Later Tonight

So here we are, on Memorial Day Monday, the final day of the three day holiday weekend, and I’m wondering–without checking social media (I do not intend to go on social media at all today)–how many people are wishing others have a Happy Memorial Day? Memorial Day isn’t a happy day–even though the majority of people don’t have to work today–it’s supposed to be a day of quiet reflection in honor (or memory) of those who have died serving the country in the military. It’s a day when you should visit the graves of the military dead and clean them, bring flowers, and reflect on their service. While I have no one in my family, on either side, who was lost to a battlefield, it’s still a somber day, and wishing others well or to have a happy day is in extremely poor taste.

But then, Americans generally have a tendency to go through their lives blithely, completely unaware of their own history and the meanings behind national symbology, holidays, memoriams, etc.

Yesterday was a blissful day. I quite happily finished reading The Red Carnelian, and then reread a kid’s mystery I remembered fondly, The Secret of Skeleton Island, book one of the Ken Holt series–one of my childhood favorites, and was very pleased to see that it still held up. I wrote for a little while, did some cleaning and organizing (not nearly enough of either, quite frankly), and then we finished watching Outer Banks, which is really quite something. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of story, really; at first, it didn’t seem like it was sure what it wanted to be, but once it decided to kick it up a gear after a few dull episodes of set-up, it really took off. A lost treasure, betrayals and murder, class struggles, the heartbreak of teen romance–it was a non-stop thrill ride, culminating in our hero, John B., and his star-crossed lover, Sarah, taking off to sea while being hunted by the cops and driving their boat directly into the path of a tropical storm. Cheesy, completely ridiculous, and over-the-top, Outer Banks turned to be much more fun than I would have ever guessed, particularly given the first few episodes, which were just tedious. We then moved on to another Netflix series, a joint British/Spanish production of a crime thriller called White Lines, set on Ibiza and focusing on the discovery of the body of Axel Collins, missing for over twenty years–and his younger sister’s determination to get to the bottom of who killed her brother. It’s trash, but ever so entertaining.

I also spent some time with Harlan Ellison’s collection of television columns from the Los Angeles Free Press from the late 1960’s, The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison was a writing hero of mine, yet at the same time he was one of those people I never wanted to meet. He wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time (“Paladin of the Lost Hour”) and is probably my favorite short story writer of all time; he also wrote the best episode of the original Star Trek series, “The City on the Edge of Tomorrow”; and also wrote the original story that became the film A Boy and His Dog, which was a bit of a cult classic in the 1970’s and 1980’s. All of his stories are really exceptional, and he was very opinionated–if he thought you were a garbage writer and you wrote garbage, he would let you know–but his television writings, while undoubtedly accurate, are really dated. It also got me thinking about the time period, and the struggles that were going on in the country–the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the Civil Rights battle–and how much of that period is not only not remembered today, but the specific language of the time has been forgotten: people using words like groovy and squares and the establishment, etc.; I also remember how false those words seemed when filtered through the lens of television producers and writers trying to seem hip and modern and cool….which, naturally, killed the popular usage of the words; after all, after you’ve heard Greg Brady enthuse about something being “groovy” on The Brady Bunch, it’s kind of hard to use the word in any other way than ironic from that point on. But a lot of what he was complaining about, what he was eviscerating, is still true today–that the television networks are all too terrified to put something that actually mirrors people’s realities on; that the whole point of television is to sell products to consumers; and as such, the commercial concerns inevitably will outweigh the artistry and truth of the show.

I’d love to know what he thought of All in the Family, in all honesty.

