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“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman Posted at 1:14 PM by Rico Simpkins


Michael Straczynski (World War Z, Thor, Babylon 5) has acquired the rights to Harlan Ellison‘s now classic short story, “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman (originally published in a 1965 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, and more recently in this Kindle compendium of classic science fiction). Meredith Woerner, at io9, summarizes the plot:

The beautiful and complex story, “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” is set in a dystopian future where time is a highly regulated. Being late is a serious crime. If you abuse your time the Ticktockman will find you, “turn you off,” and you die. The short story itself starts in the middle and leaps from the beginning and end throughout the plot. It’s really a wonderful bit of work that has been widely praised as an astounding work of science fiction. And now, Straczynski has acquired the rights to this story from Ellison.

Because Ellison has been famously reticent to work with Hollywood, after all of his run ins with the industry, the optioning of this script comes as quite a surprise.  Deadline’s Mike Fleming unravels the mystery:

How did Straczynski do it? He had to deliver a finished screenplay to Ellison, whose credits range from The Outer Limits and Star Trek to being acknowledged in many sci-fi works including James Cameron’s The Terminator, and serving as a Babylon 5 consultant. Only then did Ellison grant the option.

Given the fantastical nature of the short story, it’s unsurprising that Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro are being courted for the director’s chair.  Tor’s Ryan Britt is not amused:

Now, JMS certainly knows what he’s doing (I mean, he’s written tons of screenplays for successful films) but I do wonder about the lack of tension in this story translating to the big screen. To me, a story like “Repent,” has what I think of a 1984 problem. The concept is amazing and transformative, but the stuff that actually happens in the story is less memorable than the premise. To put it another way: I think of this (and many of Ellison’s stories) as brief little jaunts into worlds, and once the point has been made, the story ends. This is the strength of short fiction, and also the reason why movie-length versions of Twilight Zone-esque plot-twisters can get a little trying. (Repent, Shyamalan!)

I have to say, how this story makes it to the silver screen is beyond me, as well.  If Jackson gets the nod, will he stretch this short story out the way he did The Hobbit?  Will Mr. Ellison allow that?

Oh, and whatever you do with this story, Mr. Straczynski, don’t call it science fiction!

When “Science Fiction” Is an Insult Posted at 9:26 PM by Rico Simpkins


Originally, I had intended to post the above video to further the ongoing conversation about what constitutes science fiction, as there can be few better authorities on the matter than a panel including Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, and Gene Wolfe.  But then, I discovered what had transpired shortly before this interview.

As it happens, Ellison’s view of science fiction was quite passionate. Carolyn Kellog, at the L. A. Times, reports that he had just come from assaulting his publisher for misclassifying “Spider Kiss” as a sci fi:

“I put him in a hold that I had learned from Bruce Lee. I took him to his knees. Then I duck-walked him back to his door,” on his knees all the way, Ellison recounts. The typing pool, all women then, stopped work and watched the show, he says, “with enormous pleasure.”

When they got back to the man’s office, the publisher on his knees, Ellison says he banged the man’s head into the door until he opened it. They went inside — the publisher, Ellison and Ellison’s editor, a woman he remembers fondly, who soon was huddling on a couch.

“I picked up a chair and threw it,” Ellison says. Rather than shattering the windows, “it bounced around the room.” The publisher had scrambled behind his desk and was dialing the phone.

“I jumped onto the desk and ripped the phone out of the wall,” Ellison says. Back in 1982, that’s how phones worked — they had cords, attached to walls. “He tried to crawl through the desk’s kneehole. I grabbed him by the collar and threw him across the room.”

From his comments in the interview, Mr. Ellison seems to share Margaret Atwood‘s view of the genre.  Compare his comment to Mr. Turkel that sci fi is “women in brass braziers being molested by green-eyed monsters,” to Ms. Atwoods famous talking squids in outer space characterization.

We all know what was going on, back then.  Certain authors didn’t want their books to be shoved in the back of the bookstore in the SF/F section.  Writing is their bread and butter, and they wanted to get paid.  Perhaps that is what made Harlan react with violence to the horrid insult of being called a science fiction writer.

Well, Harlan Ellison currently has 28 novels listed by WWEnd that we call “science fiction.”  Perhaps I should get a bodyguard.

GMRC Review: Approaching Oblivion by Harlan Ellison Posted at 12:47 PM by Charles Dee Mitchell


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeGuest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd including his blog series Philip K. Dickathon and The Horror! The Horror! He can also be found on his own blog This is Dee’s ninth GMRC review to feature in our blog and the second this month.

