1980 - SHATTERDAY

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

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1980 - SHATTERDAY

Postby Jan » Sun Apr 01, 2007 8:53 am

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Someday, Moanday, Duesday, Woundsday, Thornsday, Freeday,
SHATTERDAY


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In this, his thirty-seventh book, celebrating twenty-five years of setting down the mortal dreads we all share, Harlan Ellison has put together his best work to date: sixteen uncollected stories (half of which are award-winners), totaling a marvel-filled 105,000 words and including a brand-new novella, his longest work in over a dozen years.

Langerhans page by Michael Zuzel | Commentary by Rick Wyatt | SF Site review by Paul Kincaid | An Attempted Book Review
This book is in print. | E-book is also available at ereads or ebookmall. | Get personalized 1980 hardcovers for $20 - ask in Pavilion or visit shop.

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We already discussed several important stories seperately, including "Jeffty is Five", "Shatterday", "All the Lies That Are My Life", "Alive and Well and On A Friendless Voyage" and "The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge". Any help and comments are appreciated, including about the book as a whole, your adventures with it, and its various editions. Always let me know about good links etc., and the discussion is for everyone to join, despite my unfortunate tendency to talk to myself.

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"The Other Eye of Polyphemus" was first published in 1977 and reprinted in Shatterday, as well as in The Essential Ellison.

A long time ago we talked about “The Deathbird” and “On the Slab”, two other stories drenched in mythology. This next one makes obvious reference to Homer’s Polyphemus from the Odyssey.

Like so many Ellison stories this is about the human heart in conflict with itself but often it's not easy to see. In this, there is no layer of SF, only some fantasy that's not at the core of the story. It deals with a man named Brubaker, unsatisfied with his relationships, who learns how to overcome his problems after meeting strange creatures in the night which are remotely human.

The setting is New York, which Harlan had moved away from long ago, so the incidents that inspired the story may have been just as distant to him. Had Harlan wanted to, he could easily have made the story take place in another city. I suppose however that the New York mindset and the New York kind of loneliness are somewhat unique. In this regard, the story may be connected to a specific time in Ellison’s life.

"Polyphemus" is about the lessons life teaches you by way of painful experiences which one overcomes by moving on to the next stage. What Brubaker doesn’t know yet is what Harlan put in his earlier essay “Having an Affair with a Troll” – that a relationship has to involve as much taking as it does giving. One may be predisposed more toward the one or the other, but sooner or later you probably realize that you’re unhappy. That’s why one of the two women said: “I feel so guilty seeing you and not, uh, you know.” He has needs, but he’s too kind, always. He lives under the impression that life or someone else will take care of him when what he really needs to do is get it himself.

The people in the fog make us realize that there is fear involved in his kindness. He’s afraid to ask, afraid to take, because of the risks involved. Before they mention this, one would have had to look hard to have inferred this fear from his actions - for example from his unwillingness to take an apartment with the woman or his concern for her husband, which could be fear in disguise.

There's an interesting moment when Brubaker and the second woman ("there was no denying her sweetness and virginity") before they enter the building, with him trying not to go up with her and of the opinion that he'd get her into trouble. We've seen Ellison's characters behave like that before, trying to spare women who can't handle them. Of course, nothing bad happens, but that's not because there was no danger, it's just that he decided to be good and "accept the responsibility". (Which is not a bad thing, as Harlan bascially told us about it in the Troll essay.)

The ending, in which Brubaker finds wisdom and comfort, is comparable to that of "Footsteps" (1980), another story concerned with the give and take in relationships.

Overall, it's a nice story based on unpleasant real-life experiences leading up to some interesting insights. Some of us may have have made similar experiences but it never hurts to be reminded, so we don’t repeat the mistakes too often. :| :| :|
Last edited by Jan on Sat Apr 18, 2009 1:43 pm, edited 17 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Sat Dec 08, 2007 5:32 am

"All the Birds Come Home to Roost" was first published in Playboy in 1978. It was one of the first Ellison stories I read, so it's interesting to find how it differs from my recollection of it. I thought the story ended with the appearance of Cindy, and it didn't. There was no need. Harlan lets you imagine how it ends.

The story starts with a conversation between a man called Michael and his ex about the women of his life. This brings back the memory of his first wife, Cindy, who was crazy and who was therefore admitted to a mental institution. One after one, more ex-girlfriends cross his way, seek him out, are discovered in the most unlikely places. While much of this is pleasant, it dawns on Michael that the reappear in reverse order.