Today I want to get to some serious work on the multiple projects lying around; I also have two short stories queued up on the Kindle to read–“Rain” by Somerset Maugham, and Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” which was adapted into Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. I’ve been aware of Woolrich for quite some time now, but I have yet to read his work. He is considered a noir master, not perhaps as well known today as he should be, considering how many of his stories and novels became famous films, and he was also gay in a time period where being gay was exceptionally difficult–so naturally, I have a growing fascination for him. I started reading his The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but had to put it aside to read something else (prep work for a panel I was moderating) and somehow never got back to it….maybe instead of proceeding with another book in the Reread Project–I’ve yet to select one–I can go back and finish reading that? I looked at the opening of “It Had to Be Murder” last night as I queued it up and was most pleased with how it opened…so am looking forward to reading the story today.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Your Cheatin’ Heart

I love Harlan Ellison.

So, as you might remember, I recently read two wonderful Harlan Ellison short stories (to be fair, every Ellison short story is wonderful; his lesser efforts are better than most writer’s best), “On the Downhill Side” and the Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” both included in his collection Deathbird Stories. At one point I had a mass market paperback edition I’d picked up in a bookstore; I literally have no idea where that is–probably lost over the years during a move or something, or it may be on the bookshelves; at this point who knows? But I’ve gathered and collected Ellison collections over the years–recently getting, from eBay, the very same mass market paperback edition of Strange Wine, which was my gateway drug to reading Ellison–and even got the enormous collection The Essential Ellison, which still sits proudly in my bookcase.

The first time I heard of Ellison was when I read Stephen King’s brilliant introduction and evaluation of the horror/speculative fiction genre, Danse Macabre, which reminded me of many great films and books and TV shows I’d loved, and introduced me to still others. Shortly afterward, I was at a friend’s apartment drinking–this was my early twenties–and she had that copy of Strange Wine, and I thought, oh, Harlan Ellison! Stephen King praised him to the skies! I need to read this. I asked if I could borrow it and she gifted me with it (and in all honesty, I thought less of her for not wanting it back, particularly since she raved so much about how good it was), and then I took it home with me that night and the next morning I read the intro and the first story, “Croatoan,” and there was no looking back from that. I devoured the book, learned the term “speculative fiction” (which I much prefer to horror, science fiction, and fantasy; when I worked at Lambda I tried, unsuccessfully, to get that award category title changed to simply Best Speculative Fiction), and also became interested in writing it. This was during the time when I worshipped Stephen King so much that I wanted to become a writer like Stephen King, but wasn’t skilled or trained enough to really write really good speculative fiction–or fiction, really, of any kind. I still write it periodically, and some day when I have the time I’ll work on my short story collection Monsters of New Orleans more (hat tip to Lisa Morton; she suggested I do it years again at World Horror Con in New Orleans); in fact the story I started writing yesterday, “The Pestilence Maiden”, would be for Monsters of New Orleans. I looked for more of Ellison’s works every time I went to a bookstore for about a year after that, to no avail, and eventually Ellison got pushed to the back of my mind.

A few years later, one of the major networks (I want to say CBS) rebooted The Twilight Zone as, I think, maybe a summer replacement series (when that was a thing), and I noticed in the TV Guide one week that one of the two stories in that week’s episode was based on Stephen King’s truly creepy short story “Gramma,” and decided to tune itn. “Gramma’ was the first half hour, and it was totally creepy, just like the story; I stayed turned for the second half, which was called “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and starred Danny Kaye and Tim Reid of WKRP in Cincinnati fame. The story was powerful and beautiful and brilliant, and made me cry. As I watched the credits roll, I saw, to my joy and surprise, that it was based on a Harlan Ellison story and he may have even adapted it into a teleplay. It became a goal of mine to read that story, and so I began haunting used bookstores, looking for Ellison collections. I never, ever regretted reading an Ellison collection, and eventually I did finally find a collection that included “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which remains to this day one of my favorite short stories.

