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Strange Wine (2004)

Strange Wine (2004)

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4.18 of 5 Votes: 4
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0743479890 (ISBN13: 9780743479899)

About book Strange Wine (2004)

This is a pretty amazing collection. Harlan Ellison's use of language makes me shudder. The man has skills. Reading this reminds me that writing can be a craft, not just a way to put down brain dribble. Most of these short stories build up and up and up until Ta-Da! Mind Blown. He's very good at misdirection too. He'll set the reader up to think one way and then BAM! You had it all wrong. Didn't you know? Clever stories. Before each story, he also writes a brief introduction to it-why he wrote it or where the idea came from. Stuff like that. Most of the time, it enhanced the story, but once or twice I kind of wished I didn't know what his thought process was before he wrote it. There were two stories that I didn't really enjoy as much-The New York Review of Bird and From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet. The rest were awesome.Here are a few of my favorite quotes:"Madam, why don't you take your fat-ass husband, your ghastly hairdo, your conspicuous consumption of the Gross National Product, not to mention the certainly ill-gotten dollar he's trying to pry out around his obesity, and insert them vertically where they'll do you simply a world of good." -To a couple trying to give a "beggar" a dollar. pg. 173Having found the "finest acoustics of any world in the universe," beings come to play their best sounds. Here's one that was brought:"On the eleventh moon of the world called Chill by its inhabitants, there is a flower whose roots are sunk deep, deep into the water pools that lie far beneath the black stone surface. This flower, without a name, seems to be an intricate construct of spiderwebs. There are, of course, no spiders on the eleventh moon of Chill. Periodically, for no reason anyone has ever been able to discern, the spiderweb flowers burst into flame, and very slowly destroy themselves, charring and shriveling and turning to ashes that lie where they fall. There is no wind on the eleventh moon of Chill. During the death ceremonies of the spiderweb flowers, the plants give off a haunting and terrible sound. It is a song of colors. Shades and hues that have no counterparts anywhere in the stellar community.DeilBo had sent scavengers across the entire face of Chill's eleventh moon, and they gathered one hundred of the finest spiderweb flower, giants among their kind. DeilBo had talked to the flowers for some very long time prior to the Gathering. He had told them what they had been brought to the Maelstrom to do, and though they could not speak, it became apparent from the way they straightened in their vats of enriched water (for they had hung dejectedly when removed from the eleventh moon of Chill) that they took DeilBo's purpose as a worthy fulfillment of their destiny, and would be proud to burn on command.So DeilBo gave that gentle command, speaking sounds of gratitude and affection to the spiderweb flowers, who burst into flame and sang their dangerous song of death....It began with blue, a very ordinary blue, identifiable to every delegate who heard it. But the blue was only the ground coat; in an instant it was overlaid with skirls of color like wind through dry stalks of harvested grain. Then a sea color the deepest shade of a blind fish tooling through algae-thick waters. Then the color of hopelessness collided with the color of desperation and formed a nova of hysteria that in the human delegates sounded exactly like the color of a widower destroying himself out of loneliness.The song of colors went on for what seemed like a long time, though it was only a matter of minutes, and when it faded away into ashes and was stilled, they all sat humbled and silent, wishing they had not heard it." pgs. 119-120"I can't explain how I knew, I simply understood somewhere deep in the blood and bones that this woman was determined to rip out my throat. Or perhaps I can explain it.Take the film they made of Jaws. That is a terrifying film. It collapses entire audiences, and not merely because of the cinematic tricks. People in the middle of Kansas, people who've never even seen the ocean or a shark, go into cardiac arrest. Why should that be? There are terrors much closer to us-muggers on the streets, positive biopsy report, being smashed to pudding in a freeway accident--terrors that can reach us; why should we be so petrified by that shark? I reject abstractions: the vagina dentatus, that paranoid hobgoblin of Freudian shadow-myth; the simplicity of our recoiling from something filled with teeth, an eating machine. I have another theory.The shark is one of the few life forms that has come down to the present virtually unchanged from the Devonian. So few; the cockroach, the horseshoe crab, the nautilus, the ceolecanth--probably older than the dinosaurs. The shark.When we were still aquatic creatures...there was the shark. And even today, in the blood that boils through us, the blood whose constituency is the same as the sea water, in the blood and somewhere deep in our racial memory, there is still the remembrance of the shark. Of swimming away from that inexorable eating machine, of crawling up onto the land to be safe from it, of vowing never to return to the warm seas where the teeth can reach us.When we see the shark, we understand that that is one of the dreadful furies that drove us to become human beings. Natural Enemy from beyond the curtain of time, from beneath the killing darkness. Natural Enemies.Perhaps I can explain how I knew, that next day that Netta Bernstein and I were blood enemies. The moment I walked into the conference room and saw her sitting next to Sloan--a clipboard fat with charts lying on the table in front of her--I knew she was lying in wait for me. The teeth, the warm seas, the eating machine that had followed us onto land." Pgs 53-54I particularly love this passage. Harlan Ellison took the extreme, paralyzing fear of being hunted and brought it into an ordinary conference room. It helps us to relate to his characters; we know what this man is feeling in his gut right now. It's fucking genius. He could have just said "She sat waiting for me like a shark." But he took the time to really develop what that metaphor means. I love it.

