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Bookends: Remembering the late, great Harlan Ellison May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, fantasy, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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SlippageBookends: Remembering the late, great Harlan Ellison

By Dan Davidson

July 18, 2018

– 900 words –

 

Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories

By Harlan Ellison

Open Road Media

E-book

$9.99

Houghton Mifflin hardcover

299 pages

 

Harlan Ellison died in his sleep in late June at the age of 84. He’d been suffering with heart problems since before the publication of this collection of material, which came out in 1997, so between age and illness It wasn’t a surprise. Based on the notes that introduced the stories in most of the 15 or so volumes on my shelves, it’s kind of surprising that he went out quietly.

Ellison was science-fiction’s original angry young man. Her was kicked out of college for hitting an English prof who told him he had no ability as a writer, and he took his revenge by sending the man a copy of everything he published over the near couple of decades. I assume he stopped eventually, though he was known to hold a grudge for a long, long time.

I assume he stopped because Wikipedia has one entry for him and an entirely separate entry for his bibliography.. I’m going to quote the former article here just to give you a sense of his output,

 “His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. Some of his best-known work includes the Star Trekepisode “The City on the Edge of Forever“,A Boy and His Dog, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream“, and ” ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman“, and as editor and anthologistfor Dangerous Visions(1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions(1972). Ellison won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.”

He came up with the idea for a late 1970s Canadian television (CTV I think it was) show called The Starlost, which turned out so poorly that he insisted the studio take his name off the credits and list him as Cordwainer Bird, his trademark ways of “flipping the bird” on any script of his he felt had been ruined,

On the other hand, he was the creative consultant for the entire run of one of the best SF series ever produced, Babylon Five, and even appeared on it in one episode. He also played himself in an episode of The Simpsons.

Ellison was famously litigious when it came to what he considered to be his intellectual property. James Cameron gave avoided a potential legal fight and gave him screen credit for being the source of the ideas (in scripts for the Outer Limitsthat led to the creation of The Terminator movies. If you look up “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand” on the web, you can find that story,

I hadn’t seen anything new by Ellison for years, He had a dry spell as a writer following some of the events he chronicles in “The Fault in My Lines”, the introductory essay in this book. There was an earthquake which damaged his house and nearly killed him in 1994. Then there was the heart attack, the first intimations of which hit him in 1992, and kept knocking at his ventricles until he got the big one in 1996. Since he survived another 22 years after that, you know the operations and transplants worked out for him, just as the same operation saved my uncle for decades a few years earlier.

These experiences gave him the title for this book, which has the theme prompted by nervousness, because he wasn’t sure there would be any more; “nervousness of the ticking of the clock, of the unreliability of the earth beneath our feet and the dear beating heart within our chest. The theme is: do it while you can. Slippage rules. Gravity ain’t forgiving. The theme is: you never know when it’s the last of the last. The theme is: PAY ATTENTION.”

Of the 27 items in the book, most appeared in various places between 1986 and 1997.  There is something called an Interstitial story which appears in eight segments in between other items. There is a horror story called “Nackles” by Donald E, Westlake, which Ellison succeeded in transforming into what would have been a good episode of the the revived Twilight Zone TV show, except that the network chickened out. We have the original, the story of how it didn’t get filmed, and Ellison’s teleplay, including alternate scenes to satisfy the network folks.

The rest of the stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, the latter leaning in the direction of horror. Ellison’s material is often somewhat downbeat, but generally insightful. He is considered significant enough that his hardcover publisher splurged on a signature line called The Harlan Ellison Collection, of which this is one volume.

There is a webpage on the man and his works called Ellison Webderland, but it hasn’t been kept current for some time. Ellison produced some nine collections of material after this book. Most are retrospectives, including two volumes of his very early magazine work, titled Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word, a reference the word rate when he started out. Much of this material is only available in actual book form, which is perhaps not surprising. IN 1997, Ellison was still using manual typewriters for most of his work.

 

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Bookends: About the Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, Childen's, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: About the Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack

By Dan Davidson

February 21, 2018

– 638 words –

 

 

Wenjack

Wenjack

By Joseph Boyden

Hamish Hamilton

102 pages

$12.00

 

It may not be possible to discuss Joseph Boyden’s 2016 novelette on the sad death of Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack without having the reader’s mind immediately switch to the 2017 dethroning of Boyden as a marginally indigenous author of books which very definitely mine native heritage for their storylines and themes.

Just over a year ago, Boyden came under attack for his admitedly fuzzy account of his own First Nation’s roots and was “outed” as a pretender using up all the available oxygen as the “go to” person for commentary on natïve literary matters.

It seems that some of this opprobrium was stirred up by his assertion (along with numerous other writers like Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel) that Canlit superstar Steven Galloway had been unfairly treated by the powers that be at UBC when he was accused of sexual impropriety in a pre-#metoo case at that university.

Their complaint, as I recall it, was not that Galloway was necessarily innocent, but that UBC had not followed the tradition of due process in dealing with the matter. The evidence against Galloway was eventually found to be unsubstantiated in Justice Boyd’s investigation, except for a professor/student affair, but by then he had already been fired.

For this book, some will take the position that wannabe Native Joseph Boyden had no business writing about the Wenjack case. But, if that is so, neither did the late Gord Downie, whose Secret Path(a graphic novel and a record) has generally been lauded.

The question for this book is not one of Boyden’s personal history, but whether he did justice to the story, which was generally well received at the time it first appeared, but has been tarnished by his later controversies.