I was reminded of Ellison recently because of a Twitter thread about short stories; I think perhaps Art Taylor may have started it, looking for short stories to teach in one of his classes (it may have been Facebook); and someone mentioned Ellison’s Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” (I, of course, suggested “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which also led to a discussion of The Twilight Zone episode I mentioned earlier, which is actually now on Youtube; you can watch it here. I also didn’t know, until looking up the link, that it was Danny Kaye’s last screen appearance, and he deserved a goddamned Emmy for it; and I’m not even a fan.) I knew I’d recently downloaded, at some point, some Ellison collections to my Kindle app when they were cheap and/or free, so I decided to look to see if I had it. When I opened Deathbird Stories, it was open to “On the Downhill Side,” which turned out to be set in New Orleans; I read it, loved it, and then went to the table of contents, and sure enough, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was in it. (I must have read it before; I am certain I read my paperback copy of Deathbird Stories, but I didn’t remember either story.)

This is how “On the Downhill Side” begins:

I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn. Names Lizette, she was a Grecian temple in which no sacrifice had been made. Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night. My unicorn whinnied, inclined his head, and she stroked the ivory spiral of his horn.

Much of this took place in what is called the Irish Channel, a strip of street in old New Orleans where the lace curtain micks had settled decades before; now the Irish were gone and the Cubans had taken over the Channel. Now the Cubans were sleeping, recovering from the muggy today that held within its hours the deja vu of muggy yesterday, the deja reve of intolerable tomorrow. Now the crippled bricks of side streets off Magazine had given up their nightly ghosts, and one such phantom had some to me, calling my unicorn to her–thus, clearly, a virgin–and I stood waiting.

Had it been Sutton Place, had it been a Manhattan evening, and had we met, she would have kneeled to pet my dog. And I would have waited. Had it been Puerto Vallarta, had it been 20 36′ N, 105 13’W, and had we met, she would have crouched to run her fingertips over the oil-slick hide of my iguana. And I would have waited. Meeting in streets requires ritual. One must wait and not breathe too loud, if one is to enjoy the congress of the nightly ghosts.

She looked across the fine head of my unicorn and smiled at me. Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation. “Is it a bit chilly for you?” I asked.

New Orleanians, of course, as I have noted before, are very protective and pedantic about fiction written about the city by people who don’t live here (always said with capital letters: People Not From Here)–this also stands for lazy journalistic features that always, inevitably, get everything incorrect–and in this beautifully written and incredibly poetic opening, there’s an error: the Irish Channel isn’t a strip of street, it’s an actual neighborhood, running alongside the Garden District from Jackson to Louisiana and from Magazine to the river. (I don’t know about the Cubans–I don’t know of any concentrated Cuban immigration to New Orleans, but I know enough not to question it because there’s so much about this magic place that I do not know, which is why I am reading New Orleans history) But the opening of this story is simply gorgeous, and the imagery Ellison uses is absolutely perfect; I particularly like the sentence Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night–and wish I had written it.

As I read more of the story, it’s spectral beauty began casting a spell on me; Ellison didn’t try to write about New Orleans like a native or a local; his ghostly spirit with the unicorn, trapped like Lizette in the realm between worlds because of unfinished business, is also new to New Orleans, and sees it as a tourist would; and I realized how wise he was to make this storytelling choice; it makes errors not only acceptable but forgivable (I really can turn into a hellish banshee on this topic) and he also wrote some beautifully evocative lines about the city that I wish I had written:

I despise Bourbon Street. The strip joints, with the pasties over nipples, the smell of need, the dwarfed souls of men attuned only to flesh. The noise.

The Saint Louis Cemetery is ancient. It sighs with shadows and the comfortable bones and their afterimages of deaths that became great merely because those who died went to be interred in Saint Louis Cemetery. The water table lies just eighteen inches below New Orleans–there are no graves in the earth for that reason. Bodies are entombed aboveground in crypts, sepulchers, vaults, mausoleums. The gravestones are all different, no two alike, each one a testament to the stonecutter’s art. Only secondarily testaments to those who like beneath the markers.

