1969 - VIC AND BLOOD cycle

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Dedalus
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1969 - VIC AND BLOOD cycle

Postby Dedalus » Sun Nov 04, 2007 6:47 am

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This thread is for discussion of A BOY AND HIS DOG (1969 - novella, film, graphic novel) and all the other elements of the Vic and Blood story cycle that make up the unfinished novel BLOOD'S A ROVER. The novella appeared in the book THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OR THE WORLD. You can get the graphic novel from Harlan personally in the store or by asking him. - Mod.

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A BOY AND HIS DOG

I'm surprised there isn't a thread about this already.

It'll always be my favorite. There's two recurrent flashbacks I have to it, these days...my final days in horrid Nassau County, NY:

1) There are regiments of Quilla June Holmes wandering all over the place, all wearing $100 blue jeans and vapid facial expressions. If they wound up being surrogate Alpo, the result would likely be canine food poisoning, however.

2) The scene where Vic grabs the guys head, jams his thumbs in his eyeballs, and bangs his head on the floor till he "wasn't gonna give him no more aggravation." Ha, ha!

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Mon Nov 05, 2007 11:22 am

Perfect choice for number 50, though I have to read it again before saying anything wrong. I haven't even seen the film. There also is a graphic novel called VIC AND BLOOD: The Continuing Adventures of a Boy and His Dog (a revised edition is in print). That includes not only an adaptation of A BOY AND HIS DOG, but also a prequel and a sequel, if I'm informed correctly. (Maybe it's time I finally bought it.)

The novellette is in ESSENTIAL ELLISON and THE BEST THAT SHOUTED LOVE. It was first published in 1969 in the British NEW WORLDS, which was edited by Michael Moorcock. It won a Nebula Award.

The story concerns a boy and his dog (duh), who are telepathically linked in a post-atomic world. The middle part describes the boy's discovery of a subterranean society, where, I believe, he falls in love but doesn't quite fit in. The ending is particularly memorable.

The dog was based on Harlan's dog Ahbhu, who had died, and anyone who has read AHBHU (or THE DEATHBIRD) can see the parallels.

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Postby Jan » Fri Nov 09, 2007 6:35 am

I read it now. OK, so my summary was a little bit off. There's more to it, but you're not here to read summaries.

It's a story about a love triangle that explores two kinds of love. It's also a rousing, high-octane post-apocalyptic adventure story with plenty of action, sex and violence.

The "plot" and the writing are a lot of fun. One of the main features of the story is Vic's all-pervading attitude. He's one of Harlan's more unusual creations, a sad product of his environment. By having Vic influenced by gangster movies, Harlan found a way to bring back the style from his hard-boiled writing of the 50s. Much like in the pre-code gangster movies, there aren't really any likeable characters, with the exception of Blood, the dog. Vic is a fun character, in a way, but he's not anybody you'd want to meet or be like. He's male-ness stripped to the bone, like early Jimmy Cagney (who is mentioned).

The 60s had opened up science fiction in many ways, in no small part helped by Harlan's DANGEROUS VISIONS. The novelette is part of the "no taboos" movement, and it's definitely joins the earlier "The Prowler at the City on the Edge of the World" in the locked chamber of Harlan's most immoralistic writings ever.

The most obvious parallel between Harlan's dog Ahbuh and Blood is their superior feel for people, and, I suppose, their patience with the owners. There are also parallels between Harlan and Vic, particularly when the visit to the underworld turns into an attack (literally) against midwestern/bible-belt hypocrisy, provincialism, fear of God, and ignorance. (He later went a step further in "Phoenix Without Ashes".)

I would consider the ending at least 50% symbolic. Considered as pure action I think it takes Vic's character one step too far, and the story suddenly becomes less realistic, more written. I don't believe it. It's not SF, it's horror. It's a merely good ending to a mostly better story.

It's a very visual story due to the settings and the action. It's also worth pointing out how well the characters are integrated into the picture as logical products of their times. I'm sure filmmakers were influenced by the novelette or the film that L.Q. Jones made out of it. James Cameron, John Carpenter, and George Miller come to mind. Miller did the Mad Max movies. I would suppose that SF writers weren't as influenced by it because there had been many stories and novels about post-apocalyptic worlds, and in terms of the honesty, the doors had been opened by earlier stories.

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Fri Nov 09, 2007 9:54 am

I disagree that "A Boy and His Dog" or "The Prowler in the City" are "immoralistic," whatever that means. I think they're quite moral, in their way.

They're among my most favorite Ellison stories, and I abhor violence. Haven't ever shot a gun.

I also disagree that the ending is symbolic in any way. I doubt Ellison meant it to be. It's very much in keeping with the world in which Vic and Blood live in, a world they did not make but which made them. Neither can survive without the other. Well, maybe Blood might be able to survive, although he makes a pretty good case for a negative prospect. And I suppose Vic MIGHT be able to hook up with a "wolfpack" of humans; or even less likely, another lone telepathic dog.

