Harlan Ellison, 1934-2018

Harlan Ellison, Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer, Dead at 84 – Link leads to NPR obituary.

Harlan Ellison was one of the first writers I read nearly as much of his work as I could get my hands on. His short story/novella “A Boy and His Dog” was partly responsible for my lifelong interest in post-apocalyptic fiction and the movie that was made is more than partly responsible for 13 year old me pestering my mom about getting a VCR.

Ellison wrote a lot of interesting and edgy stories. He also is one of the first authors whose non-fiction writing drew my interest. I remember telling my mom about an essay Ellison wrote about a civil rights march and how the National Guard had their guns pointed at the marchers, not at the people threatening them and how outraged I was by that.

A description of an episode of the Outer Limits that he wrote, called “Soldier” had a lifelong impact on me as a writer, mainly in the shape of my enjoyment of creating certain types of characters.

His “A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet” is still one of my favorite fantasy stories – for all that it’s really just a collection of snippets each themed around a letter of the alphabet. I have a comic book adaptation of it and it is a prized possession.

As I grew older, reading some of Ellison’s writings, especially about his problems with the TV industry, led to me becoming less than gruntled with him. On the one hand, by that point I was old enough to understand that yeah, the TV industry was producing a lot of crap but on the other hand, for all the righteous criticism he gave, Ellison didn’t seem to have a problem with taking their money. Also, he seemed more than ready to throw fans of his TV work under the bus.

Some of the stories I’ve heard about Harlan Ellison tie into the idea that he was “America’s weird uncle,” the guy who would say anything, no matter how outrageous and charm you with the story afterwards — especially if he can control the entire narrative.  Things like him sending 213 bricks, postage due, to an editor who refused to pay him.  Others, like his groping of Connie Willis at the 2006 Hugo Awards, serve as a reminder that weird uncles can and often are, assholes who can talk a good game.

I haven’t read much of Ellison’s work in the last twenty or so years except rereading “A Boy and His Dog” a while back. I’m sad that he’s gone, but mainly in the sense that this serves as a reminder that bits and pieces of my childhood are slowly vanishing from the world. And considering how problematic some of the bits and pieces of my childhood were/are, that’s not necessarily a bad thing but, as problematic as he is/was/will continue to be, Harlan Ellison had a fairly big influence on me as a reader, a writer and a person. My condolences to those who will be most affected by his passing.

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AROW80 Update for 6/27/18

Editing to add: consider this my last post for AROW80 Round 2 of 2018. I’ll be posting my Round 3 goals post soon.

Hi! It’s been a while since I updated, mainly due to circumstances that are almost entirely under my control and which amount to “I wanted to do something else” instead of posting an update. So, here we are.

First things first: Omegas: Cake Walk proceeds slowly. I’m working on Chapter Twenty-One and I’ve hit a wall.  The reason for the wall is that I’m about to unveil some information that is going to be crucial to figuring out What’s Really Going On — so, the information has to make sense and be consistent with what I’ve previously written. Or at least not so wildly divergent from what I’ve already done that editing will be even tougher than it’s going to be.

On the plus side, I’ve got an idea of what the Crucial Information is going to be and how to go about explaining it, so it’s just a question of getting the words to cooperate and get out of my head and onto the page.  The easy part, right?

*laughs hysterically, weeps a bit, laughs a bit more* Yeahhh, so, on to other things..

The month of June is proceeding apace. There’s not a whole lot to report. Work is work. Amazon Prime has season 20 of Midsomer Murders, which is happy-making.

On the Netflix side of things, I started watching Colony and really enjoyed the first season. Very nicely done story about alien invasion that reminds me of a more grown-up version of the miniseries “V” from back in the 1980s.

Also watched some of the later seasons of Death in Paradise which is a fun little British mystery series set in the Caribbean and features Danny John-Jules as one of the local constabulary (he played Cat in Red Dwarf). They did something really interesting when the show switched detectives in the third season that I won’t discuss as it’s a massive spoiler. There’s a cute lizard in the show too.

Reading-wise, I read a really, really great book recently: Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (link goes to the author’s page and her summary of the book).  It’s a book that I bought after reading the first couple pages of the sample I got from Amazon and I read it in about two days during downtimes at work. It’s one of those books that I kept switching out of because I didn’t want to finish it too soon.