It really is a gorgeous story, almost dream-like in its telling, and I absolutely loved it. I then moved on to the Edgar-winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”:

On the night after the day she had stained the louvered window shutters of her new apartment on East 52nd Street, Beth saw a woman slowly and hideously knifed to death in the courtyard of her building. She was one of twenty-six witnesses to the ghoulish scene, and, like them, she did nothing to stop it.

She saw it all, every moment of it, without break and with no impediment to her view. Quite madly, the thought crossed her mind as she watched in horrified fascination, that she had the sort of marvelous line of observation Napoleon had sought when he caused to have constructed at the Comedie-Francaise theaters, a curtained box at the reat, so he could watch the audience as well as the stage. The night was clear, the moon was full, she had just turned off the 11:30 movie on Channel 2 after the second commercial break, realizing she had already seen Robert Taylor in Westward the Women, and had disliked it the first time; and the apartment was quite dark.

The murder of Kitty Genovese, based on my limited knowledge of Harlan Ellison and his work, seemed to weigh pretty heavily on his mind; he wrote this story, clearly influenced by the Genovese murder and the stories that arose around it; I also distinctly remember reading an essay he’d written in which he talked about it–I believe it may have been the introduction to Alone Against Tomorrow, or in one of the mini-essays he wrote about each story collected within its covers; I cannot remember which. But I remember how clearly appalled and horrified he was, not just by the murder, but the way the witnesses did nothing, tried nothing, said nothing, to either stop the murder or to help the hapless victim. As his spirits in “On the Downhill Side” are waiting for their green light to ascend to the spirit plane from this mortal realm, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” delves, not into the inhumanity involved in every aspect of the Kitty Genovese murder, but what created that very inhumanity, as Beth, new to New York, begins to see the dark, malevolent spirit that drives New York and sometimes, occasionally, demands blood sacrifice; and as she begins to harden her own shell in order to survive. It’s an extraordinary story, well worthy of the Edgar; although I am surprised it was so honored, as it blurs the boundaries between different genres–and back in the day, Edgar judges tended to be very strict about what was and wasn’t a crime story.

And yes, I will be delving back into Ellison’s short fiction–as a crossover between The Short Story Project and The ReRead Project.

febAnton Antipov4

Take Me Home, Country Roads

And here we are, Sunday morning, and the dawn of a new week. I am still controlling things with copious amounts of DayQuil–it really works wonders.

I finished reading Daphne du Maurier’s story “The Menace” yesterday, and am not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest. It was very strange, and again, like “The Archduchess”, not your typical du Maurier story (if it can be said that there is such a thing as a typical du Maurier story), but I also wasn’t certain how it fit the supposed theme of the stories in The Breaking Point–people pushed to their breaking point, and how they react or behave once they break. But it was an interesting read, and I’m not sorry I read it. I may wait before moving onto the other stories in the collection I’ve not read yet–“The Limpet” and “The Lordly Ones”–because these last two seemed like lesser stories…but it’s also kind of nice to know that du Maurier didn’t always hit it out of the park, too.

Makes me feel a little better about myself, don’t you know.

I also started rereading my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home, which is just as charming, enchanting, and compulsively readable as it was the first time I read it, many many years ago when I was a just a child.

Yesterday was okay, health-wise, for the most part. It comes in waves, it seems, and I dosed myself regularly with DayQuil. At one point yesterday I wasn’t paying attention to the time, and  I could feel my nose starting to run and my temperature starting to go up, so I walked into the kitchen and dosed myself. I started shivering for a moment and then it kicked in and that was that. So, DayQuil, if you’re ever looking for testimonials…you know where to find me. The DayQuil seems to help keep the fever down, and to help with the coughing. There was a slight headache now and again, with several minor dry-coughing fits throughout the day, but no uncontrollable shivering, which for me was really the worst part of it other than feeling off. I am still sticking to my plan of getting tested tomorrow and self-quarantining for the rest of the week–it’s the only thing that makes sense and is responsible. I cannot assume that what I have isn’t the COVID-19 virus, and I cannot put other people at risk (any more than I already have–which is quite a lovely burden to shoulder, I might add). At worst, I’ll exhaust my sick and vacation time staying home for the week; at best, I’m getting better and not getting anyone else sick. I hate the thought that I put people at risk more than anything else, but I also didn’t know, so there’s that–but does that make it any better? Obviously, deliberately infecting people is worse, and now that I’ve been sick, I know better than to go to work every day until I know I don’t have it, or until I know I did have it and have taken the time to get over it completely.

