New stories

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

Moderators: Moderator, Jan, Duane

User avatar
Jan
Posts: 1817
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:25 pm
Location: Köln

New stories

Postby Jan » Sat Dec 12, 2009 3:14 pm

Image

Thread for full discussion of so-far uncollected stories published after SLIPPAGE, including "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" (published in Realms of Fantasy magazine), Goodbye to All That, Objects of Desire in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear, The Toad-Prince, or Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes, From A to Z, In the Sarsaparilla Alphabet, Incognita Inc., Never Send For Whom the Lettuce Wilts, and Loose Cannon, or Rubber Duckies From Space.

When we learn details of the book they will be contained in, we'll upgrade the thread.

sjarrett
Posts: 113
Joined: Tue May 27, 2003 8:43 pm
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Contact:

2009 - How Interesting: A Tiny Man

Postby sjarrett » Thu Dec 17, 2009 10:59 am

My main impression after reading "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" was that it was a story very much in the spirit of DANGEROUS VISIONS. Not that I mean to suggest that it would be a good fit in the original DV anthology, of course. That would hardly be a compliment, since it would imply that the story is old-fashioned, a product of a late 1960s mindset in terms of theme and style. I mean rather that it seems to seek to press at the boundaries of narrative form in the way that the DV authors were asked to do. It does not, however, do so in an immediately conspicuous way. Instead, the story waits in the weeds for the unwary reader, cloaking the extraordinary tale being told in a conversational first person style of, to borrow a phrase from the story, quotidian elegance before springing a provocative bifurcated ending that abruptly reverses the heretofore muted tone to throw the preternatural underpinnings of the narrative into sharp relief.

Naturally, the story brings to mind FRANKENSTEIN. Indeed, the story itself explicitly evokes that comparison. But the narrator is no Victor Frankenstein. He lacks Frankenstein's hubris and megalomania. He feels that what he has done is merely "interesting." Nor is he repulsed by his creation, who in turn does not develop a resentment (maturing into hatred) toward his creator. The Frankenstein comparison therefore seems to be valid only in the minds of those who insist on pursuing and hounding the narrator and his tiny man. (It is perhaps worth noting that some of the imagery evoked belongs more to James Whale's film than to Mary Shelley's novel. And the tiny man himself seems to evoke the creations of Dr. Pretorius in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.) Whereas Victor Frankenstein is undone by hubris, the downfall of this story's narrator seems to be naivete -- a misunderstanding of the casual destructiveness of which his fellow humans are capable and how virulently that destructiveness can be magnified by the mass media.

For me, the story also calls to mind Frank Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" by virtue of its open-ended conclusion. There is, however, a significant difference. Stockton clearly implies that a choice was made, that the princess did indeed indicate one of the doors, and invites us to speculate on which choice was made and why. But Ellison goes further,inviting the reader to become a kind of junior partner in the auctorial enterprise; inviting the reader to, as it were, play God along with him in shaping the narrative. This is the aspect of the story that reminded me most forcefully of the DANGEROUS VISIONS aesthetic.

I was struck throughout the story by how the extraordinary nature of the tiny man's creation is deliberately tamped down. There is no talk of Nobel prizes or grants or patents or any of the appurtenances that would naturally flow from such a monumental biological breakthrough. This leads me to speculate that perhaps we are not meant to read the story literally. Maybe the creation of the tiny man serves more as a metaphor for any action that raises an individual head and shoulders above the common herd. Such actions carry with them the risk of attracting the attention of media vultures with hours of airtime and column inches of "news hole" to fill; vultures who don't even bother to wait for the victim to die before picking the carcass clean.

Seen from this perspective, I was led to think about how a person who becomes, in any sense, a public figure has in effect created a tiny replica of himself (or herself) for public consumption. It's a tiny version because it contains only a small portion of the totality of the real person. It's also a distorted version because its attributes may be greatly exaggerated versions of the real person's attributes, like the ability to master Urdu and Quechua in short order. I have heard, for example, Michael Moore speak of how there is the real Mike, known to his friends and family, and then there is this public figure called "Michael Moore," who is only tangentially related to MIke. He talks about having to remind himself that the public vitriol is aimed at "Michael Moore" and not at "Mike." Was this what Ellison had in mind in writing the story? I have no idea. But it is, in part, what the story led me to think about. And I'm pretty certain that Ellison did want the story to make me think.

