August 9th, 2009

THINGS WE ARE NOT cover art contest

 Don't miss the vote.  See the Things We Are Not page for details. We are (due to overwhelming demand) using both of the covers in different editions after all, but we're holding the vote anyway so we can raise a few bucks, give a nice prize to a voter and finally settle once and for all the question of whether girlz or boyz rule.

Regarding the Ellison documentary, an old short story and a weird new kind of sex toy

So the other other night, Jeff and I watched Erik Nelson's film Dreams with Sharp Teeth, a biography of Harlan Ellison. Here's a decent review of it if you want more information than what I'll probably provide. J and I suck at watching our discs from Netflix anymore. Fortunately I had the sense last year to downgrade our plan to the one where you only have one disc in the house at a time. This one had been sitting here for at least two months, forgotten about. But the reason I don't cancel Netflix entirely is because I don't want to cut off completely the possibility of getting a film at home like this one, a film that I would never purchase my own copy of (I do not buy DVDs ever anymore, both because I can't afford them, and because I think that owning hardcopy media for films is going to look silly in a couple years, and because if I need it badly enough, Netflix can send me the disc or in some cases stream it to my computer) ...and which I would probably not find at a video store should I ever resort to going to one (again, a thing I have not done since the advent of Netflix and cannot imagine doing anymore).

Strangely, it was J himself who remembered that we had this disc sitting around and suggested we watch it. I had assumed that if I ever saw it at all, I would be seeing it alone because J really doesn't (or rather didn't) know anything about Harlan Ellison and is generally not that interested in such subjects. As it turned out, he was fascinated by the film and very much enjoyed learning about this author of whom he had probably never heard other than whatever references to him that he may have absorbed osmotically from me over the years. Since I already knew a lot about the subject, the content of the film was much as I expected, except I was impressed at how well put-together it was, the way it carried its narrative from start to end, how sensitive it was in places. It also featured a lot of great guests such as Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Dan Simmons, Ron Moore and (oddly I thought) Robin Williams.  J was both intrigued and horrified by the interior of Ellison's house, which is shown in some detail. He keeps our place quite tidy and organized and would never go in for the sheer amount of crap that Ellison has stuffed into every nook and cranny of his place. But the more he saw of it, the more J appreciated its eclectic charm, and he could some small similarities between it and something that we might do if we had the space and resources. While he himself is not a big reader of stuff like that, J has always been positive about my substantial collection of books and has never taken the attitude prevalent on the home shows that books are clutter and that your bookshelves need to be filled instead with snow globes and gold-framed photos of your smiling children and plenty of shit from Pier One. I haven't counted my own books lately, and have not been able to buy very many new ones in recent years, but I think I have perhaps 1500 volumes. I know the total is over 1000 but certainly less than 2000 (including perhaps 150 cook books which sit in another room). Ellison's personal library is said to include over a quarter of a million books. So while I own more books than probably 98 percent of the civilian population--and have alternately freaked out and pissed off people with the mass of it over the years--my collection compared to Ellison's is a total joke, and as a book owner I am, compared to him, a mere [fill in Yiddish epithet].

So anyway, Jeff liked the books in Ellison's house even if he was less sure about the general ambience of clutter and tumbling heaps of stuff.  And, of course, he thought it was "bugfuck crazy" that Ellison still works on that goddamned Olympia typewriter.  Actually he has several back-ups: in one scene he shows Robin Williams his storage shelves where he keeps his back-up Olympias and explains that he stores his ribbons for them in a refrigerator to preserve them for as long as possible since you can't get replacements anymore. While I cannot imagine working on a typewriter anymore, I have a bit of nostalgia for this because I taught myself my rather Ellisonian two-finger (but fast) typing style on a typewriter similar to his when I was a young kid and I used that typewriter to produce most of the text for my Trek fanzine during the high school years. 

Watching this film, with all of its vintage and 60s and 70s and early 80s footage of a younger Ellison, being all hip and very much of his era, must have laid a lot of imagery and tone down into my unconscious mind, because I ended up having a dream that night that had a lot of this old-style counter-culture vibe to it, and it actually looked like somewhat grainy, somewhat yellowed film or video footage from the 60s or 70s. Ellison himself was not in the dream, but the people who were in it (mostly real people that I actually know from various points in my life in different guises) were mostly wearing big tinted glasses and had that 70s kind of haircut that groovy guys like Ellison always had back then.  I don't remember all the details of the dream, but it was set mostly in my home and most of the other people there seemed to be involved in writing and zine-editing and things of that nature. Then at some point my attention was drawn to a device that someone at the meeting or party or whatever it was had brought and was suggesting that we all try out. The device is strange to describe. It basically consisted of what looked like a coffin-shaped block of water or vapor somehow held intact (forcefield maybe?). It was explained that this contraption was a device for sexual pleasure that could be used either alone or with a partner ( a dude with big tinted glasses and wavy too-long hair explained this to me). The method of using it was simply to get undressed and get inside it. Though it appeared to made of water or some kind of gas, once inside there was no difficulty with breathing.  Once inside, this machine (if it could be called that) created a sensation of being embraced literally all over every inch of one's body at once and an intense sensation of sexual stimulation that would continue and escalate  until...well, until one is finished. As things go in dreams, it was not considered unusual at all that I took this thing for a spin in sight of everyone else as they watched and commented.

But now here is where it gets weird and uber-geeky: while I was engaged in my test drive of the liquid sex coffin, someone else remarked that the device was originally designed by--and I quote exactly from the dream dialogue--"That dude who wrote that story in Again, Dangerous Visions. You know, the one with all the jacking off." I woke up shortly after, somewhat dazzled by what I had experienced in this weird dream and totally needing to find out right fucking NOW what that A,DV reference could be. So, bleary-eyed, I went into the library and got the book off the shelf and started looking at the TOC and then I saw it: Ray Nelson's "Time Travel for Pedestrians." It's an interesting tale as I recall, with a very long but interesting intro by Ellison, but I wonder how well it holds up in modern times--haven't re-read it yet, but I will.  Anyway, for those of you who have read A,DV, you may remember it as this story where--I think, my own memory fades--this dude somehow goes into some sort of hypnogogic state that involves something he is listening to on a tape and  something he is looking at on a wall or something (and maybe drugs, not sure, don't remember) while he simply lies on a bed jerking off. As he pleasures himself thus, he goes on some sort of fantastic time-traveling adventure. I really don't remember it that well, and I have a feeling that it might be very much a thing of its era, but since it was referenced in a dream, I will re-read it.

And, in conclusion, that's how big of a geek I am: while having a sex dream, I remember stories from old sf anthologies.