I slept very well again last night, which was lovely, but I did feel tired most of the day yesterday. Going up and down the stairs seemed to really tire out my legs. But my breathing seems to still be okay–no tightness in my lungs, no restriction to my breathing–and while there were a couple of dry coughing fits (which go on until my lungs ached), for the most part my respiratory system seems to be functioning properly. So far so good this morning–although I should probably take a shot of DayQuil pretty soon; certainly before my second cup of coffee.

We watched a lot of episodes of Kim’s Convenience last night, which is a really cute and charming show that occasionally takes on some interesting and topical subjects. It’s very well cast, and I think my favorite character is the mom, who is absolutely hilarious. After a few hours spent with the Kims, we decided to try something else, and I remembered that we have Apple TV Plus (yes, we have too many streaming services, and I know I really should take the time some time to sit down and figure out which ones we need and which ones we don’t), and so I clicked over to that app and saw that Stephen Spielberg’s reboot of Amazing Stories was available, so we watched the first two episodes. The show is aptly titles, by the way–it is amazing. The stories are what Harlan Ellison called speculative fiction–that terrific catch-all that covers horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with all the crossovers and gray spaces in between. The first episode dealt with time travel; the second with spirits trapped in limbo, and both were so incredibly well done. The writing and acting and directing were pinpoint sharp; and the production values made it very clear we were watching a Spielberg production. The first starred Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf fame, and despite being about time travel it never created the paradox issues that usually pop up with time travel and was entirely satisfying at the end, with everything wrapped up beautifully. The ghosts in limbo story was equally emotionally honest and strong, about the bond of love between two young girls of color who were track stars and best friends since they were children, until one dies in a tragic accident. The two episodes were so sharp and strongly written they reminded me of Ellison and one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was filmed as an episode of the mid-1908’s reboot of The Twilight Zone (that remains one of my favorite television episodes of all time as well); I am really looking forward to watching more of Amazing Stories–which reminded me I also pay for CBS All-Access, which means we can also watch Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which is also incredibly cool. It also made me think that the reboots of these shows should do what Rod Serling and the producers of other such shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s did–buy speculative fiction short stories from masters of the genre to film. Goddess knows there are plenty of them around these days.

And now I’m starting to fade a little bit, so I think I am going to repair to my easy chair and take it easy for a while. Have a lovely, and safe, Sunday, Constant Reader!

clayton snyder

Not That Funny

I am awake but groggy. I slept late, am guzzling coffee, and am thinking that I may put off going to Costco until tomorrow. Today might be a stay at home, laze around, get some stuff done when and if I feel like it day. I have a bit of the ‘just turned in the book’ malaise, that bizarre funk where I just feel a bit dazed for a couple of days. Which is fine, of course, although I need to really get to work on the next. I see reading A Head Full of Ghosts in my future. I also have a Christmas party to attend this evening.

Yesterday I managed to find that Twilight Zone episode I was talking about, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” based on the Harlan Ellison short story that is definitely one of my favorites of all time. It’s on Youtube, and if you have about thirty-two minutes to spare, it’s definitely worth watching.

Click here.

Sure, watching it now you can tell it was filmed in the 1980’s–the little bit of special effects used were especially cheesy–but the greatness of the story still comes through; it’s speculative fiction, sure, but the real strength and greatness of the story is in its human elements. And Danny Kaye is fantastic.