But the odds are against either alternative, and they've been through so much together. To preserve their relationship, they have only one choice at that point.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Jan » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:53 pm

By immoralistic I didn't mean immoral but "showing immoral deeds" without judging the characters that commit them.

I agree that the ending is keeping with the characters and the fictional world. It was set up.

However, when Vic decided to follow June's tracks, the only real reason I could see for that was that he had feelings for her. In fact, it's hard to imagine that not being the case - she's beautiful, they fought together and they spent the night together. I can't imagine a person screwed up enough to do what he did. Even if we accept cannibalism as a compenent of the society Harlan created (you pay with food at a movie theater in such a world?) - who at Vic's age would chose friendship over the promise of love and sex? I don't think so, as much as I applaud Vic's choice in theory. That's why I consider the ending 50% symbolic. Harlan is not letting Vic make a mistake that I think he made when he had Ahbhu, whatever that mistake was. I think he made some mistakes where relationships are concerned while Ahbhu was there ("Ahbhuh", "Valerie: A True Memoir"), and he's talking about how his views have changed.

I'm fine with the ending, but I would have preferred that Vic carry Blood to the next supermarket.

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Postby FinderDoug » Fri Nov 09, 2007 2:36 pm

Jan,

I think the problem here is that you're applying a conceit that you, as the reader, have to Vic in thinking Vic "gets" an abstract like "love". What we'd consider a higher, more enlightened concept of Love isn't a part of his world, and never has been. Sex is, but it's a secondary consideration to Survival. This is the hierarchy of Vic's existance. Love as understood by a well-adjusted, informed and experienced human being is alien to Vic.

With Quilla June, Vic has an awakening that is beyond his comprehension; liken it to the first time a kid realizes that girls offer a dimension beyond tormenting on the playground. In the story, Vic reaches a realization that Quilla has something beyond the usual wham-bam he enjoys. But I would say Vic is incapable of calling it or understanding it as love, for there's no frame of reference in his world for the feeling. Women are material. They exist to fuck and discard, the end, until he notices something... else.

This is important to remember in the context of the ending - Vic rejects the consumption of Quilla (the result of his awakening to the dimension of women beyond sex), but in the end, his personal concept of "love" extends no farther than his family, his dog. Now, recall the hierarchy we see in Vic: Survival first. Quilla, despite any alien feelings Vic doesn't understand, is still material - not for him any longer, but certainly to save his companion. Blood (so very aptly named) is all Vic has in the world, and he's a survival necessity. Quilla? Raw material, and not for a quick toss this time.

Does it bother Vic to use her in this fashion? Yup. That's the burden of his new-found knowledge that women can be more. But Vic is practical. It's not a decision between sex/love and the dog. It's survival of family versus an outsider. It's Blood versus raw materials. Blood wins. A boy loves his dog.

And really, it's a wild stretch to try and ascribe the ending some kind of analogous event in Harlan's life that he's trying to symbolically illustrate. Sometimes, a story is just a story, and its internal logic is truly born of the synergy of the characters within the narrative, as opposed to some kind of external exorcisim of the author's demons. Certainly, there are autobiographically-influenced stories in Harlan's body of work, but looking for a real-world event that ties to EVERY story? Themes, the author's feelings about situations, certainly. But ascribing the ending to "a mistake that I think he made when he had Ahbhu, whatever that mistake was" is just silly.

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Postby Jan » Fri Nov 09, 2007 8:50 pm

I guess you're mostly right about Vic. It's survival first. One thing I don't agree with is that one has to "get" love in order to feel it. What feeling drew him down there when he knew how risky it was, and where was that feeling when he fed her to the dog? Is he going to miss her at least? (I'm not asking you, I'm asking the ending, and the answer doesn't quite work for me.)

I've found that there's more of Harlan's life in his stories than meets the eye. Taking into consideration the autobiographical texts I mentioned, I would not categorize "A Boy and His Dog" as a complete invention with a cool twist ending. The relationship between Vic and Blood is based on Harlan's relationship with Ahbhu and his love for Ahbhu. Although it's certainly debatable, it's not such a wild strech to theorize that June is loosely based on one or a few of Harlan's former women (some of whom he refers to as disaster areas) or at least serves as a stand-in. While the story is not about June at all (in fact, I don't think she receives a fair share of consistent characterization), the same constellation is there that also existed in Ellison's life at certain times. It's a personal story. I didn't say Harlan was trying to "illustrate" something, that's not what personal is about.

Part of the symbolism in the ending is that Vic finally disposes of a woman that Blood didn't like. As Harlan said in "The Deathbird": "I took to noting his attitude toward newcomers, and I must admit it influenced my own reactions." But there is also something in it about the way Harlan loves. He loved and respected Ahbhu more than he did many people, and he hated it when his acquaintances didn't feel the same way. The story (and particulary the ending) symbolizes Ahbhu's importance in Harlan's life, contrasted with how Harlan feels about specific or unspecific people.