Approaching OblivionThis was my first and is likely to be my only encounter with the writing of Harlan Ellison. It’s not as though I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. Ellison’s reputation as an old crank, which he wears as a badge of honor, precedes him. I have watched Dreams with Sharp Teeth, the 2008 documentary on him and actually rather enjoyed it. (It might have been very late at night.) But this anthology dates from the mid-1970’s, so he was at most a forty-year-old crank. Old cranks can have undeniable charm and even a sense of gravitas about them. In his forties, Ellison comes off as an over-aged college student with a weighty chip on his shoulder who has just discovered that the world is neither fair nor very nice and goddammit he’s going to tell it like it fucking is.

I dislike so much about this book I hardly now where to begin, although the title, the subtitle, and the jacket copy seem like a good place. (I read a book club hardback edition.) A book published today with the title Approaching Oblivion could be a screed by Glenn Beck or any number of right wing hand wringers who lament the disappearance of an America they think existed sometime sixty years ago. Hyperbole swings both ways. Ellison caps it off with a subtitle, Road Signs on the Treadmill Toward Tomorrow, a phrase that evokes a self-pitying Jeremiah. Then there is the predictably slavish praise of the promotional copy on the book’s inside flaps. Apparently the New York Times once described Ellison as “relentlessly honest,” a fact relentlessly repeated in almost everything you read about him. Buried on the back flap is this irrelevant and irritating nugget. “[Ellsion} created a series called Starlost and walked away from $93,000 in profits when the producers departed from his original concept.” Mr. Ellison, you are a pillar of integrity. I assume he did accept payment for the episode of The Flying Nun he wrote in 1968. It actually sounds pretty good, a kinky mix that has Sister Bertrille crash-landing on a desert island and patching up the relationship between the shipwrecked lovers she finds there.

Read the rest of this entry »

GMRC Review: Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison Posted at 12:47 AM by Emil Jung


WWEnd Grand Master Reading ChallengeLong time WWEnd member and Uber User, Emil Jung, is an obsessive SF/F reader and as such he’s become a huge supporter of WWEnd. (We often refer to him as our "South African Bureau.") Besides hanging out here, Emil writes poetry on his blog This is the fourth of Emil’s GMRC reviews to feature in our blog.

Deathbird StoriesIf there ever was a kind of excessive, unorthodox or hysterical posturing in SF, Harlan Ellison definitely embodies it. And not only in the choice of the titles of his impressive stories. He certainly has a flare for verbal thrift, rarely struggling to grope for effect, as Connie Willis may well atest to. Despite his outrageous actions that often include letigation of all kinds against an impressive cast of you-know-who’s, which I believe has a lot more to do with upholding a bad-boy image than anything else of substance, Ellison certainly is gifted with literary cleverness and as such is one of the most decorated writers in the genre, winning over 100 awards. He works almost exclusively within the short story form, and consequently has remained little known outside SF circles. Apart from editing the landmark Dangerous Visions anthology, and its follow-up Again, Dangerous Visions, Ellison also did some work on Star Trek, Babylon 5 and The Outer Limits, one episode of which named "Soldier" being the inspiration for The Terminator. True to form, Ellison sued.

His best known collection is arguably The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, which features the definitive New Wave story "A Boy And His Dog" that won the Nebula for best novella, and upsetting almost everyone, from liberals and feminists to the right wing alike, and of course, many of the Golden Age SF writers. After having read a few of Ellison’s stories, "A Boy and His Dog" remains his best, one of the few post-apocalyptic narratives to depict how raw and brutal existence after a nuclear holocaust would be – and equally successful in protesting and allegorizing the Vietnam War. Equally ingenious is Deathbird Stories, a collection probably closest to the horror genre, with an odd few elements of science fiction and fantasy thrown in.

As the subtitle, A Pantheon of Modern Gods, suggests, the theme is gods, and in particular the "new" gods (or devils) of our modern society. These are: the god of speed, the god of beauty, the god of money, the god of mechanical and technoligcal wonders, the god of apocryphal dreams and the gods of pollution. Even the god of the guilty, if there could be such a thing, albeit a Freudian trope. The stories are tied together by the concept that gods are real only as long as they have people who believe in them. We find echoes of this in Neil Gaiman’s phenominal American Gods. Ellison writes in the introduction:

"When belief in a god dies, the god dies… to be replaced by newer, more relevant gods."

