1982 - STALKING THE NIGHTMARE

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1982 - STALKING THE NIGHTMARE

Postby Jan » Mon Dec 03, 2007 1:13 pm

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STALKING THE NIGHTMARE

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Published for the first time in paperback, this exciting array of stories and essays exhibits the full range of one of today's most controversial, imaginative and innovative talents. So be prepared. You're not only going to stalk the nightmare. You're with a master hunter... and you're going to catch it.
Or will the nightmare catch you?
-- Berkeley cover blurb

The book was originally published in 1982 and re-released in 1996 as the second half of EDGEWORKS 2 | Get the E-Reads version or get EDGEWORKS 2 from Harlan's store ($18.00 as of 3/09) | Webderland review by David Loftus | Langerhans info page

Our discussion of the opening story GRAIL is here. Comments, observations and reviews welcome.
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Postby Jan » Mon Dec 03, 2007 2:20 pm

The thing to note about this book from 1982 is that it contains both essays and stories, a lot of them with a humorous bent. The stories were both recent and very old ones. Four of the older stories had previously been included in OVER THE EDGE which had gone out of print. They were presented here in rewritten form, which is certainly unsusual. The essay SOMEHOW I DON'T THINK WE'RE IN KANSAS, TOTO was printed in full length for the first time and even expanded. It obviously was not a good period for Harlan in terms of producing new story material. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome had kicked in in the late 70s, and he had also started writing the monthly column for FUTURE LIFE, as well as spending about a year on the script for I, ROBOT.

The second story, THE OUTPOST UNDISCOVERED BY TOURISTS (1981) is an irreverent re-telling or spoof of the story of Christ's birth for the Christmas issue of the Magazine of F&SF. He describes the journey of the Three Kings in a very modern, cynical world going through a commercialized Christmas season. The Kings are not glad to be doing what their doing - apparently they've been doing it for centuries so that it's become a routine, but not any easier. The story gets you into the mood for Christmas about as much as listening to Springsteen does. It's well known that Harlan is not a big fan of Christmas, like most Jews, I would think, and it's one of the first things people learn about him. He just mentions it often. While the interplay between the Kings is delightful, the fantasy elements seem superfluous and the story itself *I* found only moderately funny, except where it mocks the lack of realism in the Bible version of the story. This is one of the stories that would gain a lot from being read aloud by Ellison or performed by a good comedy ensemble.
Rating: : |:|

----

VISIONARY was co-written by Joe Hensley. It was first published in 1959 and revised for NIGHTMARE, presumably by Ellison alone. As a result the story has a very polished sound, while content-wise it's the kind of story Harlan didn't write anymore.

The main character, Fazio, has a recurring dream about a strange chapel that he has never seen and that doesn't look like anything on Earth. Having no other plans, he joins the space program and takes part in a long succession of tests and experiments. Harlan and Joe hint enough at the tests and the questions the recruits have to answer to heighten the sense of mystery already produced by the dream or vision.

Although it all has a point, the story is more about the journey than the destination. The main character is more interesting than most - in fact, the authors use first person narration, kind of a rarity in Harlan's fiction. (In fact, even THE HOUR THAT STRETCHES, which has Harlan in it, is told in third person.) Quoting some of the test questions works well and probably led to the test sections in THE DEATHBIRD.

In PARTNERS IN WONDER Harlan talked about collaborating with Hensley, and this must have been the third story, the one that (in its original form) suffers a bit with age, perhaps because it was the longest of the three and it was a more standard story idea than Joe and I had attempted the previous two times. I suppose that during the revision process some material was thrown out because another of the stories is actually longer. If that was the case, it was a wise decision because the ending can only carry so much building-up to. It's a solid minor story, which due to it's high content of science fiction serves as a reminder of where Harlan came from. Among the Ellison/Hensley collaborations and Hensley's story for DANGEROUS VISIONS, this one ranks last, but that's only because they produced nothing but high quality works.
Rating: :| :| :oops:
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Postby Jan » Wed Dec 05, 2007 3:56 am

BLANK... (1957, unrevised) is a pure SF story. On a future Earth, an escaped convict tryies to get off the planet by kidnapping a Driver, sort of a spaceship pilot. On their way to the ship the driver keeps saying "You don't want to to this." We suspect it's all going to go wrong, particularly because the protagonist is not likeable.