There is more to say, but my purpose here is only to get the ball rolling. I look forward to reading how other Webderlanders responded to this remarkable story.

Steve J.

User avatar
David Loftus
Posts: 3182
Joined: Fri Aug 20, 2004 2:15 pm
Location: Portland, Oregon
Contact:

Postby David Loftus » Thu Dec 17, 2009 11:46 am

sjarrett wrote:I was led to think about how a person who becomes, in any sense, a public figure has in effect created a tiny replica of himself (or herself) for public consumption. It's a tiny version because it contains only a small portion of the totality of the real person. It's also a distorted version because its attributes may be greatly exaggerated versions of the real person's attributes, like the ability to master Urdu and Quechua in short order. I have heard, for example, Michael Moore speak of how there is the real Mike, known to his friends and family, and then there is this public figure called "Michael Moore," who is only tangentially related to MIke. He talks about having to remind himself that the public vitriol is aimed at "Michael Moore" and not at "Mike." Was this what Ellison had in mind in writing the story? I have no idea.


I really like this. Well reasoned.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that Harlan didn't specifically have your interpretation in mind -- I'll bet he'd be pleasantly surprised to hear it -- but felt his way there intuitively. A lot of writers are like that: they feel their way by gut and whim toward truths that please and surprise themselves as much as anyone. After John Fowles happened to see a copy of the undergraduate thesis I wrote about his novel The Magus, he sent me a note that said, "You do rather presume an 'academic' knowledge in me (a full consciousness of what I am - or was - doing), which is far from the truth; but I liked your general line..."

Gwyneth M905
Posts: 1260
Joined: Thu Aug 31, 2006 11:40 pm
Location: San Francisco, California

Postby Gwyneth M905 » Thu Dec 17, 2009 11:57 pm

What I thought of was that the tiny man was an amalgamation of everything that the truly inspired creative intellect can imagine.

Adam was the pinnacle of God's creation, in the Old Testament. In HI: A TM, the tiny man represented everything that can be the pinnacle of human creation: fine buildings, languages, clothing, self-expression, art, music, science. Human had finally become God, by creating him. Which is, perhaps why the ending had two choices: kill God, or accept that human creative endeavor is God. If we accept the latter, it is quite possibly the only thing which will save us from the basest human instincts and our own destructive urges and instincts.

That's my take on the story so far. I'm having a go from memory of only two readings, since I can't access the RoF website anymore.

Steve and David -- I love your writing -- I get ideas flowing so quickly into my brain that I have to type them out into great blocks of text and then whittle away, and away and away until I get something that is readable. Then I can cut and paste and post here. That's why I asked Harlan on the Pavvy about his writing process: if he outlined a story before writing it, or if the story drove its own plot twists and turns. It's always interesting to hear how a master crafts his works.

User avatar
FinderDoug
Posts: 1530
Joined: Wed May 21, 2003 1:58 pm
Location: Houston, TX
Contact:

Postby FinderDoug » Fri Dec 18, 2009 6:58 am

I'll go out on a limb and guess that Harlan didn't specifically have your interpretation in mind -- I'll bet he'd be pleasantly surprised to hear it -- but felt his way there intuitively.


I'd second this based on something Harlan said on more than one occasion after a screening of DWST - that when watching it, he didn't see it as a film about him, but as a film about this strange and wonderful person named Harlan Ellison. So the notion is certainly there in his head, somewhere, of this disconnect between the person we are and the person we create.

I'm fascinated by the dual endings - both distinctly Ellison, but each 180 degrees from the other on the spectrum of his storytelling technique. It's interesting to see how the tone of each of those closing bits affects/informs everything we've read leading up to it - is it a grim parody with a punchline that comes, literally, out of a Warner Brother's cartoon (think Daffy Duck in peril), or an apocalyptic statement about where we ultimately come to stand with relation to our creations?

I have a couple more reads to suss further, but I think it's a damn fine story.

Gwyneth M905
Posts: 1260
Joined: Thu Aug 31, 2006 11:40 pm
Location: San Francisco, California

Postby Gwyneth M905 » Fri Dec 18, 2009 10:13 am

FinderDoug wrote:
I'll go out on a limb and guess that Harlan didn't specifically have your interpretation in mind -- I'll bet he'd be pleasantly surprised to hear it -- but felt his way there intuitively.


I'd second this based on something Harlan said on more than one occasion after a screening of DWST - that when watching it, he didn't see it as a film about him, but as a film about this strange and wonderful person named Harlan Ellison. So the notion is certainly there in his head, somewhere, of this disconnect between the person we are and the person we create.


Ah yes, :) thats a theme that Harlan has referenced before: in "All The Lies That Are My Life", "You Don't Know Me, I Don't Know You", etc.. To what extent do we really know who we are to others, how do we craft our public personae, and what is it that we don't see about ourselves until it is too late?

There is a wonderful story HE wrote about the Walter-Mitty-esque man who was crushed by a wrecking ball, to find himself in a "heaven" of his wildest fantasies. However, there was a complete disconnect between the person he was and the persona he created in his imagination. Unable to act the role of the hero he had always imagined he'd be, he ended up back at the scene of the accident, mangled beyond recognition, "as if by the jaws of a dragon", if I remember correctly.

Do vouse remember this story? I think the themes of disconnect between personae, self-awareness of one's own flaws, and the ability to create one's own reality undergird HI: A TM.

User avatar
Jan
Posts: 1817
Joined: Thu Aug 19, 2004 2:25 pm
Location: Köln

Postby Jan » Sat Dec 19, 2009 2:21 pm

How Interesting: A Tiny Man (2010) - A scientist creates a miniature man, eliciting a wave of protest from the public.

This is a story mainly based on Tony Isabella’s quote, “Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved,” which Harlan has picked up on many occasions when things he had done or not done came back to haunt him in the form of public outrage. While he always maintained people are not entitled to their uninformed opinions, it seems that only more recently he has had to deal with some kind organized fury on a semi-regular basis. Still, the uninformedness remains at the bottom of it all. Accordingly, in the story, people seem to make up their minds based on preconceived notions and hearsay; they aren’t interested in dialogue and understanding. Perhaps the scientist did make a mistake, since human cloning also raises serious questions, but there’s no willingness on the part of the public to examine the facts and issues properly.

The religious fanatic is the same type Stephen King used in „The Mist“. She seems awfully convinced that she’s right, and her outrage is real, so people who look for some kind of side of join, adopt her point of view. The country seems to be run by people who accept and bolster prevalent attitudes, so that the narrator has no higher authority to turn to.

The double ending underlines the hopelessness of the situation: Nothing good can come out of this. Perhaps the saddest aspect of the story is that the scientist and his creation seem to have no supporters. Jennifer Cuffee rejects her natural reaction to the achievement when she learns it’s supposedly against God’s will (there are similar scenes in "Basilisk"). It all raises the question how there can be significant progress in the U.S. if the interpreters of God’s will can set the tone.

Regarding the narrator's lack of foresight, Steve said it best: The downfall of this story's narrator seems to be naivete -- a misunderstanding of the casual destructiveness of which his fellow humans are capable and how virulently that destructiveness can be magnified by the mass media. I think naivete is also one of the recurring themes of Harlan's own life (like most people's); one can find it reflected in many of his retrospective essays dealing with Hollywood and women, and most of the controversies and "scandals" he finds painful were a result of actions of his, all of them leading him to avoid repeating the same mistake, for example by not announcing books before they are actually finished.

The only negative aspect of the story is its somewhat tired one-sided world-view, reminiscent of the more successful Quite Lies the Locust Tells, Repent Harlequin and others: The inventor, creator, truth-teller, the only colorful person is confronted with a cold, evil, uncaring society of grey mice. In contrast to this, the narrator portrays himself as a completely innocent person (ending 1 notwithstanding), the naivete being only the natural downside of a clean, young-minded, not-too-bright personality. The truth is sigificantly more complex than the story lets on, on both sides of the issue. For one thing, there's a back-and-forth between Harlan and the public that predetermines, to some degree, the reactions on both sides to any new event. The story shows little evidence of Harlan having understood what's going on - it merely stands as a record of his experience of the public.

The spare and easy style Harlan uses is an improvement over some of his more elaborate works, even of recent vintage, that bodes well for the book. I've never seen him keep his playfulness in check quite like this. However, both in style and as a type of story, it has an antecedent with "Are You Listening?", published in 1958 (see The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World). :| :| :|


Return to “Literary Symposium”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest