Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Harlan Ellison and Brian Aldiss stories from 1966 men's magazines

The internet archive offers to the public, free of charge, scores of pornographic men's magazines.  Flipping through some of the more respectable ones, you can find stories by famous SF writers.  Let's take a look at stories from 1966 by two of our more critically acclaimed SF authors, Harlan Ellison and Brian Aldiss, that appeared in magazines that were purchased by men because they wanted to see girls' boobs.

[NOTA BENE: Some of the links in this blog post are NSFW!]

"Delusion for a Dragon-Slayer" by Harlan Ellison

Knight, "The Magazine for the Adult Male," is full of nude women--photographs of nude women, drawings of nude women, paintings of nude women.  But Knight is not merely a rag full of smut!  In this issue we find an article by Jacques Cousteau, a reprint of a 1955 story by John Steinbeck (I think it's about chewing gum that comes to life and tries to kill people!), and a cover by Leo and Diane Dillon, who have done so many SF covers.  Another SF connection in the magazine is the inclusion of some cartoons by William Rotsler, who not only did writing and photography for lots of these men's magazines but has also won numerous Hugos for Best Fan Artist.  (Some gender studies grad student out there could easily do her dissertation on the overlap of the porno world and the SF world!  Maybe one already has!)

The cover illustrates Ellison's story, "Delusion for a Dragon-Slayer," which would go on to be included in several different Ellison collections in the late '60s and the '70s.  This is the story of Warren Glazer Griffin, a middle-class office worker who gets killed in a Rube-Goldberg-esque accident while walking across Manhattan to work.  He goes to heaven, but in this story, to stay in heaven, you have to pass a test, and the nature of the test is determined by your day dreams during your life time.  WGG must have daydreamnt of being a hero from Homer or Robert E. Howard, because he finds himself in a muscular, god-like, body, captain of an oared ship on a stormy sea, and to get into heaven he has to rescue a girl from a monster, sword in hand.  In the event, like Odysseus, loses his ship and his crew, and then he kills the monster by sneaking up on it and attacking it from behind--while it is having sex with the girl!  The girl prefers the monster, so WGG rapes her instead of winning her love.  Having proven himself a poor leader, a coward, and inept with the ladies, WGG has failed to live up to his own fantasies and is barred from heaven.

We readers probably should have been able to predict WGG's bleak fate.  Ellison describes our protagonist's dream body as "Nordic" and "Aryan," with blonde hair and blue eyes, and "Aryan" is a word we generally only hear in pop culture in reference to Nazis.  Also, artistic types like Ellison generally have contempt for the salaryman type, so you can expect him to take an opportunity to puncture the pretensions of such a character.

I found Ellison's style here tedious, characterized by lots of long repetitive sentences that, I suppose, are meant to be poetic and dreamlike, an effort to convey WGG's feelings in the outre milieu in which he finds himself.  An entire column of text on page 51 is devoted to describing the colors in the sky, sentence after sentence like this one:
The colors that top-filled a man to the brim and kept him poised there with a surface tension of joy and wonder, colors cascading like waterfalls of flowers in his head, millioncolors, blossomshades, brightnesses, joycrashing everythings that made a man hurl back and strain his throat to sing, sing chants of amazement and forever--as his ship plunged like a cannonball into the reefs and shattered into a billion wooden fragments, tiny splinters of dark wood against the boiling treacherous sea, and the rocks crushed and staved in the sides, and men's heads went to pulp as they hurtled forward and their vessel was cut out from under them, the colors the colors, the God beautiful colors! 
Annoying!  In a long preface to the story printed in the "Editor's Notebook" department of the magazine Ellison tells us that in this story he is trying to emulate the "saxophone technique of John Coltrane."  Well, OK then.

Maybe "Delusion of a Dragon-Slayer" is supposed to be funny--maybe it is a lampoon of people who read heroic fantasy stories.  But it is not funny, and the style is irritating, at times mind-numbing.  Gotta give it a thumbs down.

"Lambeth Blossom" by Brian W. Aldiss

A paperback edition of
Strange Bedfellows
For its appearance here in Knight"Lambeth Blossom" is illustrated with one of those NSFW paintings I mentioned before, this one a full two-page spread.  "Lambeth Blossom" later appeared in Thomas N. Scortia's 1972 anthology of SF stories about sex, Strange Bedfellows, and a Dutch anthology of Aldiss stories with a cool cover that will appeal to fish-lovers.