When someone says the name “Harlan,” I usually think Harlan Coben. I am afraid to say I have never heard of Harlan Ellison for fear it might send this caustic, “speak your mind” author into apoplexy. Ellison is more known for short stories than full length novels. STRANGE WINE is a collection of fifteen short stories “from the nightside of the world” published in 1978. I had heard his name tossed around on a few chat lists, even saw a video of a rant against studios that expected him to donate a script rather than receive payment. One excellent example of his distaste of the publishing “experts” is “The New York Review of Bird.” This story finds Cordwainer Bird wreaking havoc on a bookstore that dares to hide his books in the basement versus in the front window with the bestsellers. I like the story “Mom” the best as the ghost of a Jewish mother still tries to control her son’s life. The title story, “Strange Wine” leaves the reader, or should leave the reader with a great lesson about life. Ellison has an unforgettable writing style, somewhere between exceptional and phenomenal.

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What can I say about Harlan Ellison that I haven't already said in other reviews of other books? This extraordinary author writes with a burning luminosity that most authors only dream of. His writing has an energy and compelling tone that pulls the reader in and sweeps her along with the force of the story. He writes everything from straight science fiction to dark humor to bone-chilling horror. He is hard-hitting and pulls no punches. He parades ideas before the reader, disguising them as fables and stories that seem at first glance to be mere throw-away lines, but they are packed with everything that Ellison expects the reader to know and feel...and ultimately do something about. Whether it is making a change in yourself or getting angry enough about what's going on in the world today (whether that's the today of 1978 when it was written or the today of now) to try and make a broader change in the way things are.As I've said before, Harlan Ellison is not for everyone. He's not for the squeamish. Or the prudish. You want your fiction all neat and tidy and full of rainbows and sunshine and happily-ever-afters. Ellison is not your man. That's not to say he can't write a happy ending. He can. He does in this collection. But it's not your everyday, fairy tale happy ending where everyone lives happily ever after....and getting there may be a bit more painful than you'd like. His horror isn't based on the non-human, but on the worst behaviors and twisted desires of very human people. He shows us ourselves at our weakest and ugliest and then tells us that we are better than that. That he believes that we could be better than that (who would think it of one of the crankiest, old so-and-sos in science fiction) if we'd only want it badly enough.Each of the stories in this collection is a winner--making for another ★★★★★ outing from an excellent author. If you want a few highlights, then "In Fear of K," "Hitler Painted Roses," "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," and the titular "Strange Wine" are not to be missed.First posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.

Bondama wrote: "I know --- that's what I liked so much about your review!!"Nice to hear from you again. I had an exchange yesterday with a unpleasent person over on To Kill a Mockingbird. I finally told then that I was done and quit. Shouldn't have gotten caught up in it, but my buttons got pushed. Too much aggravation.I like having exchanges with you and a few others. This site should be fun and enjoyble - not irritating and exasperating.

The stories within range from amazingly inventive to merely well-executed, but the prefatory set-ups by the author don't really do much for me. Nor does the resoundingly awful portrayal of pretty much any woman in any of the stories. The women characters are sexually predatory, duplicitous, and manipulative across the board, to a variety of generally unlikable men who are narcissistic, misogynist assholes. In that regard, I guess the treatment of genders is relatively even-handed, but there's more often an attempt to draw the men as sympathetic, despite their obvious flaws.

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