The premise behind the book is this: the dead began to rise during the Civil War, leading to the Blue and the Grey ganging up against the Green, so to speak. As part of the effort to prevent the zombie apocalypse, African American and Native American children were placed in combat schools and taught to fight the dead.

The main character, Jane McKeene, was born two days before the dead began to walk and, when we meet her, she’s in her senior year at a prestigious academy that trains African-American girls to be “Attendants” to wealthy white families — think of them as a combination ladies’ maid and anti-zombie bodyguard. What Jane really wants is to go home to the Kentucky plantation where she was born and help protect her mother and the people she grew up with from the threat of “shamblers.”  (Yeah, it’s another case of a zombie story avoiding the Z-word but considering the time period, it works better than ‘zombie’.)

Quick backtrack: the opening line of the book is what sold me on this story. Because Jane talks about how she *almost* didn’t live long enough to see the dead walk because when she was born, the midwife nearly killed her because a dark brown baby wasn’t supposed to come out of the plantation owner’s wife.  With an opening like that, you have to read on to find out more.  And you do and it is worth it.

Dread Nation was right up my street for a few reasons: first, I’m a sucker for well-done historical stories (Lindsey Davis’s Marcus Didius Falco mysteries and the follow-up series featuring his adopted daughter Flavia Albia come to mind as first among equals.). And, from there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to enjoying a good alternate history story (In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a nice example of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history stories and is a standalone).

Dread Nation is also a good example of a post-apocalyptic society, in the literal sense that the apocalypse is over (more or less) by the time the story starts. Society has moved on and adjusted to the new status quo: namely that the dead will rise and someone must put them down when they do. The zombies of Dread Nation are the usual sort: people turn when they are bitten, the ‘fresher’ the corpse, the faster and more agile they are, but by and large the shamblers are rightly named, and the only way to be sure is to decapitate the zombie.  The likely cause of the apocalypse is a virus of some sort — though nobody in the book calls it that, since we’re still pre-germ theory of medicine. Mentions are made of Lister and Pasteur, which made my nerdy self go squee!

There’s even mention of the fact that society is changing even from the events of the apocalypse: Jane and her classmates are concerned about the fact that since the worst of the zombie problem appears to be over, there’s less of a demand for Attendants, except as status objects for wealthy white families. So, if they can’t get hired as Attendants, chances are they’ll end up on an ordinary zombie killing work gang.

As someone who has read a lot of apocalyptic fiction — zombies, nuclear holocaust, etc. — seeing a writer take into account the fact that societies don’t remain static is a huge plus. Especially when I’ve read other post-apocalyptic books where society doesn’t change over a period of several hundred years.  To the point that people six hundred plus years in the future continue to reference 20th century films as if there’s been no other culture in between. But that’s a rant for another day.

As a writer, there was one aspect of Dread Nation that made me sit back and go “Wow!” — namely the way Justina Ireland adapted real history to create her fictional world and also incorporated the real history in as well.

In the afterword, Ireland talks about how she learned about the U.S. government forcibly removed Native American children from their families/tribal groups and sent them to boarding schools (also called industrial schools) to educate them.  If you’ve been reading the news/following current events on social media, you might have heard something about this since it’s being compared to the forced removal of migrant children from their families.  To make a long, disgraceful story of American history short, Native American kids were taken from their families in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Euro-American culture. This was done by refusing to allow the children to be “Indian” in any way — their clothes were taken from them, their hair cut, they were forced to speak English in an effort to make them forget their native languages, etc.  In addition, all the other sorts of abuses you can expect in a situation where minor children are at the mercy of adults who see them as something less than human happened too.  There’s more information available in the above link or  you can hit up Wikipedia’s article on Indian Boarding Schools.

Ireland isn’t, far as I can tell, Native American herself. Instead of trying to tell her story from a Native American perspective, she adapted the history in order to create a plausible world for Jane to live in. Her reasoning was pretty simple too: if Americans would attempt to “kill the Indian to save the man” (paraphrasing a real quote) during a time of relative peace and prosperity, what lengths would they go to during a disaster of apocalyptic proportions? Particularly to people they already didn’t think of as really people anyway?

