June 01, 2009

Notes from a DVD Geek

By Jeremy Lassen

The big release for science fiction fans this month is a documentary about legendary SF writer Harlan Ellison.  This documentary, "Dreams With Sharp Teeth", is directed by the producer of "Grizzly Man" (You know… the documentary about the guy who disappeared while filming bears in Alaska,) Erik Nelson.

This documentary is not a tell-all attack piece, nor is it an even-handed, balanced documentary that gives equal time to Ellison's critics. Instead, it is a riotous celebration of the man, his work, and the character that he has created, "Harlan Ellison", over the course of his career. Many funny tidbits and gems are in this documentary and in the associated "extras" on the DVD.

In celebration of this documentary, I'd like to point out some of the movies and TV episodes that have been based on Harlan Ellison's work.

Probably the most famous movie adaptation is "A Boy and His Dog", staring a very young Don Johnson.  This story of Ellison's is one of his most memorable, and the movie does it some justice . . . even though the tone of the film does tend to veer wildly from act to act.

One of the most (in)famous movies inspired by Ellison's work is James Cameron's original "Terminator" movie.  Ellison sued to get a credit for this movie, and won, claiming it was inspired by his Outer Limit episodes "Soldier," and "The Demon With a Glass Hand". Despite losing this battle in court, director (and script co-writer) James Cameron has always resented this assertion, and there seems to be a back-and-forth battle of the credit line in the various home video versions of this film, with Ellison's story credit slipping in and out of the credits as each new version of the film is released.

Moving past  "Terminator", we can get to some of Ellison's television writing, which includes the above-mentioned Outer Limits episodes and the famous Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever".  He was also responsible for the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents' "Memo from Purgatory."  There were numerous other lesser-known TV episodes that he banged out early in his tv writing career, from episodes of "Burke's Law", to an episodes from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea".

Much later, several of his stories were adapted for the 1980's "The New Twilight Zone" series ("Crazy as a Soup Sandwich,"  "Gramma," "One Life," "Furnished in Early Poverty," "Paladin of the Lost Hour" and "Shatterday").

There were also a couple of "Babylon 5" episodes written by Ellison, a "New Outer Limits" episode from 1999 based on "The Human Operators", and a "Masters of Science Fiction" episode based on his story "The Discarded."

There were many other legendarily unproduced pilots and scripts, which Ellison chronicles at length in his books, THE GLASS TEAT, and THE OTHER GLASS TEAT. [Editor's note: Both of these volumes are now out of print.]

Moving away from Ellison, to another cult SF personality, Joss Whedon's "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" hits DVD in June.  This one was the "online only" production that Whedon worked on during the writers' strike last year, and it's now more widely commercially available, with a bunch of extras on the DVD that were not part of the original download.

And, moving from the cult SF side of the house to the cult horror side of the house, I bring you the most unlikely adaptation to ever be made. "Header". A movie based on Edward Lee's "classic" splatter-porn short story, soon to be available on DVD. This looks to be a mostly mediocre low budget horror film, but wow.  "Header".  Edward Lee.  I can't wait.  It's like when I found out "The Girl Next Door" was being made into a movie. But somehow sleazier and seedier.

And that's all I've got for you this month.

May Bestsellers

1. The City and the City by China Mieville
2. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
3. In the Stormy Red Sky by David Drake
4. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
5. Empire Unacquainted with Defeat by Glen Cook
6. The Revolution Business by Charles Stross
7. Conspirator by C.J. Cherryh
8. Empress of Mars by Kage Baker
9. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
10. Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

Mass Market Paperbacks
1. The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
2. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
3. Line War by Neal Asher
4. Relentless: The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell
5. Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
6. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
7. Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo
8. The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds
9. Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
10. Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Trade Paperbacks
1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
2. World War Z by Max Brooks
3. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie tie with
     Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey tie with
     Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood
4. Burning Skies by David Williams
5. Palimpsest by Cathrynne Valente

War and Conciliatory Fantasy

by Alan Beatts

I'm in the process of reading a review copy of Joe Abercrombie's new novel, BEST SERVED COLD, which will be published July 29th.  For my money it's even better than his FIRST LAW series and he's managed to hit the balance between grim and funny with more accuracy than before.  For those of you who aren't familiar with his work, Abercrombie writes relatively dark fantasy a la Steven Erikson or Glenn Cook, filled with morally ambiguous characters and situations.  Reading along I found myself thinking of a comment that China Mieville made once about how he neither enjoys nor wants to write "conciliatory fantasy". His feeling is that fantasy as a genre can take on the same sort of tough questions and complex characters that are more usually the domain of science fiction (or even mainstream lit).  I agree with him and furthermore I think that we've been seeing a renaissance of sorts in that type of fantasy writing.  I think that it, perhaps, shows a maturity in the genre and among the readers that, in some ways, parallels the change in Western movies in the 1960s.