Get Off Your Swizzleskid and Call Today

8 07 2010

WARNING: This Will Throw Off the Master Schedule By Seven Minutes

Today is the third and final day of “The Great Harlan Ellison Book Purge #3″. There are first-edition Harlan Ellison books, a ton of comics, some screenplays and even some ephemera—all at very reasonable prices. You can also have anything you buy personalized. So act now. There’s only one phone line and one operator (it’s Ellison’s wife, Susan, on a pre-paid cell phone), and the lines are only open (i.e., the pre-paid cell phone is only turned on) for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. I know; awesome, right? Here’s the catalog. The telephone number and hours are listed on page 4.

It is with reserved glee that I can report my success (on my 201st try—for real) in procuring two items that have an insane amount of assigned meaning for me: a 1965 1st printing Pyramid Books paperback of the short story collection Paingod and Other Delusions (Catalog #98), and a “Repent, Harlequin!” poster from the 1986 Harlan Ellison roast, signed by the artist, Frank Miller (Catalog #283).

L: Paingod and Other Delusions (1965); R: Guesstimate of what Frank Miller’s “Repent, Harlequin!” poster (1986) looks like, based on the scant descriptions and single, small image I was able to find online.

Susan was totally cool, by the way.

So I got Paingod because it includes “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”. If you haven’t read it, then they obviously don’t have the 7th grade on your home planet (or else that was the day you were getting high with the bad-ass cheerleaders in that one lavatory on the third floor that no one ever checked). “Repent, Harlequin!” was the short story responsible for convincing me that the dystopia was the most important of all speculative fiction themes. In fact, this is pretty much my favorite future concept short story of all time, with the possible exception of Steven Vincent Benét’s post-apocalyptic “By the Waters of Babylon“—but they’re kinda apples and oranges, anyway.

Like any dystopian tale worth its stimcredits, Ellison’s has a rebellious protagonist who would rather perish than conform, an urban setting where the caste system has become quite literally vertical, and loads of neologisms. Throw in some candy beans, though, and we’re in seminal territory. Here’s an excerpt, which I hope doesn’t get me deleted:

Jelly beans! Millions and billions of purples and yellows and greens and licorice and grape and raspberry and mint and round and smooth and crunchy outside and soft-mealy inside and sugary and bouncing jouncing tumbling clittering clattering skittering fell on the heads and shoulders and hardhats and carapaces of the Timkin workers, tinkling on the slidewalk and bouncing away and rolling about underfoot and filling the sky on their way down with all the colors of joy and childhood and holidays, coming down in a steady rain, a solid wash, a torrent of color and sweetness out of the sky from above, and entering a universe of sanity and metronomic order with quite-mad coocoo newness. Jelly beans!

Yes, slidewalk (sic[k])! And only, what—five commas, is it? Not to mention the sublime assonance of his “solid wash” bigram, which is so painterly that I want to cry. The bookends are also nice—back in 1965, this device wasn’t cliche yet.

“Repent, Harlequin!” is one of those few short stories I could realistically end up rereading a thousand times before I die. Yeah. It’s a thing.



16 08 2009

No Subtitle Necessary

I was very interested to see whether District 9 would live up to all the hype. People have been saying that it was going to be good, but people say a lot of things. The ad campaign for this thing has been creative to the point of hot-as-all-hell, but too often that just means that somebody’s desperate to market a product that somebody else has already told them is shit. And I’d already heard some rumblings about a played documentary-style approach and a mysterious black fluid that was assigned so many mysterious properties that it was effectively Bond-O for plot holes.

Well, my fears were unfounded. This movie was awesome.

I’ve decided that I’m not even going to worry about spoilers. If you’re somebody I know, then you’ve either already seen it or have no intention of ever seeing it (I know you people), so it doesn’t matter. If I don’t know you, then you made it to, like, page 19 or so of the Google search results for something like “distritc 9 sublinimle mesenges” (I know my WordPress dashboard), and you’re a weirdo for making it that far down. Why would I care about ruining a movie for a weirdo.

Very International Pictograms Standard. Win!

Viral teaser campaign: billboard.

Okay, so the film presupposes the presence of a stalled-out alien mother ship hovering derelict over Johannesburg; the action of the film takes place two decades after its arrival. Despite being forced almost immediately into an enormous favela, the 1 million drone-class aliens who were found in sorry shape on the UFO have since bred in captivity, so that after twenty years they’re up to 1.8 million in number (if I recall correctly). So, it being Earth and all, this population crisis has tensions at a near-boiling point. Also please note that, although this recipe for disaster took twenty years, one imagines that it took all of twenty seconds for the smug, NIMBY-minded, pay-it-forward South Africans, our representatives of the human race and its nature in this film, to come up with a slur that would stick (“prawns”), and not much longer to ghettoize the disadvantaged aliens into dumpster-diving poverty.

Very fascist color scheme. Win!

Viral teaser campaign: bus stop.

At one point, a female voice-over reporter remarks, without a trace of irony, on the crowd of onlookers from “human rights organizations” which has amassed to monitor the forced eviction of the decidedly non-human aliens from District 9, and suddenly I got the movie. This movie isn’t about Wikus, its human and squirm-inducingly Kafkafied protagonist. It’s about the unrivaled, subtitled humanity of the alien Christopher (I love that all the aliens have been assigned Western names, but this beat-you-over-the-head-with-the-fact-that-this-is-a-morality-play name in particular is a bit much). Oh, yeah, and speaking of the Wikus mutations: that shit was gross. Between his shedding of body parts and the other characters’ apparent absence of any shred of human decency, this film is only for the strong-stomached. Seriously. Oh, and in terms of war-gore, let’s just say that more often than not the settings on the alien rifles are cranked to “microwave”. So convincing. Ergo, so nasty. Catsup packet comes to mind.

Generic in a dystopian, 1984 kind of way. Win!

Viral teaser campaign: print (L) and special (R).

I love the fact that there’s lots of humor and levity during the first half-hour, which is styled as a sort of documentary and serves to bring the viewer up-to-speed on the last 20 years, but that the humor straight-up evaporates when shit stops being polite and starts getting real. You know, like when you start committing mass infanticide with another species’ eggs. Or you find out that you’re “worth more dead than alive” to your father-in-law, who is also your DNA-harvesting boss at the menacing defense contract corporation where you work. You know, the one with a totalitarianesque name (Multi-National United) that gets truncated to an acronym (MNU). That one.

I know my posts’ve been more cheer than jeer lately, but this movie is really, really good. 2012 will be better disaster porn, but District 9 has substance. Also, two of the dudes from Tsotsi have minor roles here, and it was cool to see them play characters on the other side of the superstructure (and by that I mean a little bit farther up from the absolute bottom but still closer to the bottom than the middle).

The critics have been impressed, too, and the opening weekend receipts seem healthy, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more from this Blomkamp dude. I mean, for real. By taking the “human” out of “utterly depressing dehumanization”, he managed to leave me more cynical about how people treat each other than I was before I entered the theater. And I was already super-through with people when I went in, so…good job.