Ireland spins out from the idea of boarding schools and uses this to tell a story that layers in questions of race and class as well as who matters in a society. And she does this while also balancing the spinning plates of “crafting a plausible alternate history,” “doing something fresh with the idea of zombies” and “giving you characters you care about.”  She succeeds on all counts and on a few more I didn’t mention.

The other book I read recently (ok, listened to) that touched on current issues was Stephen King’s Firestarter.  Since the library’s going to close in about 15 minutes, I’m not going to get to ramble about this one as much as I’d like so here’s the high points:

  • For an adult man, Stephen King does a halfway decent job of crafting a little girl (ok, it helped he had a daughter who was about Charlie’s age at the time but even still).
  • If you want an example of the use of psychic powers in a prose book, pick up Firestarter. You’ll also want to grab Carrie and Dead Zone, also by King.
  • Dead Zone also does a pretty decent job of portraying someone in a coma and the effects it has on the people around them.
  • If you want an example of the banality of Evil, read Firestarter. The government agents after the McGees are, almost to a one, punch-clock villains who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.
  • This is a book that couldn’t be written today. Well, it could, but certain plot aspects would have to change. Charlie scavenging change from pay phones for one, and the fact that the government couldn’t issue an Amber Alert for Charlie, among others.
  • King’s older stuff is among his best stuff.

Ok, on that note, I have to pee and I want to go home and eat so I’m out for now. Hopefully you all are having a great week and will continue to do so.

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AROW80 Check-In for 5/20 and 5/23 plus WIPpet Snippet

Today’s going to be a brief check-in, unless I really start rambling. Which could happen. Right now, this is Schrodinger’s Post. So, let’s get stuck in!

Monday, I took the day off from work and the Amy and I went to see Deadpool 2. There will be no spoilers, so you’re safe to keep reading.

Deadpool 2 Review: I liked it! It was good! I don’t know if I agree that it was better than the first movie but it was very good and I enjoyed it and I would gladly pay theatre prices to see it again. I love Domino and how her powers are portrayed. The underlying message/story of the movie was also very compelling. Once again, for a  movie that runs on low-brow humor, it manages to be a surprisingly mature super hero movie.

Goes without saying but DO NOT TAKE YOUR KIDS. For crying out loud, it’s R-rated. I didn’t get to go to R-rated movies back in the day, neither should your kids. Unless you think they can handle it, I dunno your kids. You do. But if they’re really little? Don’t take them. They’ll be bored.

Also, goes without saying but stay for the credits. C’mon, it’s a Marvel movie…

After the movie, we went home and watched The Shape of Water on On Demand. It was good! Very artistic, very pretty movie. Very different than Deadpool 2 but had some oddly similar story elements (mainly about how society treats those it considers alien/different).  Was one particular plot point I didn’t like but I get why it was in there. And I can see where it did serve a greater story purpose. No spoilers, but it’s nothing to do with the “Grinding Nemo” parts.

In other news, I started reading the new Domino comic that launched recently. It’s being written by Gail Simone and it’s just lovely. I wish that comic!Domino looked more like movie!Domino but c’est la vie.

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A quick note on Marvel vs. DC — because I am writing in a comic book type universe and because this just occurred to me to have a ramble on.

Comics: I like them both, more or less equally. Sometimes I lean more toward one than the other or veer off toward independent titles but at the end of the day, what I really like is just well-told stories. Kurt Busieck’s Astro City comics are a particular favorite.

TV:  I really, really super love the CW’s Arrowverse shows based on DC properties (namely, Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl and the mixed bag of DC characters who who show up in Legends of Tomorrow) and Black Lightning (which is independent from the Arrowverse).

Marvel’s shows haven’t really gripped me, though I’ve recently started binging on Agents of SHIELD and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. I like how they tie things in to the movie universe while still remaining independent from them. It’s a lot like reading a comic book series.

