab", among others. It's a pessimistic story with the distinction of not being dark, and it's actually become even more relevant in times of major ecological challenges. People need to change, and they know it, but they just don't make the changes. If someone tells them they're going to die if they don't change, they rather not believe it than make any real effort.

While there is something for adult readers to enjoy, it would also be interesting to read this to a child as an encore after Grimm or Browning. My rating: :| :| :oops:

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Art by Dario Campanile

"Croatoan" (1975) is a story in the vein of Lovecraft and Poe, though it deals with more modern concerns and attitudes. The first-person narrator has called two friends to attend to an abortion. He has impregnated yet another woman who lied to him about the pill. When the fetus is flushed down the toilet, the woman has a sudden change of mind and demands that he go after it. That means he has to go down to the street and climb into the sewer. The sewage system holds a few dangers and surprises for him while he reflects about the life he leads.

As Harlan notes, this is a story "about being responsible". Not that it makes much difference, but I would say it's about being irresponsible and about the effects of that - in this case, unwanted pregnancies. The protagonist is going through a transition. He feels bad about what he's done, and it's really a feeling of guilt that makes him climb into the sewer. It's one of those stories in which a character defect leads to the main character getting what he deserves in an unexpected way made possible by the genres Harlan works in.

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The second half is based on an interesting bit of fantastical speculation and written in horror mode. At the end, which has a lot of fine and suggestive prose, Harlan weaves in a famous historical event. I'm not sure if it helps make sense of what the protagonist finds or if it mainly gets in the way, drawing attention away from the character and his issue. The connection between the historical event and the protagonist is decidedly indistinct, as far as I can tell.

As a result, I would call this a horror story written around an ethical question. If seen as a horror story, it actually looks better because it's preferable to have a horror story with substance than a personal, meaningful story that needs alligators and historic references to consider itself satisfying. For a better look at abortion and responsibility look at "Neither Your Jenny Nor Mine". Addendum: This story was inspired by a painting by Dario Campanile which was published alongside the story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1975. :| :| :oops:

"The Diagnosis of Dr. D'arqueAngel" (1977) is another tale of dark fantasy. Charles Romb is an unhappily married guy who visits a woman doctor called D'arqueAngel to receive small shots of death over a period of time in order to become immune. The story is mainly about the relationship between the doctor and her patient and about what Romb does with his immunity.

This is quite an original idea, well-executed for the most part. It's a bit of a throwback to his idea fiction of the late 50s. I only wished he could have focussed a little more on the basic concept and its implications as the additional story elements have been done to death by Harlan and others. I'm particularly thinking of the husband planning to murder his wife, the ancient woman who looks young and beautiful, and the magic coorporation demanding a high price for granting you your wishes.

The ending works fine, and I don't think anyone one could see it coming. Unfortunately, though, by that point Harlan was getting a little sloppy, having D'arqueAngel deliver an explanation that unintentionally raises question after question. Nor is it clear why Charles would keep experiencing deaths every day. There is also a wrong note in Charles' reaction to the revelations. I don't see the reasons for the reaction as self-evident, although it's understandable. He's a cardboard character throughout.

The ideas in the story are all interesting, notably the notion that people need different amounts of love. :| :| :oops:

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MYSTERY featuring "Killing Bernstein"

"Killing Bernstein" (1976) is a puzzle story. The narrator works for a toy manufacturer and is in love with his beautiful collegue, Dr. Netta Bernstein. One day, after having spent the night with her, he is taken aback by her rudeness. He recognizes in her a natual enemy and feels he has to killer her, which he does. Nonetheless he finds her in her office the next morning, as if nothing had happened.

In these stories from the mid-70s Harlan surely doesn't hide where he's coming from. The thinly motivated, well-described murders are straight out of his pulp period, only the prose has gotten a lot better. The only notable thing about "Bernstein" is that it may have been one of the first stories to use the scientific concept of cloning. Today you can just see it coming. It's still a good story, though, as the narration goes back and forth in time, revealing one thing at a time until we catch up with the characters. Harlan has also done some research about toy manufacturing that paid off by allowing him to create a convincing backdrop to the story.

Again, the explanations raise new questions, in this case regarding areas that I feel should have been featured instead of neglected. I can't believe that only one of the Nettas would fall in love with the narrator while the others don't care for him one bit. Doesn't that deserve some attention? What did the other Nettas think about the behavior of the one that was in love. Did they have lovers of their own? Harlan had set up narrative time jumps, the only thing missing was an interest in answering questions like these. Closing info: Harlan wrote a script based on the story but has been unable to get it produced. :| :| :oops:

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In "Working with the Little People" (1977) a successful sf/fantasy writer suddenly runs out of ideas at the age of 27, and while he's still thinking about how to deal with this problem, small creatures have taken over his typewriter and started writing his next piece.

This is another minor piece written in a bookstore window in London. Harlan, who has never had writer's block, creates a fantasy story around just that notion, using his inside knowledge of he writing process and the social role of writers to give it an air of reality and to give the readers something extra. It's a straight-forward entertainment piece, clearly written by someone who knew what he was doing. Like I noted earlier, Harlan's late 70's stuff is generally enjoyable and easier to read than his more psychologically intense stories of earlier years. On the negative side, the story doesn't have an edge to it at all, nor a lesson, and you'll soon forget it. I certainly read this before and forgot it, along with the vague main character.

Harlan consulted on a similar story that was done for THE TWILIGHT ZONE (80s), called "Personal Demons" by Rockne O'Bannon which is superior.

In the introduction Harlan notes that he was trying to live by the rule of writing a story a day, an advice given to him by a great fantasist. Whenever this comes up, it raises the question where all those stories go. If it's true, he must have been writing a mountain of unpublishable crap every year. It's probably not a bad thing, artistically speaking, that Harlan had to slow down pretty soon after STRANGE WINE. :| :| :oops:

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The Olympia SM9

"Mom" (1977) is about a Jewish man haunted by the ghost of his mom after her funeral. His greatest wish is to be left alone and able again to lead his own life.

This is a story that sounds much better in concept than in execution, an amusing one-line idea that Harlan turned into a one-note story. While there is some wit, the comedy doesn't work. First of all, there is no build. The guy is annoyed from the beginning ("Why me?"), the rest is an exercise in annoying the reader as much as the protagonist. When he finally gets what he wants at the end, it's not through his own cleverness, but someone else did it and tells him about it. The mother just vanishes from the stage. I'm not sure this can be called a loving portrait of Jewish mothers, it's more of a critique of annoying cultural and religious traditions.

I wasn't surprised Harlan wrote the beginning at a party and the rest in a book store window. It probably could have been better with more preparation. While it's not bad, it's certainly mediocre. Interestingly, Harlan proovides a glosssary for the Yiddish terms he uses, as he had done when he wrote "Looking for Kadak". In the 80s, Woody Allen did a funny short film about another Jew and his mom, which appeared in "New York Stories". :|

I went out today, exposed myself and Julie (the dog) to pollen and to a story called

"In Fear of K" (1975)

A man and a woman, Noah and Claudia, are trapped in a circular alien pit much like a well. They live in fear of K, a creature living in a maze of tunnels, blocking their only hope of escape.

This is mainly a story of lifetime imprisonment under strange circumstances. Both the situation and the characters are very much in line with previous stories, especially with the great classic of imprisonment, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”. The situation the characters are in is immediately compelling and could well have sustained a longer story than this. In fact, it’s a bit of a problem that some aspects are considerably underdeveloped.

Let’s start with the characters. From what little we learn about them, I certainly wouldn’t expect well-rounded people, but there’s definitely something missing. I must admit a slight annoyance at seeing these characters go at each other practically from the get-go, the only explanation being a thin layer of implied psychology which does not justify this extent of mutual hate. As a result, they come across as just too people of extremely bad character. Are we supposed to care about them? When they make love later, it’s almost as arbitrary as their battles. Considering the implied backstory, I can’t believe both things happen so easily. They grew up together, like bother and sister, right? They depend on each other’s cooperation, right? Things aren’t as easy as Harlan paints them to be. As a reader, I ask for something a little more complete.

There’s a scene in which the monster attacks, and thanks to their defense system the humans manage to make it retreat in pain. First of all, how can this be the first time they’ve seen K? Why the discussion about their defenses only now? How are we meant to reconcile all this with a sentence like, “For perhaps the millionth time since they had been in the chamber, they had saved themselves”? I frankly don’t get it.