In this short book, an Ojibwe boy runs away from a residential school in Northern Ontario, thinking he can find his way back to his family by following the railway tracks, and not realizing that he is actually hundreds of miles away.

Both Boyden’s and Downie’s stories are based on an article called “The Lonely Death of Charlie Wenjack”, published by Ian Adams in MacLean’smagazine in 1967, one of the first serious pieces of journalism to deal with this issue. I haven’t read The Secret Pathyet, but I did see the animated CBC special show based on the book and Downie’s songs, and both versions of the story take some literary llberties with the tale as told by Adams in his 3300 word article.

You can find that online at http://www.macleans.ca/society/the-lonely-death-of-chanie-wenjack/,and I highly recommend reading it. It is a straightforward tale, but very gripping in its intensity.

Boyden decided on a dual narrative structure for his version of the story, with chapters alternating between Chanie’s first person account, and third person accounts by a series of spirit beings (Manitous) who follow him and watch over him as he makes his arduous journey along the railbed, eventually succumbing to the cold, the hunger and the distance.

The chapters are named for the various creatures, drawn by artist Kent Monkman, that the Manitous inhabit along the way: sucker fish, crow, hummingbird, owl, mouse skull, pike, spider, wood tick, beaver, snow goose, rabbit, and lynx. These can all be seen on the book’s cover.

Boyden concludes the book with an author’s note on the facts of the story, crediting Adams as a source, and giving his reasons for writing it.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding his indigeneity (a relatively new word) I think Boyden has made a respectful attempt to tell a story and highlight an issue in this little book. It’s more than worth the short time it takes to read it.

 

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Bookends: An Affectionate Biography of Gordon Lightfoot March 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in biography, Bookends, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: An Affectionate Biography of Gordon Lightfoot

By Dan Davidson

November 22, 2017

– 856 words –

 

Lightfoot 

Lightfoot

By Nicholas Jennings

336 pages

Viking

$36.00

Kindle edition

$15.99

Nicholas Jennings’ affectionate biography of Gordon Lightfoot begins with his subject at the top of his game, wealthy and successful beyond his boyhood’s wildest dreams, beyond what anyone in his hometown of Orillia ever thought he might achieve. In truth, most of the folks at home had thought him a bit nuts when he headed off to California to study music, and again when he relocated to Toronto.

In 2015 the town admitted it was wrong with a 4 metre tall bronze sculpture. Wikipedia describes it this way: “Golden Leaves – A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot” features Lightfoot sitting cross-legged, playing an acoustic guitar underneath an arch of golden maple leaves. Many of the leaves depict scenes from Lightfoot’s 1975 greatest hits album …”

Jennings shows us a Lightfoot who wanted a music career from an early age, who participated in school music festivals, sang in choirs and formed his first performing groups while he was still in high school.

Lightfoot sang tenor in barbershop quartets until his voice changed and then sang baritone in other barbershop groups, including one called the Teen Timers. He and another chum did Everly Brothers style performances as the Two Timers, and later as the Two Tones.

He dabbled in jazz as well as in standards; was part of the singer/dancer troupe on Country Hoedown. He worked at the CBC, making copies of music sheets for others to use. By 19, he had already written his first song.

It was actually as a songwriter that Lightfoot made his first serious money in the music industry. Early songs like “I’m Not Sayin”, “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Morning Rain” were covered by a number of artists, both in the folk and country genres.

Lightfoot would tend to straddle those two types of music throughout his career, adding a bit of rock and a bit of jazz into the mix for songs like “Make Way for the Lady” and “Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”.

I was surprised to learn that he was not happy with the success of his United Artist albums, the first four, which contain so many of those classic songs. When he would later re-record some of them for his Gord’s Gold collection, he was in the middle of going though a string section phase and, perhaps because I learned to play and sing them from the original recordings, I didn’t enjoy those as much.

Lightfoot comes across as a workaholic, a bit obsessed with both writing and performing. While an excellent performer most of the time, Jennings shows that he is less than a success at stage patter.

I only saw the man in concert once, and he stopped in the middle of a song to protest when the audience was singing along, saying we had come to hear him and the band. Jennings’ accounts of other concerts indicate this this was not something he always did.

Life on the road took its toll on him. He burned through two earlier marriages and several long term relationships.

There is more of his personal life in his songs than I realized when I first heard them. “If You Could Read My Mind” is about the breakup of his first marriage, while “Sundown” really is about the temptations of life on the road.

Like many performers of his era, Lightfoot has had substance abuse problems, particularly with alcohol. His drinking affected both his health and his performance at times, and his worst concerts were the result of too much booze. He eventually managed to quit.

He has had a couple of close calls in his life. Bell’s Palsy froze one side of this face for a while. He nearly died from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2002, necessitating operations then and again in 2003. Nevertheless, he fought his way back to both recording and performing by 2004.

But in 2006 a minor stroke cost him the fine motor control of two fingers on his right hand. It took about a year for him to recover the use of his middle and ring fingers, both of which are needed for fingerpicking.

As with any performer who has a long career, Lightfoot has been in and out of fashion a few times, never entirely disappearing, but sometimes making stylistic choices that didn’t quite work as intended.

In 2010, he was the victim of one of those on-line death hoaxes that crop up from time to time. He had just left from the dentist’s office when he heard about it on the radio. He arranged for an interview at that station to clear up the confusion.

His songs have had a serious impact on our national image. He wrote The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” on commission, and researched it rigorously. Pierre Berton, who wrote a two volume history about the building of the Canadian Pacific, once told Lightfoot that his song did more to make people aware of the railroad than his books had.

 

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