It's a brief, straight-forward, action-suspense yarn set in a fun futuristic setting that is decribed in minimalist fashion. Harlan avoids the cliché of the innocent convict on the run - this guy is actually guilty as hell. Harlan wraps it up with a marvellous crime-doesn't-pay ending. The only problem with the story is that the ending hinges on a fictional science that the story offered no opportunity to properly set up. (Harlan later re-used the idea in PAINGOD.) Also, the story would have benefited from slightly more human interaction. On a more positive note, the female lead role is pretty good for the 50s and elevates the story. A jurymech is mentioned, also used in WANTED IN SURGERY. :| :| :oops:

Addendum 2/09: "The June 1957 Infinity had my short story "Blank!," which had been written in Larry Shaw's office on a dare, from the title only. Two other writers, Randall Garrett and Harlan Ellison, also wrote stories with the same title, and all three appeared in that issue." - Isaac Asimov (In Joy Still Felt)

INVASION FOOTNOTE (1957, revised) is a cute little story about a robot making invasion plans. A scientist has developed a robot that actually has much greater capabilities than he suspects. It's easy to see why Harlan liked "Pinky and the Brain" because that's pretty much what he wrote here. It's funny, and it's so stripped down that it's almost just a joke. Stictly for the record, we are also informed that the "mech" in Harlan's robot stories is short for Mechanical. :| :| :oops:
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Postby Jan » Thu Dec 06, 2007 3:09 pm

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NIGHT OF BLACK GLASS (1981) was written and performed as a broadside to benefit the Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University. Apparently it was first published in STALKING THE NIGHTMARE and didn't see a magazine release. This is one of the stories that almost looks like SF, but it's more in the line of Kafka and Poe.

The main character Billy has left his wife and travelled to Maine "to slip off the end of the world" He remembers the fight he had with his wife after he had knocked her sunglasses off and which led to her accusing him of escaping discussions. He also remembers incidents in Vietnam and from his youth. The people who have died around him come out of the ocean (black glass) to speak to him on the beach. They look terrible, and he wants it to stop, not understanding what it means.

This is a story about the past coming alive much like it did in ALL THE BIRDS COME HOME TO ROOST (1978). Only this time, it's not the people from the past who are wrong, it's the protagonist himself. In what way he's wrong, that's what the story wants you to think about. It implies a clear answer, but it also implies a high standard of ethics that may be almost impossible to attain. In terms of the philosophy the story is very akin to that behind SHATTERDAY and a few later stories; it's about personal responsibility, but with slightly more ambiguity than before. It makes you question yourself as well as the author.

The words exchanged between Billy and his past acquaintances are brief, but it's interesting that the people seem to support his world-view. As Harlan once said: The things I would pillory myself for having done, where I would say "Shit, I never really should have done that," they will all say "But you had to do that because blah blah blah..." (Blaschke interview).

The fantasy aspects of the story only work to a degree. When the ocean transforms itself, it mainly just throws you, and it never becomes clear enough or is hinted clearly enough at just where the people come from and where exactly they leave towards and what that has to do with glass, the moon, with Maine and the little girl. This could have been simpler. The last paragraph works well, but it shows Harlan switching metaphors.

Billy is not one of Harlan's better characters, he just doesn't seem complete - we're waiting for his conscience to kick in. It never does, despite the fact that he remembers the particular episodes out of his life that he does, which seems akin to having a bad conscience. Can there be another reason for such memories? Showing a person who is wrong and letting him stay wrong, proud and firm, just sort of punishing him for being the way he is, that's not very satisfying. No wonder Harlan took the theme up again until he got it right.

Although the story is not better or worse than the ones from the 50s, there is a tremendous difference in attitude. There is more life experience wrapped into this, and I think Harlan was long past turning ideas into stories. Harlan is actually putting his blood on the page and aiming high.

I'm glad this much more serious entry was included between the humor and the high concepts. The book sure doesn't live up to its title nor is it quite the right book to have a foreword by Stephen King (ANGRY CANDY would have been the one), but at least it has two or three of darker stories buried deep inside it. :| :| :oops:

Addendum 01/09: Harlan wrote this at a B. Dalton bookstore in Manhattan based on an opening line by Tom Brokow. The NBC Today Show did a brief feature on it (see my images) that you can find here: http://www.icue.com/portal/site/iCue/chapter/?cuecard=34831. Harlan said:
Well basically what it’s about is the concept of the guilt of the survivor. (...) And too many people, I think, go through their lives without realizing there must be some payment of some kind, either in good deeds or in anguish or in responsibility to the rest of the world. And this was a man who had no linkage to the rest of the world. All through the story he keeps denying. A little girl sits down next to him he won’t even talk to her.
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Alive And Well On A Friendless Voyage

Postby shagin » Fri Jan 25, 2008 3:29 am

"Quiet Lies The Locust Tells" is by far my favorite part of STALKING....

