Sunday, September 26, 2010

“In Lonely Lands” – 1971 short story by Harlan Ellison

With ailing science fiction author and longtime “creative rabble-rouser” Harlan Ellison making his final conference appearance at MadCon 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend, now is a good time to track down and read his short story “In Lonely Lands”, a melancholic piece about an old blind man awaiting the arrival of death with his Martian friend. First published in Fantastic Universe in January 1959, “In Lonely Lands” was originally set on "some far-flung cosmic lump" but was later revised and re-stationed on the Red Planet for inclusion in the under-appreciated anthology Mars We Love You: Tales of Mars, Men, and Martians (1971), edited by Jane Hipolito and Willis E. McNelly. Here are the opening lines of the recast story, which include the first stanza of Alfred Tennyson’s well-known 1851 poem, “The Eagle (a fragment)":
He clasps the crag with hooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Pederson knew night was falling over Syrtis Major; blind, still he knew the Martian night had arrived; the harp crickets had come out. The halo of sun’s warmth that had kept him golden through the long day had dissipated, and he could feel the chill of the darkness now. Despite his blindness, there was appreciable changing in the shadows that lived where once, long ago, there had been sight.

“Pretrie,” he called into the hush, and the answering echoes from the moon valleys answered and answered, Pretrie, Pretrie, Pretrie, down and down, almost to the foot of the small mountain…
Interestingly, here is the second and last stanza of Tennyson’s poem:

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Harlan Ellison lives in a “Xanadu-like Hollywood hideout (aptly nicknamed the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars).”

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