It’s not a far-fetched assumption. Afterall, Thor and Odin disappeared when the Vikings took up the cross and Apollo was reduced to rubble along with his temples. Ellison offers a litany of dead gods. These 19 stories are essentially about the merits of religion and the religious and true to form, Ellison crushes eggshells in his usual confrontational manner, with a caveat lector at the beginning that warns the reader against reading the entire collection in one sitting because of the "emotional content:"

"It is suggested that the reader not attempt to read this book at one sitting. The emotional content of these stories, taken without break, may be extremely upsetting. This note is intended most sincerely, and not as hyperbole."

Despite there being an element of humor in some of these stories, the warning should not be taken lightly. It is not the usual Ellison arrogance at play here – they did exhaust and deaden my spirit. Still, Ellison’s missive does drive home the point that mankind is drifitng away from the belief in a benevolent, all-knowing, all-loving God and is instead transferring its faith to soulless pursuits and material possessions. There are truths present here, and some of them are very uncomfortable, taking the shape of monstrous, twisted forms, old creatures of myth like basilisks, gargoyles, minotaurs and even dragons, allegories for the new gods of gambling, the modern metropolis, pollution, sex, automobile showrooms and many other depraving endeavors. The gods appear to be a remarkably fragile lot.

These are my favorite stories from the collection:

"Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" is about the god of the slot machine and the subsequent dead-end that Las Vegas could be. A similar kind of worship is found in "Neon," about a guy who seeks carnal knowledge with neon lights.

"Along the Scenic Route" is a narrative about a freeway autoduel of the future, very prescient to our modern day road-rage fueled obsessions on the world’s freeways.

"Basilisk" perspicaciously combines the Greek myth of a serpent-like creature with a lethal gaze and Mars, the hungry God of War. Lance Corporal Vernon Lestig does terrible things but I understood, and may even have sympathised with his reasons.

"On the Downhill Side" is just a beautiful and touching story about two ghosts who meet on a street in New Orleans. The God of Love allows them one more chance to find love in each other’s arms. The man had loved too much, leading to multiple divorces and his ultimate suicide, and the woman had remained a virgin until her early death. There is a dire price to be paid, a sacrificial compromise "forming one spirit that would neither love too much, nor too little." I could not help feeling that this is probably how Ellison truly sees love and religion operating. An emotionally engaging story, perfectly paced – I simply loved it.

"Shattered Like a Glass Goblin" invokes the paranoid fears brought about by hallucinogenic drugs within the surreal atmosphere of a hippie retreat. I find this story a magnificent allegory on the all-consuming downward spiral of drug addiction, culminating in a final hallucination as deciphered symbol of the inevitable surrender of the main protagonist, who thinks he is a glass sculpture of a goblin and his girlfriend a werewolf. When he tries to talk to her for one final time, she attacks him and he shatters into a thousand pieces.

"Paingod," which is my clear favorite in the entire collection, is about Trente the Paingod, who delivers pain and suffering when and if necessary to each conscious being across all the universes, and decided one day to find out first-hand what pain feels like from a sculptor who has lost his ability to sculp. The harrowing conclusion that pain is a blessing because without it there can be no joy still reverberates strongly with me.

The three weakest stories for me are:

"Rock God" is a rather pedestrian affair, dated, with the frantic corruptness of the protagonist very stereotypical.

"At the Mouse Circus" which I can’t say anything meaningful except that it features the king of Tibet and a cadillac and that I have no idea what Ellison is trying to convey.

"The Place With No Name" has Prometheus in it, but much like the movie, disappoints with things I did not understand at all and other things that were only too clear. There is this somewhat shocking denouement: what if Jesus and Prometheus had been lovers, were aliens that felt strong and loving empathy toward earthlings and gave them gifts, only to be punished (and crucified) by the other gods for doing so?

Grand Master Harlan EllisonA polarizing collection with this many narratives dealing more or less with the same subject matter is bound to have a few unappealing stories. Nonetheless, there are still other, brilliant and well crafted stories like the catchy "Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Lattitude 38° 54′ N, Longitude 77° 00′ 13" W" and the story the title is taken from, "Deathbird." I’m certain everyone who reads this collection will discover their own favorites. Take note of the caveat lector, though and read these divergent stories cautiously over a stretched period of time. They are hugely rewarding, even if exhausting. Ellision has always been a polemic figure who has never been afraid to articulate and share his opinions. This is true even of his writing. It is a difficult read, even painful at times, but as Ellison so expressly pointed out: what is joy without a little pain?