It is centuries, maybe millennia, in the future, and Great Britain has long been a province of the Chinese Universal Republic, a tyranny of commissars and secret police which is currently embroiled in a mass war against a united Africa.  Under a giant viewscreen in London showing anti-African propaganda (a pornographic film of an African soldier raping a Chinese girl) one of the agents of the Chinese overlords, Lob Inson, meets a blue-eyed prostitute named Lambeth Blossom who has just come to London from the countryside.  He takes her home to meet the extended family, including his wife, son, brother-in-law, and servant girl.  The males share Lambeth Blossom in an elaborate sex scene--Lob Inson's wife brings refreshing sherbet to her husband and Lambeth Blossom as they have sex, and when his son is aroused by watching his father coupling with the young woman, the servant girl takes him away to (I believe) provide him masturbatory relief.

Lob Inson and his brother-in-law talk about propaganda, including Lambeth Blossom in their conversation.  They admit the possibility that there is in fact no war on Africa at all, and that everything they know about the English countryside and the history of the Chinese conquest of Europe and America may be lies designed to hide or excuse the economic shortcomings of communist rule or a simply a sign of a collective Chinese mental illness.  Lambeth Blossom's account of life in the country is so different from what the men have read in the newspapers that they consider handing her over to the secret police; in response she commits suicide.

This is a well-written and entertaining story, even if it treads much of the same ground George Orwell covered in 1984.  It creates a new world and inspires some kind of emotional reaction in the reader--"Lambeth Blossom" is far more intriguing and readable than Ellison's "Delusion for a Dragon-Slayer!"  Thumbs up!

"Pride in the Profession" by Harlan Ellison

Adam magazine, "The Man's Home Companion!," where "Pride in the Profession" first appeared, was put out by the same people who put out Knight, and also includes a story by Steinbeck.  This magazine is less attractive however, lacking Knight's color photos and color paintings.  (Perhaps as a consolation we have an installment of a translation of the ancient Roman novel by Petronius, The Satyricon, which on the table of contents page appears under the heading "Book Bonus.")  Adam also seems to be very focused on Hollywood and the entertainment world--that's Raquel Welch, immortal star of One Million Years B.C. and Fantastic Voyage, on the cover, and many of the nude women in the black and white photos inside seem to have some connection to the stage or screen.  "Pride in the Profession" would be reprinted in the Ellison collection No Doors, No Windows, purportedly in a rewritten version.

Ever since he saw an innocent black man lynched as a child, Matthew Carty has wanted to be a hangman--and not any old hangman, but the world's best hangman, a hangman who has raised execution to the status of an art form!  And he achieves his dream, devoting himself to interdisciplinary studies at various universities (taking classes in such diverse fields as architecture, biology, physics, and criminology) and then acquiring practical experience working for various state governments until he is the acknowledged "Picasso of the scaffold."  But will Carty choke when the biggest possible opportunity to ply his trade comes along--for seven months the newspapers and the public have been consumed with the case of a doctor who euthanized his ailing girlfriend, and now that the doctor he has been convicted, Carty is hired to perform his execution!

This is an entertaining enough story, and touches upon hot button issues like racism and different forms of both extrajudicial and government-sanctioned killing.  Thumbs up!

"The End of the Time of Leinard" by Harlan Ellison

The issue of Adam that includes "The End of the Time of Leinard" also includes an ad for Robert Rimmer's The Harrad Experiment, which would go on to be a movie starring Tippi Hedron and Don Johnson.  Rimmer's career as a writer seems to have focused on exploring new forms of sexual and family relationships, themes we see in fiction by important SF writers like Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon and Samuel R. Delany all the time.  "The End of the Time of Leinard" first appeared in Famous Western magazine in 1958, and would later be included in Edgeworks 1 and Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral, a collection of recordings of Ellison reading his own stories.  Ellison must be proud of this story if, decades later, he chose it from among his vast catalog to read aloud!

Actually, this is a decent, economical story, a sort of character study that touches on timeless issues of public and private corruption and ingratitude.  When Bartisville was on the frontier it was a wild place, subject to all kinds of mischief and trouble, and so the town hired an expert gunslinger, Frank Leinard, to be sheriff.  Leinard brought peace and order to the town, and the citizens have prospered.  But, now that times have changed, Leinard's brand of heavy-handed justice is no longer so comfortable, so the local government asks Leinard to resign.  Leinard's whole life is wrapped up in being sheriff (he has no wife, no family), and so he refuses to leave, setting off what amounts to a civil war between him, the bravest man and best gunfighter in the town, and the rest of the establishment, who are neither very brave nor very good at fighting, but have the money to hire people who are.

"The End of the Time of Leinard" is smooth and entertaining, and Ellison maintains a level of ambiguity so that Leinard is a tragic figure without being wholly sympathetic, and readers can identify with his opponents about as well as they can identify with him.  Not bad.


Three enjoyable reads and one irritating failed experiment is not a bad ratio.  The internet archive continues to be a valuable resource!

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