I found it because I was googling the story to find out which collection it’s in–it’s not in The Essential Ellison, sadly–and I wanted to read it again, only to discover you can actually read it on-line as a pdf here.

And yes, the story as written is so much more powerful than the actual teleplay–which I believe was also written by Ellison.

The story opens with two men in a small cemetery; one is quite old and visiting the grave of his beloved wife, lost to him for twenty years. He is set upon by a couple of young hoodlums determined to rob him; they are fought off and driven away by another man in the cemetery who sees it happening and comes to the old man’s rescue. The two men develop a bond, although the rescuer is a little stand-offish and the older man has to earn his trust. The old man’s name is Gaspar, and he is quite charming and a bit opinionated. The younger man, Billy, who is haunted still by something that happened to him in Vietnam.

THIS WAS AN OLD MAN. Not an incredibly old man; obsolete, spavined; not as worn as the sway-backed stone steps ascending the Pyramid of the Sun to an ancient temple; not yet a relic. But even so, a very old man, this old man perched on an antique shooting stick, its handles open to form a seat, its spike thrust at an angle into the soft ground and trimmed grass of the cemetery. Gray, thin rain misted down at almost the same, angle as that at which the spike pierced the ground. The winter-barren trees lay flat and black against an aluminum sky, unmoving in the chill wind. An old man sitting at the foot of a grave mound whose headstone had tilted slightly when the earth had settled; sitting in the rain and speaking to someone below.

“They tore it down, Minna.

“I tell you, they must have bought off a councilman.

“Came in with bulldozers at six o’clock in the morning, and you know that’s not legal. There’s a Municipal Code. Supposed to hold off till at least seven on weekdays, eight on the weekend; but there they were at six, even before six, barely light for godsakes. Thought they’d sneak in and do it before the neighborhood got wind of it and call the landmarks committee. Sneaks: they come on holidays, can you imagine!

“But I was out there waiting for them, and I told them, ‘You can’t do it, that’s Code number 91.03002, subsection E,’ and they lied and said they had special permission, so I said to the big muckymuck in charge, ‘Let’s see your waiver permit,’and he said the Code didn’t apply in this case because it was supposed to be only for grading, and since they were demolishing and not grading, they could start whenever they felt like it. So I told him I’d call the police, then, because it came under the heading of Disturbing the Peace, and he said . . . well, I know you hate that kind of language, old girl, so I won’t tell you what he said, but you can imagine.

“So I called the police, and gave them my name, and of course they didn’t get there till almost quarter after seven (which is what makes me think they bought off a councilman), and by then those ‘dozers had leveled most of it. Doesn’t take long, you know that.

“And I don’t suppose it’s as great a loss as, maybe, say, the Great Library of Alexandria, but it was the last of the authentic Deco design drive-ins, and the carhops still served you on roller skates, and it was a landmark, and just about the only place left in the city where you could still get a decent grilled cheese sandwich pressed very flat on the grill by one of those weights they used to use, made with real cheese and not that rancid plastic they cut into squares and call it ‘cheese food.’

“Gone, old dear, gone and mourned. And I understand they plan to put up another one of those mini-malls on the site, just ten blocks away from one that’s already there, and you know what’s going to happen: this new one will drain off the traffic from the older one, and then that one will fall the way they all do when the next one gets built, you’d think they’d see some history in it; but no, they never learn, And you should have seen the crowd by seven-thirty. All ages, even some of those kids painted like aborigines, with torn leather clothing. Even they came to protest. Terrible language, but at least they were concerned. And nothing could stop it. They just whammed it, and down it went.

“I do so miss you today, Minna. No more good grilled cheese.” Said the very old man to the ground. And now he was crying softly, and now the wind rose, and the mist rain stippled his overcoat.