GMRC Review: Approaching Oblivion by Harlan Ellison Posted at 7:46 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Harlan Ellison is one of those writers I not only love to hate but hate to love, one of those irascible writers who will permit no criticism of his work to sink in to any depth of his soul. He is also one of those wildly creative writers who is inexplicably able to form fictional worlds entirely different from one another both in setting (hard enough) and tone (nearly impossible). His progressivist politics and often blasphemous hatred of religion infuriates me, but in a seven page tour of a dying earth he can reduce me nearly to tears. Ellison has developed a powerful level of artistic talent, and he is not someone to be taken lightly. Many of the videos of the man one finds online too often depict him simplistically as an old crank—which, to be sure, he is—but this can scarcely explain the stories that could only come from a soul which feels deeply.

Too often Ellison’s wrath gets the better of him. “Knox,” the first story in this collection, depicts a liberal’s wet dream of a conservative racist party turning violent and creating a police state. Does Charlie Knox hate every person who is not wholly like himself, or is it truly himself that he hates?, Ellison asks, rather uninterestingly. The way in which Knox memorizes and recites his list of racial slurs might be revelatory in subtler hands, but with Ellison it comes off as a paranoid delusion. The great irony, though, is that Knox is revealed in the end to be telepathically manipulated by alien invaders who wish to destroy our civilization. And the worst irony is that Ellison probably didn’t understand the irony at all.

Other times Ellison’s penchant for wallowing in the bizarre and perverse gets the better of him, as in “Catman.” This is a story—if an incoherent narrative set in a incohesive future world can be called a story—which would be better left on the cutting floor, but which (I must suspect) Ellison furiously refused to trash simply because a friend recommended that course of action. Alternatively, one wonders if he wrote this story about freakishly Oedipal, immortal, machine-humping characters on a dare. There are discrete elements of creativity within the story which would be the envy of science fiction masters, but which are smashed together with such violence as to nullify any spark of humanity. The less said about it the better.

Harlan EllisonEven so, there are stories here which are worth tracking down at any cost. “Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman” is astoundingly different from Ellison’s usual approach, being the story of a saxophone player grieving for a dead lover, and his attempt to reach her from beyond the grave. “One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty” is a nostalgic look back at the influences that make us what we are as adults, and is haunting enough that I can forgive the time-travel conceit (well, mostly). “Hindsight: 480 Seconds” is a wistful look back at the Earth humanity is leaving behind, wondering what we could have done better, and what we still might. These are the stories which make one suspect Ellison of a hidden lycanthropic condition: the moon is new, and darkness consumes his soul; it is full, and he beholds the beauty of the night; it wanes, and he sleeps.

I don’t know what to make of this collection. It is distinctively bi-polar, and one must use discretion in approaching its individual parts. I suppose I must recommend it, but with all the cautions listed above intact. Ellison is a wild beast, but now and then you may find him in a sanguine, or at least tolerable, mood.

SF/F Quotes: Harlan Ellison Posted at 1:40 AM by Dave Post

Dave Post

And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock and one day we no longer let time serve us, we serve time and we are slaves of the schedule, worshippers of the sun’s passing, bound into a life predicated on restrictions because the system will not function if we don’t keep the schedule tight.

Harlan Ellison "’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman" (1965)


The Dark Prince of American Letters Posted at 3:52 AM by Dave Post

Dave Post

Harlan EllisonA couple weeks back I posted 20 Harlan Ellison books to WWEnd but I never got around to mentioning them in the blog.  Real life can be such a hassle.  Anyway, they’re here now so we’ve fixed that gaping hole in our coverage at last.  Mr. Ellison is famous for his short fiction (and his short temper ; ) and we’re starting to get into shorts via collections and anthologies aroud here so Ellison was a great place to start.

I’m a relative novice when it comes to Ellison but what I’ve read so far in his collections have me wanting to read more.  His stories leave me just a tad creeped out and that feeling stays with me for days.  That’s not a complaint, mind you.  Ellison makes you think.  The titular short, I Have No Mouth & I must Scream, is a prime example of his disturbing genius as is A Boy and His Dog found in Vic and Blood.   In case you missed it, Paul wrote a fun review of the film version that you should check out.

All 20 books are part of a complete set from publisher using the same cover art but with variations on the title colors.  They look better in person but they tend to run a little bland after a dozen or so.  Jynnantonnyx has added a bunch of the more colorful older cover art to some of the pages that fit the weird nature of the contents better than the cookie cutter covers in the new series.  Check out the arternate images for Ellison Wonderland for some examples.  Trippy.

Harlan Ellison seriesOne thing that I really like about Ellison is his flair for story titles.  I Have No Mouth & I must Scream, The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, The City on the Edge of Forever and The Whimper of Whipped Dogs are just a few examples.

Of course, not all 20 of the new books are Ellison’s story collections.  We’ve also got two short story anthologies that he edited:  Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions.  From all accounts these are two of the best anthologies ever produced.  Says, James Blish: “There has never been a collection like this before… it will entertain, infuriate, and reward you for years.”  Take a look at the list of contributors and tell me you don’t want to read these.