I was reminded of this story recently when I read "Night of Black Glass", written about three years later. It's interesting that both stories not only feature a tour of the protagonists' pasts, they also show them hitting a woman. "Birds" is different in that it has an explanation at hand, while "Black Glass" is about ethical behavior and doesn't cop out at that point.

Although there is nothing unusual about the structure, Harlan brings the formula to life by giving it a personal edge. In his introduction, which is also a tribute to an editor that died, he calls this one of his best and most painful stories and details how it was written and revised. :| :| :|

Ben Lomax review: http://www.helium.com/items/1939585-birds-come-home-to-roost-by-ellison

Count the Clock that Tells the Time” (1978) is about Ian Ross, who travels to Scotland after having wasted most of his life. Having spent some time there, he realizes he is still wasting his days. He then finds himself in a dark place with images of historical events passing through. His conversation with one of the people there reveals that he has indeed been wasting his time and been sucked into this place along with his unused time.

Harlan says he wrote this in the course of four days in a transparent tent at a convention, drawing on his recent experiences in Scotland, which he had visited with his fourth wife. The story has one of the most interesting settings of any of Harlan’s stories which alone makes it worth reading. It is also, of course, philosophically interesting as it deals with time and mortality. There is no clear recipe for not wasting one’s time, and the story does not define what constitutes wasted time. However, towards the end it provides a pretty clear image of time well spent which goes back to writers like Hemingway. Harlan was very proud of the story at the time, and it encapsulates a lot of what Harlan does at his best, which is to part from his personal experiences, shortcomings, and observations, to raise questions, and to speak to the imagination. The characterization of Catherine is particularly good. :| :| :| :|
Last edited by Jan on Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:58 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Sun Jan 27, 2008 1:42 pm

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Clarion 1977 - (c) Randy Graham

The Executioner of Malformed Children” (1978) is a story about how little we know about the doings of the ones in power and in which ways they control our lives. A child named Alan is nearly killed in an accident, so the parents agree to have the government save him, thereby also agreeing never to see the him again. The government looks for “sensitive” children that can spot invaders from the future and help close the passageways through which they try to enter the present. Alan becomes a Paladin and dies a hero. Or at least that’s what certain parties want you to think.

This well-written horror story has some interesting ideas (for example the supposed origin of the invaders) in it and ends with a twist. It did have to end with some kind of revelation to help make sense of everything, most of all the fact that the orange openings appeared wherever the paladins went, which is not the best strategy. Harlan set part of the story in Rio, the city he had visited with Bloch a few years earlier. My only problem is that the characters and humanity as a whole seem exceedingly dumb and ignorant. I also felt the ending undercut some of the better aspects of the story, including the theme of making sacrifices for what you are chosen to do. On the other hand, it raised a question about people in power being unable to accept positive changes that would weaken their positions.

The introduction to this story makes me understand why the British publisher had reservations about them. It says only: “I have nothing to say about this story,” which Harlan apparently considered worth devoting a page to. :| :| :oops:

In "Flop Sweat" (1977) a radio talk show host interviews a scary member of an old sect. A caller identifies himself as a serial killer and agrees that time is running out for humanity.

This story is one of Harlan's fictional criticisms of the commercial media but also happens to be a near first-rate horror story. While some elements aren't properly fleshed out, in particular the character called Brother Darkness, it's surprising to find that Harlan had to write this well-contructed story in a single sitting one afternoon. Another surprise is that it wasn't used as a secondary episode on The Twilight Zone as it would have been relatively easy to shoot without conceptual changes. The answer is probably that Harlan didn't have time to do much research for the story and avoided dialogue wherever he could, relying on the emotional effects of largely omited dialogue rather than on spoken words themselves. The story is still effective and the last two pages, which describe the coming of armageddon from the host's point of view, show Harlan at his best. This is marvelous horror writing, firmly anchored in reality and intelligence. :| :| :|

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Berkeley edition

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Postby FrankChurch » Fri May 02, 2008 3:02 pm

The book cover looks like an Opeth record sleeve.

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Postby Jan » Tue Jul 01, 2008 4:39 pm

"In the Fourth Year of the War" (1979)

A man succumbs to a presence in his mind he calls Jerry Olander. Jerry, who now has almost full control, wants him to kill the people who have done bad things to him in the course of his life, one after another.

