Harlan Ellison’s Watching by Harlan Ellison (Underwood Miller, 1989)
I’m going to get one thing out of the way immediately: these are not the books I’d wanted to review this week. Last week, I delved into the realm of storytelling analysis by way of classical Russian literature. For my own sanity, I should have targeted light reading the next week; instead, I’d had my eye on a long-delayed re-read of Robert Bork’s The Tempting of America and on the fiction side I’d planned on getting to one of the titles from the popular Patricia Briggs.
Instead, life happened. A nationwide cold snap brought along with it non-rolling blackouts and pipe freezes, and I spent many hours crawling along the icy roads attempting to ferry supplies to people or take them to places of warmth. When home, I spent extra hours boning up on the finer points of energy production and distribution guided only by my decade in nuclear power generation… enough to give me a leg up, but with some significant climbing necessary.
Under these circumstances I was not in any condition to tackle Bork, not even on re-read. Instead, I reached for candy instead of a literary meal: Harlan Ellison’s Watching.
My description of this book as “candy” is not meant to be dismissive. Granted, there’s not much depth to it, but little was intended. The book collects the movie and television criticism columns Ellison produced for Cosmos and Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines, as well as previously uncollected criticism from venues like L.A. Free Press and the American Film Institute Report. The columns are incisive, puckish, energetic, informative and by turns angry and humorous. The reader learns about the inside baseball of filmmaking as well as the mechanics of story presentation. The vitriolic radicalism of his earlier Glass Teat books has crystallized into vague cynicism, and the columns are better for it. It’s candy, certainly, but the type one might receive from master chocolatier Jacques Torres.
In the simplest possible terms: I had fun. This is a book I’ve read twice before and I fully expect to return to it in the future. My only regret at directing you to it is that the best of my reviews will be recognized as pathetically inferior to the least of those in this collection.
Shadmocks & Shivers: New tales inspired by the stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes ed. Dave Brzeski
This was another welcome read for me. Unlike Watching, this was my first experience with the book. That said, it was far from my first experience with R. Chetwynd-Hayes.
Chetwynd-Hayes wrote horror stories of the classical style, reaching his greatest prominence in the 1970s. His work tended to focus on traditional morality plays with a lack of overt violence and a penchant for twist endings and playful humor. His short fiction fueled two anthology films: The Monster Club featuring Vincent Price, Donald Pleasance and John Carradine; and From Beyond the Grave starring Peter Cushing as the proprietor of a store full of cursed antiques.
His most recognized contribution to literature came with his creation of a monster family tree, interrelating vampires, werewolves, and ghouls and creating a slew of secondary and tertiary creatures (including the titular shadmock). That conceit, as well as various recurring characters, is used by the various writers who contributed to this tribute anthology.
Some of the stories have upbeat endings, in keeping with the sensibilities of the author they’re celebrating; others have dark twists, as one might expect from horror stories. Many are theatrical. None are particularly violent. Above all, there is evident respect and appreciation for the writers toward a man who was there before them and likely helped shape part of their youth.
It was exactly what I needed this week.