Friday, November 21, 2014

From the Land of Fear review

This week I decided to review From the Land of Fear, a collection of short stories by Harlan Ellison. The first story is "The One Word People" which is a very short examination of a man’s thoughts on the kinds of people whom he feels can be completely understood by naming them as a one-word term. The second is "Moth on a Moon," a story that is only slightly longer, about a pair of men who sight a creature, the result of an experiment with regenerating cells, on the moon, and their reaction to the encounter. Following this is "Snake in the Mind," a few short sections from stories that were, for reasons left unexplained, never finished. Next is "The Sky is Burning," a story about humanity’s first contact with an alien race that visits Earth every few thousand years, the explanation for why they come, and the reaction of some to the knowledge they bring.  After this is "My Brother Paulie," a tale of a man on what was supposed to be a solo mission to circumnavigate the moon, who discovers that his insane twin brother has stowed away on his ship and must now survive being hunted by the monster who has known him for all of his life. Following this is "The Time of the Eye," the story of a man who was sent to a psychiatric facility after returning from Korea and meets then falls in love with a blind woman named Piretta who is a fellow patient at the facility. Next is "Life Hutch," the story of a scout pilot named Terrance, a soldier in a war between humanity and the alien Kyben, whose ship has crash landed after a major battle. He must now wage a desperate battle for survival against a renegade service robot. After this is "Battle without Banners." It’s the tale of an attempted break out from a special prison for minority criminals and the desperate battle against the guards that ensues.  This is followed by "Back to the Drawing Boards." It’s the story of Leon Packett, the creator of the self-aware robot Walkaway. But when Walkaway returns after centuries in deep space he sets in motion his creator’s plan for revenge against the rest of humanity. After this is "A Friend to Man," which starts with a robot in the apparently dead city of Detroit. It then shifts to New York City where the robot’s master is part of a small force of civilians waging an all but hopeless battle against an unidentified enemy force which has invaded the city using a number of illegal robot soldiers as part of their front line forces before returning to Detroit for the final scene of the tale. Next comes "We Mourn For Anyone," the story of Gordon Vernon who murders his wife Lisa using a unique device that leaves no evidence. He then hires a professional mourner to mourn his wife’s death for him, apparently not an uncommon practice in the setting. But the mourner has his own secrets, and Gordon has enemies closing in on him. Following this is "The Voice in the Garden." It’s the tale of the first meeting of George, who is apparently the last living man on Earth after an apocalyptic war, and the apparent last living woman on Earth. . Next comes "Soldier." It’s a story about Qarlo, a soldier from the distant future accidently sent back in time. The struggles of modern society to deal with someone whose whole life has been dedicated to war, Qarlo’s struggles to adapt to the world he has found himself in and the effects of the knowledge of the future that Qarlo brings on the world. The final story is "SOLDIER." It is a variant of the tale of Qarlo but both the format of the story and some of the details are different. Also this time Qarlo did not return alone. Instead the enemy soldier Qarlo was fighting when he was warped to the present has been brought through time as well.
I give the collection a 7 out of 10. Harry Ellison was a good writer but many of these stories are so short that neither the characters nor the setting have enough time to develop properly. Also there are a few points which I felt could use more clarification. And while this did not impact the score anyone planning to read this should be aware that almost none of the stories have what I consider to be happy endings. 

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