The other stories and essays are wonderful, each a good read on any number of levels, but the beautiful colors and lines of "Quiet Lies..." evoke a sense of wonder every time I read the story. It speaks to Harlan's role as a troublemaker, a gadfly, that niggling voice in the back of society's mind. I don't see this as a bad role, and it is one he has crafted for himself as much as anyone may have thought to assign it to him through their evaluations of his works.

There is no denying that the piece is also very, very lonely. I don't pretend that it speaks to the writer's mindset regarding his craft, the view of the outsider always looking in, or the insider trapped in the middle and begging others to pay attention to the truth, but the sense of a solitary path is definitely a central point in the piece whether seen with the saxophone player, the old woman, or the locust driving the children away for their own good.

Sometimes being a jackanapes isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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Postby Jan » Wed Feb 27, 2008 6:44 am

While I'm still waiting for an opportunity to read that, here's another review.

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FINAL TROPHY (1957, rev. 1982), the original version of which had been reprinted both in A TOUCH OF INFINITY (1960) and in the 1970 edition of OVER THE EDGE, seems to be both a homage and a response to Hemingway, containing themes, characters and situations from some of Hemingway’s works but written entirely in Harlan’s voice. It’s safe to say that Harlan didn’t care much about some of Hemingway’s characters and the attitudes they reflected, so he transplanted one of them into his own fictional universe where justice prevails. A trophy hunter is visiting a planet looking for a great animal to kill, a real challenge that would impress his collegues. He observes a kind of bullfight and asks to fight one of the animals himself which the locals seem unable to kill.

I was surprised to find that Harlan condemned machismo in a story, and it makes me feel good about his 1957 self. Harlan was arguably never completely immune to machismo himself, in its various guises, especially not at that age, but I think he was always careful to channel anything that might be harmful or destructive into his work. “Final Trophy” may have been as much a message to himself as it was his readers. It basically seems to say, “Use your brains!” Certainly every reader of Hemingway has to ask himself the questions Harlan did and come to grips with Hemingway the man and artist. It’s interesting to note that Harlan would go on to be as controversial a man and artist in his own field as Hem had been and still was. While I can’t say that the story is any good (and some awkward spots suggest that Harlan didn’t have the time or inclination to revise it into a proper 1982 thing), I’m still glad to see it and - unlike many stories in the book - feel that it definitely has a rightful place among the writer’s more essential works thanks to the glimpse into Harlan the man. :| :|

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Postby Jan » Thu May 15, 2008 12:45 pm

!!!THE!!TEDDY!CRAZY!!SHOW!!! (1968) introduces us to a talk show hosted by a guy named Teddy Crazy who routinely debunks the claims of the "weirdos" who manage to get on his show, destroying quite a few honest lives and careers along the way. Finally, a guest comes on that looks surprisingly like the devil and claims to have a reward for Teddy.

Clearly, by the time he wrote this satire Harlan had gotten more interested in the media, its role in society, and in the damage it does to individuals and to society as a whole. Teddy is the kind of television personality who does anything for a buck and whose popularity is built on a disregard for common courtesy and morality. His fame rests on the shoulders of the hundreds of guests he turns into laughing stock. One of the interesting aspects is that the fired-up audience loves this guy. They can't verify anything. They think he's always right and they love to witness destruction. Harlan likens the television studio to the ancient Roman arenas. Here, as it often does in real life, television has a corrupting influence on society. Harlan was about to start writing his weekly column on television at the end of 1968 (see THE GLASS TEAT).

It is not, however, one of Harlan's better stories. Harlan was going for the obvious with flat characterizations and a big, loud "I'm making a point here" written all over it. There are also too many moments that make you pause, in a bad way. I cannot tell you if Christians were ever "thrown to the Protestants", for example. At the very least, it doesn't seem like the main example one would use for the things that happened in Roman arenas. Is the show being taped or is it broadcast live? The clues aren't consistent. The devil's explanation for appearing and wanting to reward Teddy is followed by Teddy asking: "Can you folks dig what this nit is saying?" Well, I'm not sure I did. His reward for Teddy doesn't look like much of a reward to me, though it may have been. I don't know. The devil disappears because the studio audience doesn't believe in him? Well, why didn't he disappear earlier? What is the audience's explanation for what transpires at the end? What is the meaning of the ending? Are we now rid of both the devil and the only mean tv host?