I’ve started a few of the Marvel shows that are Netflix-exclusive and I like them but they’re kind of on the back burner until I run out of Agents of SHIELD.  One thing I really enjoy is the fact that Daredevil not only has subtitles for the Deaf/deaf and Hard of Hearing but ALSO has audio description for the blind/visually impaired. Since I usually watch (or, “watch”) shows in a browser window in the background, it makes it easier to follow along.

Movies: That breaks down like this — Marvel does better live action movies and DC does better animated movies. There are exceptions to this but by and large, if it’s a live action movie, make mine Marvel. Even a bad Marvel movie is better than nothing.

Cartoons:  The cartoons of my childhood have not held up well. Neither Superfriends nor Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends have stood the test of time. I did like Wolverine and the X-Men and X-Men Evolution, plus the 1990s animated Superman and Batman shows are both awesome.  I also like Teen Titans Go.  I know it’s silly but that’s what I like about it. Waffles waffles waffles!

Prose Novels: I haven’t read many Marvel or DC based tie-in novels. When I read superhero novels, they tend to be set in independent universes.  Some favorites include George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series of stories/mosaic novels, plus April Daniels‘ Dreadnought books and Jim Bernheimer‘s D-List Supervillain series.  Plus many, many others., but that’s a post for another day.

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WIPpet Math: today’s dates are 5/20 and 5/23 – cancel out the two fives. 2 + 0 = 2. 3 to the 2nd power = 9. 2+9=11.  So, here’s eleven paragraphs from Chapter Six of Omegas: Cake Walk.

What you need to know: Torque and Frankie (one of the Omegas) are on their way to rescue Dr. Lawrence’s daughter. All Torque has to do now is survive the experience.

They were heading to Jubilee Park when Frankie’s phone rang. Without taking his eyes off the road, Frankie reached into his pants pocket and pulled the phone out – all while changing lanes at sixty-plus miles per hour. Torque considered reminding Frankie about Winslow’s desire to return him, Torque, in one piece.

“Yeah Boss?” Frankie asked.

Winslow’s voice was faint, but Torque could make out what he said. “Blynken, this is Wynken, is Nod in position, over?” Winslow’s wording was professional but his tone was amused.

Frankie grunted and rolled his eyes as he flipped on the turn signal and merged right. “Yeah, Boss,” he said. “Marco’s at the safe house finishing his set up. We’re on I-94, heading for the park. How about you?”

“Roger that, Blynken, we are en route to our destination via surface streets. God willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes. What’s your ETA?”

“Ten minutes, tops,” Frankie said. “Traffic’s kinda nuts here but I’m proceeding at speed. Y’know, traffic wouldn’t have been a problem if you’d let me snag us a couple Volveris Daedalus hovercars. Or at least one for me. We could have skipped this song and dance and done a buzz-run from the fly-way along Lake Shore. Drop in, snatch the girl and zwoosh out before anyone’s the wiser.”

“Yeah, no,” Winslow said, dropping the pretense of radio chatter. “No flying cars for you until five years after I’m dead, Frankie. Not after last time.”

 “Never had an accident I didn’t intend to have, Boss,” Frankie said, his smirk pulling his lips back to bear his teeth. “Hey, if I mean to have them, are they really accidents? Or are they purposes?”

“I am not caffeinated enough to answer that,” Winslow said. “Check in when you get to the park; Wynken out.”

Frankie snickered like a rattlesnake as the line disconnected.  “There’s our exit. Hang on, Stretch, this is gonna get hairy” he said, merging hard to the right.  

The shriek of car horns behind them made Torque drop his hand down to double check that the latch on his seatbelt was solid. It wasn’t until he heard the roaring hiss of a semi-truck’s airbrakes that he surrendered to the better part of valor and closed his eyes tightly,

Boilerplate Links:

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. If you want to join, you can at any time. Set the goals you want to accomplish and get and give encouragement to fellow ROWers. Click Here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list… Or, join us on Facebook at ROW80

WIPpet Wednesday was begun by  K. L. Schwengel.  and is currently hosted by Emily Wrayburn of Letting the Voices Out and A Keyboard and an Open Mind.  If you want to participate, post a snippet from your WIP, related in some way to the date and link back to here — where you can also read and comment on others’ excerpts. You can also request to join The WIPpeteers on Facebook.