Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, June 8, 2015

1974: Rollerball (Harrison, William)

Largely autobiographical fiction with one SF story (3/5)

Novels are widely regarded to be the most accessible pieces fiction and sell in greater number than collections. Some novels are easily adapted to film—'easy' meaning there is suitable enough material that can be translated from page to film. Given a few minutes, you could easily think of at least a dozen movies that have been adapted from novels; given an hour, you'd probably have more than thirty.

Now regard short fiction. How many movies can you conjure up that have been adapted into film? Yea, that's not as easy, but there are numerous examples even in science fiction:

  • The Fly (1958 & 1986) - George Langelaan's “The Fly” (1957)
  • Rollerball (1975 & 2012) – William Harrison's “Roller Ball Murder” (1973)
  • Maximum Overdrive (1986) - Stephen King's “Trucks” (1973)
  • Total Recall (1990 & 2012) - Philip K. Dick's “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (1966)
  • The Lawnmower Man (1992) - Stephen King's “The Lawnmower Man” (1975)
  • Johnny Mnemonic (1995) - William Gibson's “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981)
  • Bicentennial Man (1999) - Isaac Asimov's “The Bicentennial Man” (1979)
  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - Brian Aldiss's “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969)
  • Minority Report (2002) - Philip K. Dick's “The Minority Report” (1956)
  • Paycheck (2003) - Philip K. Dick's “Paycheck” (1953)

Granted, some of these films weren't worth the celluloid they were printed on (I'm looking at you Maximum Overdrive) but they hold a moderate interest in the science fiction community... in particular, William Harrison's short story “Roller Ball Murder”. This is notable because this was Harrison's only SF story. The rest in this collection, and other collection, is largely semi-autobiographical. If you've picked up this collection hoping for varying themes of science fiction, you've chosen the wrong book.

I understand the writer's perspective in writing what you know, but when the same specific themes crop up in a a few stories (pornographic magazines, an interest in nature books, Chicago, the supernatural, the decline of culture, etc.), it begins to feel too personal, not very relevant to the reader. These stories, aside from “Roller Ball Murder”, range from clever to cynical to crass.

The Warrior (1971, shortstory) – 3/5
After professional stints in Korea, Algiers and other exotic parts of call where the dogs of war are needed, one soldier decides to become a mercenary. Temporarily content with his life on the Spanish coast, he dreams of two scenarios: (1) returning to the war of predator and prey and (2) living with his family on the idyllic coast. However, his shattered soldier mentality creeps through his fantasies, resulting in a fantasy of blood, pain, and public chaos. 10 pages

The Hermit (1968, shortstory) – 3/5
In rural Montana, small things tend to cause big stirs. An elderly, isolated man named Ossinger arrives on the outskirts of town and keeps mostly to himself. A local grocer, Cone, provides him with weekly supplies, but their lack of contact inspires the Cone's imagination. Knowing the hermit is an ex-convict, Cone frames the man's personality and sends him further unrequested gifts: books, a dog, a fresh turkey. Dreamlike, the hermit reflects on his life and the bounty of gifts. 19 pages

Down the Blue Hole (1973, shortstory) – 2/5
Homer Bogardus has a big talent and big plans, yet lives in a small town that doesn't need his particular expertise. In Popular Bluffs, however, there's a brisk trade in showing tourists the supernatural. Homer is among the best, being able to conjure a restless dog, summon dead souls through his crystal ball, and his coup de grace—his disappearing act. All he really wants though is to get a girl to love, but even the fulfillment of that wish is lackluster. 12 pages

Eating It (1970, shortstory) – 4/5
Food is fuel, eating is a task—so is the victual life of a young man. Then one day, that same boy's great-aunt exposes him to more than the naughty picture books she enjoys even in her ripe old age—homemade madeleines, French pastries. She teaches him to savor the taste and the texture. With his sensual lesson, the boy looks toward the old wicker chair and a lampshade—as she says, “Everything is tasty.” 8 pages