Nearby, yet at a distance, Billy Kinetta stared down at another grave. He could see the old man over there off to his left, but he took no further notice. The wind whipped the vent of his trenchcoat. His collar was up but rain trickled down his neck. This was a younger man, not yet thirty-five. Unlike the old man, Billy Kinetta neither cried nor spoke to memories of someone who had once listened. He might have been a geomancer, so silently did he stand, eyes toward the ground.

One of these men was black; the other was white.

THAT is great writing. The story, which I read again last night, moved me to tears again; just as the cheesy 1980’s production of the beautifully written teleplay did as I watched it again. All of Ellison’s stories are engaging, superbly written; he writes about enormous themes and yet his characters, his situations, are incredibly real and relatable. He writes about the human condition, and humanity; and often he writes of humanity’s loss of humanity, if that makes sense. Ellison was the person who introduced the all-encompassing term speculative fiction as the tent that contains science fiction, fantasy, and horror; he is a master of all of them.

I’m really looking forward to rereading the stories I’ve already read; and I am also looking forward to reading stories of his I’ve not read. I encourage you, if you’re not read Ellison but are a fan of great writing, to click on the previous link and read “Paladin of the Lost Hour”; I would be very surprised if you didn’t want to read more. His website is at Ellison Webderland; you can find information there about the project (and possibly donate) to digitize all of his writing so it won’t be lost.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

Here’s another French farmer.

Ledge

I worked yesterday morning and in the early afternoon yesterday; the work didn’t go as well as one would have preferred but those are the breaks. Hopefully today it will be better. One can always hope.

I spent the rest of the day watching college football–it was a most interesting day–and reading, of all things, comic books on my iPad (the recent DC mini-series The Coming of the Supermen, which, not being up on my current DC Universe, was a bit confusing in places but over-all, kind of interesting), started rereading Garden District Gothic because I am getting ready to start writing Scotty VIII, and also rereading some short stories from one of my favorite collections of all time, Harlan Ellison’s Alone Against Tomorrow.

It occurred to me yesterday, as I was marveling at the mastery of Ellison at short story writing (he really is one of the best short story writers of all time; his “Paladin of the Lost Hour” might be my favorite short story) that with all my talk about short stories lately I never talk about Ellison, which is a shame. (Also, rereading these stories and being reminded of how extraordinary a writer he is sent me into an ebay wormhole of ordering copies of his collections; I do have The Essential Ellison omnibus, but it doesn’t have everything; he is so prolific I don’t think all of his work could be collected into a single volume.)

But in fairness to me, these entries are usually unplanned and written while I am enjoying my morning coffee and waking up, so I am not as clear-headed as one might think when I write them.

I first discovered Ellison through, as so many other things in the speculative fiction world, Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I knew from reading that book that he had written probably the best episode of Star Trek ever, “The City at the Edge of Tomorrow”–also known as ‘the one with Joan Collins’, but in those pre-Internet days finding books wasn’t as easy as it is now. It wasn’t until several years later, when I was at a friend’s apartment that I discovered she had a copy of his collection Strange Wine, which she not only loaned to me but gifted it to me, saying, “Reading Ellison will change your life.”

And it did. Several of those stories haunt me to this day. I was poor then, very poor, and so rarely bought books new; I haunted second-hand bookshops (do those even exist anymore?), and started hunting for Ellison whenever I went into them. That was how I found Alone Against Tomorrow, among others, and became a big fan.

Looking over these stories again last night, I was reminded why I was a fan.

And rereading Garden District Gothic after spending some time with Ellison was quite humbling.

I ordered a copy of Strange Wine last night–because I definitely need more books–and think I am going to dig out my copy of The Essential Ellison because I want to read more short stories (I say that all the time, don’t I?) and maybe I’ll make my entries for January all about short stories again this year. But I have so many short story collections lying around the house that I’ve never read; single author collections and anthologies and magazines and so forth, that a focused effort is really necessary.

And I really want to reread “Paladin of the Lost Hour.”

And now I should get back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk for the day: