Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Harlan Ellison

Dear Mr. Ellison,

Just yesterday, I read this article anticipating your final convention appearance, at MadCon. I had not been aware that you are, as you say, dying, and I am very unhappy to hear that. Though I do admire greatly your own attitude about it and hope that I will feel the same way when my own time comes.  But that's not the subject about which I try to reach out to you today. This is:

"My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I'm concerned. Or God forbid, James Patterson or Judith Krantz should get a hold of The Man Who Looked for Sweetness, which is sitting up on my desk, and try to finish it, anticipating what Ellison was thinking -- no! Goddammit. If Fred Pohl wants to finish all of C.M. Kornbluth's stories, that's his business. If somebody wants to take the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, which has now gone into the public domain, and write an ending that is not as good as Poe would have written, let 'em do whatever they want! But not with my shit, Jack. When I'm gone, that's it. What's down on the paper, it says 'The End,' that's it. 'Cause right now I'm busy writing the end of the longest story I've ever written, which is me."

OK. I totally get where you're coming from (and always love it when you take yet another swipe at Judith Krantz). But for the fucking love of all that's good and decent on Earth, do not burn your unfinished stories! Jeeezus keee-rist on a crutch, dude! Look: your admirers would buy any goddamned thing you have ever written, finished or not. I would right now pay for a hardbound edition of a freaking grocery list typed by you. Please, please, please, rescind this horrible, bloody directive to your wife! You are well acquainted with legal machinations, and I am certain that you could guard in some kind of iron-clad, steam-powered, smoke-billowing titanic way your literary legacy from such obscene ravages as Krantz or her ilk trying to finish your novel. How about this: authorize the publication of at least some of your unpublished items and will the money generated from such toward endowing a scholarship, or maybe even one of the writing workshops like Clarion. Create the "Harlan Ellison Fellowship" or some such thing.

OK. I understand that this unfinished and unpublished writing is entirely your stuff to do with as you please. But you need to understand that you are, to many, many readers and writers and dreamers, an even bigger deal than what even you may have thought. Yeah, even if you keel over right now and all your unpublished stuff is burned as per your orders, you will still have a legacy that may last as long as people read stuff worth reading. But why not go a little bit further? Find some way to make a lasting gift of your unpublished work. You don't owe it to anyone, but do it anyway, if not for your successors who will be inspired by you, then for the cranks who will be pissed off that your name keeps showing up all the time long after you're gone.

Best wishes,
Christopher Fletcher, Editor M-Brane SF
(who read "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" when he was 11 years old and has never been the same since)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Announcing M-BRANE #21 writers and TOC

Here is the table of contents for M-Brane SF #21, due out October 1. The cover art is once again by the fabulous Mari Kurisato. This issue will complete the first "quarter" under the new scheme for the print edition, so its stories and those from the the previous two issues will all appear together in a print omnibus in October along with some bonus material. More info on that will come forth soon.

Cesar Torres:  "The Nagual's Elision"
Therese Arkenberg: "Outlive"
Kaolin Fire: "Thirty Since the Reckoning"
Ian Sales: "Human Resources"
Fredrick Obermeyer: "Harmday"
Sunny Moraine: "Centralia"

I will warn you: this one ain't a cheery issue, y'all. But you won't regret reading it either. This is some really fine and thoughtful work by some fine writers. Other than Sunny Moraine--she's new to me, and I am glad to have made her acquaintance--these folks have been in M-Brane's pages before. Ian Sales and Kaolin Fire are both well known in these genre press lands, and both appeared fairly recently (Fire in issue #15 with "Immersion" and Sales in #19 with "Through the Eye of a Needle"). Fredrick Obermeyer previously appeared about a year ago in #9 with the bizarre "Graftworld." Therese Arkenberg appeared in #4 with "Mother" and in our LGBT antho  Things We Are Not with the spectacular "Reila's Machine." The issue leads off with a fine new story by one of my favorite writers, Cesar Torres. Earlier this year, M-Brane Press published his collection The 12 Burning Wheels.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thoughts on TREK's 44th Anniversary

That Star Trek  debuted on television forty-four years ago this week makes me feel suddenly quite old. I remember vividly another Trek anniversary--the twentieth in 1986. In September of that year, a friend and I published the fourth issue of our monthly Star Trek zine The Alternative Warp. In our youthful enthusiasm, we committed ourselves to making that issue a 100-page spectacular commemorating twenty years of Star Trek. A normal issue ranged from 32 to 48 pages (and we didn't quite make our goal of 100 pages--I think it was about 88 when done). If I had a copy of it here, I would take a pic of myself holding it up and post it here. I doubt many of its original 120 copies are extant, but I believe that my father has one at his home in Wisconsin. Indeed, I am somewhat glad that I do not have my own copy here because I am sure that I would find the whole thing quite embarrassing now and would need to bury it in the bottom of a drawer.