The Pinball Machines (1967, shortstory) – 3/5
The Great Depression brought men in conflict with, primarily, themselves. Obligations to the family overrode any other duty, even to oneself. This obligation to house, feed, and look after one's own family and even extended family made many men desperate, bringing them in conflict with who they were. But one man, a barber of fine repute, opens his shop for grueling hours yet doesn't alter his working ethos, until a pinball machine enters his shop. Unfamiliar, he ponders its usefulness. 13 pages

Roller Ball Murder (1973, shortstory) – 4/5
The popularity of Roller Ball Murder spans the globe with everyone entertained by the blood, the carnage, he death. The degenerate post-millennial world savors the deaths on screen but the element is somewhat predictable. Jonathon E, a veteran and hero of the so-called game, has lived through years of rule changes, but the season's progressive ruling are steering the game toward slaughter because, after all, the consumers demand it—customers are never wrong. 19 pages

The Blurb King (1971, shortstory) – 4/5
Harry Neal's life has been carried by blurbs alone, blurbs that exaggerate the truth of tell half-truths. Through high school, university, and the start of his career, he realizes the sheer importance of projecting just the right blurb for just the right person. Then, he models his business turning that person into his client. Harry will blurb anyone, anything—aside from writers, who already have a monopoly on sharing blurbs. Even his own life can be blurbed in retrospect. 8 pages

A Cook's Tale (1966, novelette) – 4/5
A chef is just a chef in the eyes of other chefs—colleagues view each other in terms of their own profession for pride, for simplicity. Only two things can transcend this workplace barrier: (1) for the love of a woman or (2) for the love of an art. In one man's case, both apply to his sudden openness to a married woman whose husband is toiling away as a learned man at university. The head chef has a secret desire for classic literature, but succumbs to passion in the form of physical love. 26 pages

The Arsons of Desire (1972, shortstory) – 3/5
As much as he can, Coker bides his time as a Chicago firefighter. He lives at the station and tends to the cleanliness of the same station, yet he has visions of promotion, a dream of which is supported by his acts of heroism while rescuing those trapped in fires. Recently, however, it seems that every call the station gets, Coker is somehow romantically related to the fire's victims. He can't seem to shake the eeriness. 15 pages

The Good Ship Erasmus (1971, shortstory) – 4/5
As cruel as selling cigarettes to a recovering smoker... and that's exactly what one man is doing on a cruise in the Mediterranean. He's smuggled the smokes onto the quitters' cruise and works undercover to paw them off to the most vulnerable victims of withdrawal. Meanwhile, Perry Cheyenne, the passenger host, catches wind of some illicit ciggies, so the smuggler shifts tactics. Eventually, he's taken to see the captain... if he even exists. 15 pages

Under the House (1972, shortstory) – 2/5
Johnny Breck has two things going for him as a professional plumber: (1) he's the cheapest labor in the college town and (2) he enjoys laying his own pipe all over town, especially for the college girls and housewives. He once thought og each act as sort of a “forced entry” but now sees his coital acts as “armed robbery”; regardless, he knows who wants it, where they want it, and knows that he doesn't want to go under the house—no way, no how. 11 pages

Nirvana, Götterdammerung, and the Shot Put (1972, shortstory) – 3/5
Built like a redwood, solid like a rock, yet with a mind as fluid as the rapids between the river's stones, Toby Grogen practices Zen meditation as he tosses his shot put prior to an Olympic event. When left to himself and reflecting within himself, he's able to hurl a record-shattering distance; when observed, he falls short. Once in Germany, his stature and reputation earn him an unprecedented popularity. When faced with competition, Toby takes on a new internal and external route. 12 pages

Weatherman: A Theological Narrative (1973, shortstory) – 3/5

Perched upon his lofty abode of the tower belonging to one of nine Mid-America Storm Towers in the isolated Ozark Mountain, Mr. Pollux is indeed isolated from all people. So isolated, in fact, that he considers himself to be a meteorological god, capable of manifesting even the most exotic of weather events. He submits his observations to central command but ultimately revels in his detachment, power, and death-wish. 7 pages

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