Daily Archives: June 1, 2009

Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth

Watched Dreams With Sharp Teeth this evening, which I had recorded on the DVD a few days back when it premiered on Sundance Channel. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a documentary about Harlan Ellison, and if you don’t know who Harlan Ellison is, please drown yourself now.

I liked the film, although it’s less documentary than an encomium for the man from several admirers. The film makes a couple of feints in the direction of exploring his career failures and personal shortcomings, but really only feints at them, occupying itself more with the position of “he is who he is” and letting you take him at face value or not. I think that’s fine because if you’re anywhere near observant you see where the gaps are, and where things are left unsaid, to be filled in by rumor or inference or sympathy, if you want to go that direction. It’s not a complete picture, although I don’t think the film suggests that it is.

What is there does show why so many creative people and especially writers admire him, and also why so many do not. Ellison seems very precisely a “charming little fucker” — someone fast off the blocks, very smart and both blessed and cursed to live without a filter. This can look like fearlessness (which is where the easy admiration comes in), but I suspect it’s more accurate to say it’s a personal compulsion to actively seek the truthful moment, even if doing so is not the politic or convenient or nice thing to do. I would suspect the people who are Ellison’s genuine friends admire this about him rather than his “fearlessness,” and that this admiration is well mixed with the understanding that this quality of active truth-seeking will be visited upon them as well, for better and worse. He strikes me as a friend whom one will be called upon often to forgive his trespasses. Ellison makes mention in the film that he’s someone who is great at dinner and murder to live with; I don’t doubt this is accurate. I also don’t doubt that if he is your friend, you could call him to help you bury a body. He’d bitch about his aching back the whole time, but he’d still grab a shovel.

Mind you, this is all supposition on my part. I don’t know Ellison outside his writing, which I generally admire. My only experience with him was when he showed up on a comment thread here a few years back, at which time he was kind to me and rather less so to people to whom he believed he did not owe kindness. I do know we have friends in common, and those friends prize his friendship, which matters to me when I think about him. I also have friends whose run-ins with him are, shall we say, fairly memorable. I do think I’d like to meet him one day and apprehend him for myself. Dinner would be sufficient to start.

In any event, check out the film if you have the chance.

GM, Bankrupt

Dan Neil, The Los Angeles Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning car reviewer, says basically all that need be said about GM’s path to bankruptcy in this article, so I encourage you to read it and think on it. My own not-particularly-well-informed opinion on the bankruptcy is that it’s sad it’s come to this, and also very probably the only possible way everyone involved with GM would ever pull their heads out of their collective asses to save the damn company. It seems from the outside like all the stakeholders were adamant there was some way to avoid hitting the bottom without actually having to change any of the things they were doing. If nothing else, that era of magical thinking is over, for GM at least; one hopes such realizations happen in other sectors of American life without the need to smack hard on the bottom like GM has. I’m not tremendously optimistic about this, but we will see.

New Project Underway

Quick note to Whatever readers: I’m starting a new project today and it figures to be fairly time intensive, and I expect that for June at least I’m likely to devote most of my writing budget to it. Indeed, the plan is that from 9am to 4pm (or so) each day I’ll be yanking the DSL cord out of the computer so that I won’t get distracted, i.e., la la la la I can’t hear you.

What does this mean for you? Well, basically, from 9 to 4 this June don’t expect a whole lot of updates here or on Twitter or Facebook; if there are updates here, they’re likely to have been short bits written up earlier and scheduled to keep you all amused while I am typing my fingers to the bone on this project (I may do audience participation bits; we’ll see). I will have e-mail capability, but during business hours will only be answering business e-mail that needs an immediate response, which will not be most of them. So you can expect some delay there as well.

Basically, for the immediate future at least I’m going to pretend I have a real live job. Because this project is time-sensitive and requires attention. No, I can’t tell you what it is. You’ll find out soon enough, I expect.

So there you have it. And now to yank the DSL out of the comp

METAtropolis Booklist Review, Plus Hugo Thoughts

METAtropolis, which has you may recall is nominated for a Hugo this year in Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, has gotten the first review for its book form, from Booklist, and it is excellent:

Scalzi and his contributors/collaborators have created a fascinating shared urban future that each of them evokes with his or her particular strengths… Originally an audio anthology, this stellar collection is a fascinating example of shared world building, well deserving of a parallel life in print.

This obviously makes me happy. The anthology was designed for audio, but it’s good to see that it’s successfully made the transition to print. In case it’s unclear, the print version is not a “novelization,” it’s the complete text of the original stories by Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Karl Schroeder and myself. It’s all there (text-wise), baby. It’ll be out in July; the audio version, of course is out now (and is part of the Hugo Voter Packet).

Speaking of the Hugos, I’ve been asked a number of times whether I think METAtropolis actually has a chance in its Hugo category, inasmuch as it’s a tiny audiobook presentation up against The Dark Knight, Wall*E, Iron Man and Hellboy II, all of which cost over $100 million to make and market, and which have brought in an average $570 million in worldwide box office.

Bearing in mind I’m not unbiased about this, and that, in fact, I’ve enjoyed all the other nominees in the category quite a bit, my answer: Yeah, we do have a chance. The thing is, as massively successful as these films have been, METAtropolis is not competing against them in the arena of worldwide public opinion; we’re competing against them in the arena of Hugo voters, which is a few thousand science fiction fans who are almost by definition rather attentive to the works nominated in each award category. The average guy on the street has not heard of METAtropolis, but the average Hugo voter has — and since along with many other Hugo nominees we’ve made it easy to check out the work by putting it into the Hugo Voter Packet, I think that helps put us on more equal footing with our other category nominees than we might otherwise be.

More than that, if I may crow on my fellow METAtropolis nominees for a moment, I think the world that Jay, eBear, Toby, Karl and I have created in METAtropolis, both in our mutual worldbuilding and in each of us writing our stories, stands toe-to-toe with the worldbuilding of any of those films — and unlike those films, who had the benefit of creative crews numbering in the dozens and production budgets in the millions, there was just the five of us, collaborating through e-mail. For that matter I think the people reading our tales (Michael Hogan, Scott Brick, Kandyse McClure, Alessandro Juliani and Stefan Rudnicki) do as good a job of making our world real as the actors in those films do for their worlds — and what they have to do it with is our words and their voices, without the visual and production assists other actors have. My point is, on the level of dramatic presentation — and of entertaining our audience — we’ve got the goods, same as every other nominee in the category. I think the Hugo voters will hear that when they check us out, along with the other works.

So, yes: We have a chance, just like every other nominee. That’s all we can ask for. We’ll be at the ceremony in August waiting to see what the voters decided. If we win, we promise to jump up and down like monkeys on the stage in celebration. Not that this will sway any voters. But still, it’ll be fun too see. It’d be fun to do, too.