The biggest mystery is why Harlan dug this one out for STALKING. Well, he must have liked it for some reason. Perhaps because it bridges his fiction and his nonfiction? Many of the stories in the book he tried to fix or improve. This one is so weak and flawed, it's unfixable, and Harlan didn't try. He did take the premise and turn it into "Flop Sweat" for SHATTERDAY, which is infinitely superior. :|

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Postby Jan » Tue Jun 03, 2008 11:42 am

THE HOUR THAT STRETCHES (1982) was previously discussed by us HERE. The story is about Harlan going on a radio talk show called Hour 25 and offering to turn story ideas given to him by callers into something useable. He soon regrets this and complains about the audience's imagination.

This is certainly based on Harlan's real experiences with his audience and science fiction fandom in general. Tim Case contributed this bit of information: I recall reading that this story was written in a bookstore window, and that the story ideas which were submitted by the listeners to the program in the piece were, in actuality, story ideas which were solicited from people who were actually in the bookstore where Harlan was writing the story itself.

Of course, Harlan had also been an actual guest on Hour 25 and similar shows several times. The story ideas he gets from callers you can tell aren't made up, and it seems that all the names are real as well. I would say this is an entertaining read, written with a sense of humor, and it proves in a somewhat interesting fashion that Harlan perceives himself pretty accurately. For example, he knows he sometimes offends people when he has no intention to.

As others pointed out, Harlan is treading old ground. We know how he feels about fandom from his non-fiction. He had already dealt with radio call-in shows in "Flop Sweat" (from Shatterday). He finds a way to end the story on a somewhat exciting and mysterious note, but up to that point it's just a long piece of fluff all made up along the way. I mean, what's the arc here? Hodel is joking, Hodel is weeping, Harlan is drifting towards madness, then he snaps out of it and saves the world. The sound technician is (actually) rolling on the floor laughing about Harlan obvious jokes (though I would imagine Harlan can't see the floor of the control room?) The audience's ideas are bad, but not bad enough to be funny. The good thing about "The Hour" is that it captures Harlan's verbal wit, but so do interview transcripts. It also captures real life speaking patterns, which is always nice. :| :oops:

rich wrote:Only Ellison could've written it and only Ellison could've used his public persona to such effect.

The story has no effect - it comes and goes.

Yelena Virago wrote:Hell, I've seen Unca Harlan take webderlanders apart with more panache than the wildly subdued caricature in the story.

I think the story celebrates crankiness enough as it is, though.

Hour 25 is still being produced, here is the website.

rich

Postby rich » Tue Jun 03, 2008 2:22 pm

I think the story does have an effect. It's a play on Ellison's persona and only works as it does 'cause it reinforces the readers' perceptions of the man, the myth, the legend. I'm not saying it's going to win any prizes, but it works as a story precisely because of its autobiographical nature.

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Postby Jan » Thu Jun 05, 2008 2:24 pm

I agree that the story works - I have never encountered an Ellison story that doesn't work.

THE CHEESE STANDS ALONE (1981) is about a man, Cort, driving along the coast into Monterey early in the morning, where he encounters only fog and a mysterious bookstore. An old lady, a member of the staff, has apparently expected him.

This is one of those stories about a magical store, their customers and owners. Harlan spends a lot of time setting up the atmosphere for the tale which takes place on the foggy shores of California. It goes without saying that at this point in his career Harlan was a master at that. However, the story's success hinges on one thing only - whether Harlan can present a magical store that excites us and that perhaps even raises questions about our existence.

Well, I would say the story is a so-so success. I'm not going to reveal what the bookstore is all about, but that part is good. Too good perhaps, because it presents opportunities Harlan seems unwilling to grasp. But first about Cort: This is not the kind of guy who just walks into an obvious trap. No, he asks questions. He's a pain in the ass. The sort of reasonably intelligent character we all want to see more of in genre fiction. He's the embodiment of Louis Pasteur's axiom, often quoted by Harlan, "Chance favors the prepared mind."

The story comes down to one thing, one question about the character's life that he needs to have answered and that can be answered in this place. This is where the story fails, because out of unlimited possibilities Harlan choses one of the few question no one really wants to know the answer to. And that's what the old woman uses to arouse Cort's curiosity and lead him into danger. This guy is weak where he shouldn't be weak. He was hardly introduced and now we sort of don't identify with him at all.

Afterwards the story doesn't recover. It seems to be intended as the kind of story meant to scare you and glue you to the page. Yet Harlan forgets to create any sustained danger. In the meantime, on the level of curiosity, the answer to Cort's question is just a minor surprise - I expected something of the kind. It's perhaps the only answer that's acceptable anyway. The same goes for Cort's reactions. I thought his emotional reaction works great, while his delayed intellectual reaction is merely obvious and not a proper twist to end the story on. By that time Cort had also turned out to be a fast talker, not quite behaving as a real person would in that kind of situation. I guess Harlan was going against cliché and cardboard characters here, but at the same time the story loses something. I guess I had the feeling it became too much Harlan Ellison instead of just the story it wanted to be. Overall it's still better than okay, since the writing is fine, there is a little bit of a thought in it, and it's never boring. :| :|

Also see David's review.
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rich

Postby rich » Thu Jun 05, 2008 3:10 pm

Jan wrote:I agree that the story works - I have never encountered an Ellison story that doesn't work.


Then what do you mean when you say it "has no effect--it comes and goes"?

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Postby Jan » Thu Jun 05, 2008 4:35 pm

Well, a story can technically work (i.e. fulfill all the basic requirements) but still lack excitement and freshness and leave you asking what the point was. It's not a bad story but I personally think it would be too much to even call it mediocre. I'm glad some people are entertained by it, though.

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Postby Jan » Sat Jun 07, 2008 5:51 am

TRACKING LEVEL (1956, rev. 1982) is about a man named Claybourne who is tracking a dangerous, telekinetic animal towards and into the mountains on a barren planetoid. From the money he received for this he has hired killers to liquidate his enemy named Garden.

This ia s science fiction adventure story first published in Amazing Stories and revised for this volume. It's one of Harlan's earliest pieces of published fiction. It's mainly about Claybourne and Garden (who never appears but sure likes to get mentioned), as well as the alien environment and the animal seen only at the end. People who are interested in hunting will perhaps enjoy this proud piece of pulp SF, everybody else should find it a challenge to get through this without falling asleep once or twice. It's not only not exciting on anything but the most superficial level, it also fails to make much sense. For example - and I don't even care about this - do you believe in old-fashioned animal tracking taking place in a time when spaceships travel faster than light? But what's even odder is that Harlan failed to provide a proper link between longish asides about Claybourne's relationship to his enemy and the main story. Harlan either misrevised the story or it never worked in the first place. It may have been good pulp fiction, but it's bad literature, and it's boring. And yes, Claybourne is another protagonist we don't care about. He's the bad guy here, in every way, and the sooner he dies, the better. :|

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QUIET LIES THE LOCUST TELLS (1982) is original to the book and was written or rewritten to serve as an introduction. A man who calls himself a locus is the last survivor after a Great Sweep which basically cleared the world of inconvenient of troublemakers. The locus speaks quietly to young people who will listen to hear about better things.

Needless to say, the locust is Harlan. He obviously considers himself an independent spirit who can afford to tell us the truth, through his stories, about the real state of things. The fictionalized way in which Harlan presented himself here brings a smile to my face, as it does to Shagin. Harlan likes to romanticize himself, at least his writing self, as do most writers in one way or another, but few of them, if any ever did, would turn it into fable like this. The first half is about his role as outsider/artist and his relationship to the modern world as well as political power while the second half is about Harlan's relationship to his fans, particularly to those who idolize him and who used to see him as a kind of moral-intellectual leader in decades past. The piece also contains the first allusions to chronic fatigue syndrome. Apart from that, none of what he says is news, but it sure never sounded so good. Having re-read most of the book before the introduction, I only wished both Harlan and King would have saved their words for a worthier volume. For example, it would have been perfect to put this in front of The Essential Ellison. The better the book, the better it would have fit. :| :| :|

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Postby alexanderthesoso » Sun Jun 08, 2008 1:26 am

The hour that stretches, to me, is the ultimate Mary Sue story, in which the self identified protaganist pulls out information and power they couldn't possibly have, and saves the universe. But.... its BELIEVABLE. Maybe because I read it first as a child, and idolized Unca Harlan in a way unbecoming a fan, but, to me, I could easily picture Harlan, old school space suit with ray gun blazing in hand, fighting off alien invasions. But thats me. Of course, if you are looking for deep meaning, great statements, something for the ages... what the hell is wrong with some good old fashioned entertainment now and then?

As for the cheese stands alone... I dunno. Seeing a trap, and going ahead and springing it out of curiosity. I would do that.


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