If you’ve not tried Ellison before, now is a good time to start.  Ask Pete Hamil: “Harlan Ellison is the dark prince of American letters, cutting through our corrupted midnight fog with a switchblade prose. He simply must be read.”

Happy reading.

They Call It Puppy Love Posted at 7:53 AM by Paul Thies


A Boy and His DogI’ve been feeling a little down lately.

I attribute it to all this talk these days about the Mayan calendar and the Apocalypse. You know, end of the world, mass extinction, nuclear war. It’s a bit of a downer. I figured I would get some lighthearted video to lift my spirits.

Like something with a dog in it. Dogs always make me feel better.

So I’m at the library, vacillating between Turner & Hooch and Air Bud, when I see this film jacket with a young Don Johnson (that’s right – Nash Bridges himself) looking like some kind of train conductor. And he’s got a lovable, scruffy haired pooch.

The title said it all. A Boy and His Dog.

I say to myself, “For the love of Benji, that’s it! I’ll see this A Boy and His Dog movie. I like trains. I like dogs. This will make me feel better. It will make me forget about the whole end of the world Apocalypse thing.”

Then I get it home. Pop it in. And low and behold…

It’s about the freakin’ Apocalypse. Who knew? And no trains, either.

If you haven’t seen A Boy and His Dog, the premise is pretty simple. There’s a boy. He has a dog. They communicate telepathically and spend their days hunting for food and female companionship. Oh yeah, the world has been destroyed by nuclear war, and food and women are in exceedingly short supply.

The first half of the film follows The Don as he and his dog Blood lead a hard-scrabble existence among the burnouts and hippies of the wasteland. Kind of like a Burning Man event, except with fewer deaths, arrests and Land Management citations.

The Don’s job is to keep Blood fed. Supposedly Blood can no longer find food on his own, as some kind of tradeoff for telepathic powers. And Blood, in return, is charged with finding young women for The Don’s social calendar. Every time a young female is near, Blood’s mental sonar pings like he was straight out of Das Boot.

The Don and Blood are at a stag show in the middle of Nowheresville (this was a decade before Tina Turner built her Thunderdome and civilized the place), when Blood’s pinger starts pinging. That’s exciting news for The Don, who realizes he has an opportunity to make a new friend.

A Boy and His Dog scenesA new friend is right. She’s a beautiful young woman who, unknown to The Don, is actually bait planted by the weird people who live underground (I’ll get to that in a moment).

Well, some of the local burnout fellas also take a hankerin’ to the young lady, so The Don has to fight them off with his best Sergio Leone gunbattle. Of course he wins, because he’s The Don, and after some tender moments, the young lady makes her escape.

Well, of course The Don has to go after her. In this case, it means he has to follow her underground.

Blood, wounded during the gunbattle with the local fellas, protests The Don’s decision and stays topside.

This sets us up for a major transition. The film’s vibe at this point goes from “Grateful Dead” to “Dead Kennedys”.

The Don finds himself smack in the midst of a society of mimes and rodeo clowns. Led by the inestimable Jason Robards, everyone wears white face paint and rosy cheeks, and cottons to strange ideas about health care and polygamy.

They also have a lot of picnics, heavily featuring corn on the cob, which I found particularly fascinating.

Nothing says “Apocalypse” like corn on the cob. Except maybe canned tuna. And zombies. (But there’s no tuna or zombies in this movie, so corn it is.)

Jason Robards and his two cronies run the show in the underground city (one of the cronies is none other than the great Alvy Moore, who you may remember as “Hank Kimball” in Green Acres. Brilliant casting!).

To enforce their will on the populace, Robards and company employ a Nebraska linebacker named Michael who can crush a man’s skull. With his bare hands. Yowsers.

Now you may ask, with the mime makeup and corn on the cob, what makes these underground Midwesterners so hostile? Well, everyone has to wear overalls, for one thing. But also, they’re unable to reproduce. They must trap topsiders, such as The Don, and lure them underground to repopulate.

It’s not the glamour job you think it is. Trust me.

Think animal husbandry.

When you see it, you’ll know.

Obviously, this is not a good situation for The Don. He must escape. Being The Don, it’s time for more pistol work. This leads to the ending, which in my book is one of the most shocking and controversial of all time.

I won’t spoil it for you, other than to say it doesn’t involve corn on the cob.

If there is one lesson about the Apocalypse that I took away from A Boy and His Dog, it’s this:  Pack lunch.


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