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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dusting off, but not opening, choosing to go strictly by my fogged, hazy memories of Nick Hornby's playbook, I give you last week's reads.

When I was with the family over the Turkey Day holiday, E and I made the trip to Half-Price Books. There are a fair amount of used bookstores in Ithaca, some that really do re-sell books at half-off. But a lot of the prices at HPB are more than half-off, which is always nice on the wallet. Aside from an audiobook copy of Robert McKee's STORY, I picked up copies of Harlan Ellison's infamous anthologies DANGEROUS VISIONS and AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS. I was actually going to pick up a trade paperback copy of the former, but E suggested I pick up the hardback version with "the swanky cover," so I figured I might as well pick up the second one, too.

Anyway, everything last week came from DANGEROUS VISIONS, which I've been reading pretty much in order so far, except for having temporarily skipped the novella "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip José Farmer. Thus...
  • Lester del Rey, "Evensong"
  • Robert Silverberg, "Flies"
  • Frederik Pohl, "The Day After the Day the Martians Came"
  • Miriam Allen deFord, "The Malley System"
  • Robert Bloch, "A Toy for Juliette"
  • Harlan Ellison, "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World"
I know a lot of humanist-types who'd really get a kick out of the story "Evensong," the plot of which could be interpreted as showing the ultimate expression of the human potential. The spiritually-minded, however, could interpret that same plot as a caution of the consequences of the same.

"Flies" is undoubtedly the best human-altered-by-aliens story I've ever read, bar none. The elements are pretty shocking for something written in the sixties (which was the point of the anthology). I won't even describe them; you'll have to read it to believe it. I'd almost describe it as a horror story, but no one in the tale is as horrified as the reader.

What if, as Pohl wrote in his story's afterward (each story except for one has a forward by Ellison and an afterward by the author), sci-fi really can make all men to think of each other as brothers, "at least in the face of a very large universe which is very likely to contain creatures who are not men at all"? Don't be fooled, though. "The Day After the Day the Martians Came" doesn't convey that message directly. Rather, it clearly and succinctly illustrates the ugliness of man's often negative reactions to "the other."

It was refreshing to see a 40 year-old story written by a female (Remember: these stories were written in the 60s. You think sci-fi's dominated by males now, consider 1967.) that, in a graphic and pointed way, dealt with the "softer" sciences. This is exactly the sort of story that found the resurgence expressed in THE HARD SCI-FI RENAISSANCE. It's my favorite story of the lot, so far.

"A Toy for Juliette" was written at Ellison's behest as a sequel to a story Bloch wrote in 1943 called "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper." Ellison then responsed with a story that picked up where Bloch left off, "The Prolwer in the City..." which is a perfect example of the sort of "conversation" that today's writers like Link or Doctorow write about (pardon me for being too lazy to Google various examples).

I offer two, having failed to add one last time. First, in this week's reading...
The city was a complex artery, the people were the blood that flowed icily through the artery. They were a gestalt with one another, forming a unified whole. it was a city shining in permanence, eternal in concept, flinging itself up in a formed and molded statement of exaltation; most modern of all modern structures, conceived as the pluperfect residence for the perfect people. The final end-result of all sociological blueprints aimed at Utopia.

-Harlan Ellison, "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World"
Typically, I offer these snippets without comment, but in this case I just have to note that it's a description as succinctly written as that by Garc&iactute;a-Márquez in the opening of "Big Mama's Funeral," even if the styles are different. What I mean to say is, that same magic is there.

The second is from last week's "Guy de Maupassant" by Isaac Babel, his most popular quote, in context:
I began to speak of style, of the army of words, of the army in which all kinds of weapons may come into play. No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place. She listened with her head down and her painted lips half open. In her hair, pressed smooth, divided by a parting and looking like patent leather, shone a dark gleam. Her legs in tight-fitting stockings, with their strong soft calves, were planted wide apart on the carpet.
Next week: More from DANGEROUS VISIONS with maybe one or two other things mixed in.