Much, much better than this is the portrayal of the creature whose death is very poignant. Harlan keeps doing alien creatures well.

The rest of the story mainly sabotages what substance is left. Earlier the characters kept talking about wanting to get out and away from each other, but now it takes them a very long time to realize that with K dead, the tunnels are free of menace. “And even longer for them to do something about it.” Sorry, I don’t think that’s sound psychology. Then Harlan goes on to pretty much ignore the maze of tunnels he set up and provides fairly obvious closure to characters we don’t care about.

I certainly like the idea of the creature meaning no harm to the humans but falling prey to their fear of it. Whether that fear is justified or not is something Harlan is not very clear about, but it does seem justified although the creature's main crime is to keep the two of them as prisoners. Needs, particularly those that get you into trouble, have always been central to Harlan's work.

The notion of fear has become very relevant in recent years – it seems to be America’s steady companion. What it makes people do is certainly worth writing about, though this particular story only makes a most basic point about it. “All the Sounds of Fear” seemed to be a little more interesting in that regard. A creature feeding on fear had been done before, and it's what the creature appears to be doing. To close on a positive note, the story was written with great style and authority, like most of the other ones. :| :|

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Postby Jan » Tue Jul 29, 2008 1:29 pm

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"Hitler Painted Roses" (1977)

Margaret Thrushwood, who was lynched in 1935 for allegedly killing a family she was working for in a small town, manages to escape from hell unnoticed and looks for her ex-lover Henry whom she locates in heaven.

This is not only a fascinating story, but it has an unusual behind-the-scenes story that proves Harlan's uniqueness as a writer. He wrote this on the air on Hour 25 on two seperate dates, before and in between which he did not prepare for the story. He used a number of notions that were provided by listeners who called in, including one guy, who said "Hitler painted roses", which later turned out to be from a poem. The resulting story probably didn't have any right to be good, but it is. It's a masterpiece of magical oddness full of wonderful details such as the brilliantly written appearances of God and Hitler. It's also a piece of heartfelt writing dealing with the concept of injustice and an ignorant public. In addition to that, all the characters, most of all Margaret, really come off.

There is a sense of Harlan knowing what he's talking about when he describes small town life and small town death. A very down-to-earth section in the middle is more than a little reminiscent of Harlan's true crime days, which is no surprise since the core of the story is basically out of the newspapers. It's probably the combination of crime writing and fantasy that takes the story to a place that's beyond the reach of writers who can only handle one genre. The visions of hell and heaven, both of which he only describes in the broadest of strokes, are vivid and poetic. The real life inspiration for Margaret was Lizzie Borden, as Harlan noted in the foreword which details the evolution of the story. There's one fairly apparent instance of questionable artistic judgment in the story - let's just say that the story would have benefitted from a little more dramatic unity at a certain moment. Lack of unity is why I don't like the idea of Harlan integrating suggestions from others in the stories he writes at events - one idea should be on top of everything else at all times. Still, the end result is much better than anybody could reasonably expect to come out of circumstances such as the one this was written under. "Hitler Painted Roses" is without a doubt the best STRANGE WINE story of the ones reviewed so far.

I read the story several years ago and marked it for re-reading, but I completely forgot what it was about. I think I will remember it better this time, but it's an easy story to forget because it can't be easily reduced to something one would remember. :| :| :| :oops:

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Postby Jan » Mon Sep 29, 2008 11:28 am

"The New York Review of Bird" (1975)

Cordwainer Bird, a poor writer who's only four feet tall, enters a bookstore in Manhattan and wants to know why his book isn't on display anywhere. Things get out of hand quickly when his enemies learn of his whereabouts, but he manages to escape with secret information about their hiding place.

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Cordwainer Bird is, of course, Harlan's best-known pseudonym, and the similarities between the character and Harlan are striking. Harlan's problems with the New York literary establishment (mainly publishers and critics) are well-known to his readers and listeners. He hates how the publishers and critics, concentrated in Manhattan, sniff at genre literature or even maintream writing created by former genre writers. He hates how much effort is put into selling more bestsellers rather than putting any weight behind "smaller" titles. In a way not easy to overlook, "The New York Review" is another wish-fulfillment story, even if it isn't nearly as intense, say, "Basilisk" - he does it with humor this time.

There are two parts to the story, the first one taking place in and around the bookstore (Brentano's), and the other one on the Upper West Side where Bird decides that his patience with the world is at an end, before consulting with his father. This part in particular is rooted in superhero mythology, the father being the now senile Shadow and Bird himself possessing fantastic powers and exploring his feelings to the point where he knows what his purpose will be. Both acts of the story are equally good. It's one of Harlan's more amusing stories and there is an important message in it about the book business.

One problem is that the story is told on a comic book level with interludes of violence that don't hold up to much scrutiny on the written page. On a comic book level it is okay to hurt the bad guys, but as a book reader you ask yourselves questions like: Does this guy (for example the first muscle man) really deserve this? A hero quickly looks like a muderer on the written page. Something I would have cared to see more about, on the other hand, is the situation of the writer. The opening which had Bird freezing in a street corner and refusing to accept money from pedestrians, pointed in the right direction, but Harlan dropped all that. What should have been an important, affecting story ended up being a much more of a romp. It seems like a waste of strong dramatic material, even if what Harlan delivered instead isn't bad by any means.

In the lengthy introduction Harlan talks about his pseudonym and details how the story came to be. It's an example of the kind of useful, interesting introductory writing that Harlan mastered in the 70s. :| :| :|

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Postby Jan » Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:24 am

"Seeing" (1976)

Varna, a prostitute working at an interstellar Earth port, possesses eyes that permit her to perceive infinitely more than ordinary people can. A rich and influential woman from another world has paid a trader of body parts to procure those eyes for her.

“Seeing” is a throwback to Harlan’s early science fiction and closer to what he wrote around 1957 then to his works of the 70s. As in “The Discarded” (from Paingod) Harlan creates a future place where everything seems out of control. Crime is rampant and whatever you can pay for, you can get. Earth has suffered centuries of decay because it’s just a neglected old planet. While “The Discarded” had a more interesting idea behind it, Harlan had become a better writer and managed to really bring the place to life – the place being PIX, a future equivalent of LAX. While “Discarded” featured slightly dull conversations and lacked dramatic movement, in “Seeing” the concept and the characters are revealed by action.

It’s enough to appreciate the nightmare future which is slowly revealed and not necessary to spend much time dwelling on the intermittent sillyness and excess. This is not a serious story. There are weak passages of aliens dying violent deaths or Varna hardly speaking up before the operation. The only good character is the evil 26 Krystabel Parsons who is fascinating enough to merit her own series of stories. The concept of italicized seeing is a gimmick that receives little real attention when compared to the jaunting in “Mefisto in Onyx”, for example. Harlan ultimately makes very limited use of it.

Terry Carr included this in the “year’s best” anthology and, in his intro, misjudged it one of Harlan’s best efforts. According to Harlan’s own introduction, Carr had ordered the story for a book about “future horrors”. :| :| :oops:

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NeonMosfet
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Postby NeonMosfet » Wed Jun 03, 2009 4:51 pm

The true meaning of Boulevard of Broken Dreams is more awful than you can imagine. It goes beyond denial. I can not say how I know, for there are family members of mine who are in denial to a degree that would make me laugh if I did not fear a gun would be stuffed in my ear. Just trust me on this one. I know. There are yellow stars and then there are purple triangles.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Sun Sep 06, 2009 9:25 am

Image

"The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat" (1976)

At an intergalactic festial of sounds a woman named Stileen appears to deliver the ultimate sound of her time.

Written to order for an anthology of Terry Carr's and inspired in part by the works of Jack Vance, this is another in a long line of stories about artistry. Even though it features an intergalactic cast of characters, it's particularly related to "The Truth" from Gentlement Junkie. Art is connected to needs, to truth, and therefore there are particular things required from art at any point in time. The Jack-Vance-ness goes well with Harlan's depth of sentiment and his poetic prose. The story is also a suggestive statement about the state of art, the near-impossible challenge of coming up with something that hasn't been done, seen or heard. :| :| :|


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