I don't agree that the internal logic is strictly "born of the synergy of the characters within the narrative". First of all, part of what I'm saying is that the characters themselves are coming from some place. Second of all, internal logic is usually a construction, to some degree, and related to an author's intentions. Cannibalism does not become an important aspect of the society until the last scene. It was hinted at earlier, but that hint could easily have been put there to set up the ending. In addition to that, I felt there was no internal logic that dictated how June behaved towards the end. This strange behavior is also connected to Vic's decision (and our readiness to accept it) without being integral to or related to anything else in the story. It's very possible that the story was either revised with the ending in place, or Harlan knew what the last situation would be before he got there. I'm not saying that the internal logic was designed to fit the ending, I'm just saying that the writer knew what he was doing when he created a certain character constellation and certain situations. As a result, I feel it's entirely valid to speculate about why this ending, and not another one.
Last edited by Jan on Sun Nov 11, 2007 7:43 am, edited 1 time in total.

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Sat Nov 10, 2007 10:44 am

>> Part of the symbolism in the ending is that Vic finally
>> disposes of a woman that Vic didn't like.

I was confused for a moment until I realized you probably meant to say "disposes of a woman that BLOOD didn't like." [Corrected, many thanks! - mod.]

And Blood's instincts werre pretty good. Don't forget that the Quilla June of the novella is considerably more savage and emotional than the one in the movie, who is fairly conventional. (I know you haven't seen it, Jan; I'm speaking to everyone who might read this thread.)

In the novella, Ellison uncovers the naked savagery that sometimes hides, violently repressed until it breaks out in a sex scandal or serial murder, under good manners and religiosity: Quilla June blows away most of her family with a rapid-fire gun and enjoys it. So there's another sign that she might not be a dependable partner topside.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus

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Postby Jan » Sun Nov 11, 2007 8:09 am

You're right, that would explain her behavior. Very important comment because it also ties into the theme of heartland/bible belt hypocricsy. I saw that aspect of June, but I didn't really take it seriously because the character seemed so underdeveloped and what Harlan made her do seemed way over the top. However, the whole story is (and wants to be) over the top, which is why I take the symbolism more seriously than the story.

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Postby Jan » Thu Nov 22, 2007 3:31 pm

I found some Harlan quotes about the novella in Bova's BEST OF THE NEBULAS:

Harlan wrote:I wrote the book, really and truly, wrote this novella for my dog Ahbhu. He's in the story, and the way I wrote of him is explained in a brief memorium that appears in a later story, "The Deathbird."

And:

Harlan wrote:I've purposely reversed the role of beast and human.

Harlan also quotes George Santayana, like he did in the preface to "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams":

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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Postby Jan » Wed Dec 05, 2007 5:17 am

Some more info: The novella was expanded for inclusion in THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD. Moorcock noted that it was also revised. I didn't know that. The longer version is that one included in that year's Nebula collection, but I don't know if that's the version that won.

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Postby Jan » Fri Dec 07, 2007 5:38 pm

Harlan answered my query about the revision in the Pavilion. I'm putting his answer here as it is, though strictly speaking, copyright would require me to reformulate or invent my own theories.

Harlan wrote:I had literally JUST finished writing that section of the novel when Mike Moorcock contacted me, purely synchronistically, asking if I had anything new that he might use in NEW WORLDS. "Boy" read well enough as a stand-alone--and I was on the edge of just writing onward to full fruition of the novel that was to incorporate the novella--that I sent it along, and he bought it, and published it, as it was.

Later, after I'd written the section that immediately precedes "Boy," the section called "Eggsucker," I went back over the novella, integrating, neatening, just generally doing some auctorial housekeeping. I believe I added some new material, but it wasn't anything substantial, because "Boy" was pretty much set in stone by that time, and it was ready to butt up against the next section, published as "Run, Spot, Run" ... so there wasn't much neatening needed.

That's about the best I can do remember-wise, kiddo.

The rest of the novel, BLOOD'S A ROVER is, of course, already written as a screenplay; and it merely needs my finding the time to translate it to narrative, which I hope to pull off before I go to my Reward
[...]

By the way, I'm renaming the thread to encompass all parts of the cycle, in case we get around to EGGSUCKER and all the rest.

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Postby Jan » Fri Feb 01, 2008 10:54 am

I Read Comics have done a podcast discussion and comparison of all three versions and "extensions" of the story.
http://ireadcomics.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_archive.html
While not perfect, the two women are doing a decent enough job, I think, and they appreciate Harlan's writing, as well as the film. (I skipped the parts that related to story material I'm not yet familiar with.)
If somebody else listens to it, let me know if you liked it. (If not, I might remove the link.)

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Re: 1969 - VIC AND BLOOD cycle

Postby Jan » Sun Aug 11, 2013 3:19 pm

An interesting Blu-ray of the film has been released (review), and Harlan was interviewed.


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