I had to check whether this brief one was written before or after the longer "The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge". It was published the year after, yet it's another revenge story, in a way, and clearly contains autobiographical elements from Harlan's childhood. Superficially speaking, it's another story about how he (as well as his father) was treated when he was a child. But Harlan had begun to use those things as elements to enrich his fiction, rather than using fiction to talk about his childhood, which, one might say, he had done earlier in his career.

This a crime story about a psychopath written in the first person, in the tradition of Sturgeon's "Bianca's Hands". However, it's mainly amusing, with the (presumably) true events in it being of a saddening nature. What more can you want? Well, one thing that would have been interesting is what the people Jerry kills have to say about the accusations. This seems like a missed opportunity and takes the story dangerously close to the wish-fulfillment territory of "Bleeding Stones" and the like. On the other hand, the writer has his emotions firmly in check and creates narrative tightness. I also sensed a little self-mocking.

I don't know what to do with this story, but it's well-structured and I like the memories in it. :| :|

Addendum 05/09: Harlan said at the Beverly Cinema that the encounter between his uncle Maury and his father did take place and that he witnessed it all from under the table.

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Postby reddragon70 » Mon Jan 26, 2009 7:30 am

I remember being about 14 more or less and getting a pile of books from a jumble sale at school, I think it was my mother bought them, and most of them were the usual trashy novels my mum read. Amonsgt them I found one book that grabbed my attention. Shatterday. It was a paperback and a UK edition and had the strangest cover I had ever seen, a man, but as the picture went upwards the man faded and his silouette became the background. I just thought it so cool I had to read it.

I seem to remember skipping the intro at the time and going straight to the stories (hey I was 14 so cut me a little slack huh?) and being absolutely amazed. I had recently started reading a fair bit of Ray Bradbury so I was really into short stories, and boy was this stuff good. And from that day I have been trying to get every Ellison book I can get my grubby little paws on. 24 years of reading and loving it more with every passing year.

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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 19, 2009 11:58 am

"Opium" (1977)

File clerk Ann Marie Stebner is bored with her life, attempts to kill herself, and finally becomes happy.

This is a short short story Harlan wrote to be read aloud on television as "a bit of guerilla warfare". But it is also reprinted in Shatterday. Harlan takes off from the old idea that people need their "opium" (be it relegion, television, cheap novels or Star Wars) and writes about where people like Ann can end up, if they get too deep into that way of life. The only way out is "real life" which can be every bit as interesting and surprising, if explored properly. Ann's hallucinations and her trip to the island are symbols for fanatasy/escape and real life, not to be taken literal. By having real life "fight back" and assert its place, Harlan turns the story into a kind of fantasy itself. Too bad fantasy and life have a similar quality in the story, and that Harlan has removed the concepts from common experience. The relationship between fantasy and real life is a complex one, and Harlan does little to illuminate it, nor is he honest enough to a) deal with his own part in the game or b) confront his ideas with the rules of real life. The prose is fine (except for the third sentence, I think.) :| :oops:

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Postby Jan » Tue Sep 08, 2009 11:44 am

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"Django" (1978)

The jazz guitarist Michel joins the Maquis in the war and somehow escapes death, leaving him to mourn the loss of his comrades.

Harlan dedicated this to the memory Django Reinhardt and it's obvious Michel is based on him. Judged by Poul Anderson to be the best story of the year printed in Galileo magazine, it still, unfortunately, shows more effort than result. On the positive side, the story pays tribute to the power of music in the fashion of magic realism and portrays a character whose art means everything to him, the same way Harlan speaks of writing as a whole chore. In fact, two altars make an appearance. Still, he values friendship, so it's not as if art is all he cares about. He sacrifices something for his art and creates a little suffering in others, his friends, like every major artist including the author himself. On the negative side, there is barely any story, it's all mood - actions are avoided, words are whispered, questions receive no answer, enemies do not come. I'm inclined to say "Django" is carelessly, unknowingly sleep-inducing for the most part. Michel's dilemma, as presented, is not a very clear one at first, and not a very captivating one; it plays out without drama. He chooses the better thing for himself. What the choice entails for Gaston, his dead friend, who won't be able to "go home" (unclear), barely appears to become part of his quandary, and there is no follow-up. The story also features a radioactive canister Michel is carrying with him, probably meant to represent the baggage the artist carries with him, including his guilt, a fine symbol that doesn't work any better on the literal level than Michel carrying his guitar around while dodging Nazis. But then, it's all a symbolic dream anyway. :| :| :oops:


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