But embarrassing or not, it was the work of fifteen-year-olds, and created with great enthusiasm and attention to detail, and it even had a little bit of fairly high-end content in it as compared to most of our issues. The 20th Anniversary edition featured a fairly extensive interview with David "The Trouble With Tribbles" Gerrold (which he graciously allowed us to conduct with him by phone) and a transcript of a speech by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry that I tape-recorded when I saw him speak at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh and then painstakingly put on paper in columnar format with a manual typewriter. Other items included our "news" pages where we would gather short articles about Trek-pertinent current events. How we even found anything to report on during the pre-Web Era, I have no idea, but we did. The biggest bulk of it was filled with Trek fan fiction, written mostly by my co-editor and me, including a novella-length concatenation of nonsense titled "Peace in Our Time" by yours truly. I don't remember many of its details, but it dealt with a vast and secret infiltration of the Federation by a mysterious alien menace called the "Exoscan." As I recall, the Federation was being taken apart from the inside by this entity as a gigantic spacecraft or huge cluster of linked spacecraft of unknown (possibly extra-galactic) origin moved toward Federation space. It was all very portentous and frightfully epic. (Interestingly, a couple years later, the TV series Star Trek: the Next Generation presented a story about bug-like alien critters taking over the minds and directing the actions of Starfleet personnel as part of an insidious conspiracy. Picard returns to Earth to find Starfleet Command in the thrall of these beings. This was not entirely unlike the conspiracy in my own story).

Over the twenty-four years since then, my enthusiasm for the overall Star Trek franchise with its many TV shows, movies, books and other projects has waned considerably. I did follow faithfully the Next Generation series, the best seasons of which happened during my college years, and I was sad when it ended. I'll still occasionally turn it on when I see that a rerun is on one of the cable channels. I also watched Deep Space Nine. While it took me some time to warm up to it, I eventually became deeply engrossed in the story arc that dominated its last two or three seasons. But it doesn't hold a lot of repeat-viewing appeal for me. The Voyager series had a lot of good in it, but was very troubled and it was during its run that I realized that I didn't necessarily have an obligation to see every single episode of any show bearing the Star Trek brand. The last of the TV shows, Enterprise, was deeply disappointing. It had so much potential to rekindle what was great and fun about the Original Series and almost unerringly missed the mark, particularly when its creators made the inexplicable decision to sink the whole thing into a lame long-running story arc that only the most hardcore Trekker could have cared about. Also, the feature films of the last couple decades have been a mixed bag. While First Contact was wonderful, Insurrection and Nemesis were very weak (the former with too small a story for a feature film, the latter with a really big one that was realized in too small a way). The Abrams re-boot film last year was very entertaining but wholly preposterous.

None of these disappointments, however, have stripped away the luster of the Original. It remains, to my eye, one of the most lovely, most charming and engaging things of the whole television era. When I first got a DVD player, I set about collecting the entire Original Series on disc, and I still reach for these discs when I want some soothing ambient light and sound. I don't even necessarily watch the episodes: they might just be playing in the background, and more often than not, I will fall asleep on the couch halfway into it. There has never been anything quite like it; no other show has ever even looked or sounded like it. It's a thing of its period, the 1960s, yet seems to stand slightly outside its period and culture, as if it intruded from an alternate timeline just a little bit different than our own. And it's just plain weird and cool and hypnotically re-watchable. The worst episodes of Star Trek are better than almost any currently-running television program. Right now, as I finish this post, I am half-watching/listening to one of the best, "Mirror, Mirror" on the CBS website.

[The images are of Leonard "Spock" Nimoy as he appeared in the original, un-aired pilot "The Cage," and William "Kirk" Shatner as he appeared in the second pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Because of some kind of TV scheduling weirdness, however, even this second pilot was not the first episode shown on TV. That honor went to the fifth episode in production order "The Man Trap," the one starring the shape-shifting salt vampire]. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

M-Brane #20 released

The new issue is available in PDF format. As predicted, it's late, but only by a day. It contains great new work by some really great writers (see previous post for table of contents). Its contents, along with those of the electronic editions of #19 and the forthcoming #21 will appear in the first M-Brane SF Quarterly in October, a print-only omnibus which will also feature some bonus material not present in our e-versions.

The issue #20 PDF can be purchased for $2.00 using the Pay Pal button below:


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