Blood’s a Winner

Vic and Blood…together at last. Blood’s a Rover presents the complete adventures of the wild boy and his telepathic dog. Their tales–in the form of two stories, a dialogue, a novella, and a teleplay (not to mention the epigraphic “Wit and Wisdom of Blood” interspersed throughout)–are gathered here for the first time in a rewarding volume that reads like an episodic novel.

Back in 1969, Harlan Ellison published “A Boy and His Dog,” the proto-cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic classic that stands as arguably his most popular and revered work. The novella depicts a bombed-out America roamed by teenage scavengers, who exist as “solos” or gang up into “roverpacks.” Ragged individualist Vic falls into the former camp, but he does have his canine companion (more partner than pet, as the ongoing struggle for survival draws Blood together with Vic in a symbiotic, if not always simpatico, relationship). Just as the story itself is set both along and below the surface of the ravaged earth, “A Boy and His Dog,” works on multiple levels. On the most primitive, it splashes glorious amounts of graphic sex and violence across its pages. It offers some good-old, anti-heroic bad-assery (with Vic emerging as a literary sibling of Huck Finn and Alex the Droog alike). The story features both sophisticated wit and raucous banter; the climax adds a twist of dark-as-the-grave black humor. Ellison’s transgressive narrative is also a masterpiece of carnivalesque inversion, starting with the fact that Blood is more erudite and morally-advanced than his impulsive, animalistic human “master.” Similarly, the Middle-American idyll created by the subterranean dwellers proves an artificial construct, its stultifying civility hardly preferable to the chaos and constant danger Vic has faced above ground. Indeed, the spuriousness of the suburban splendor of the Topeka “downunder” is exposed when the folksy villagers are last seen having devolved into an angry mob.

While the prequel (“Eggsucker”) and sequel (“Run, Spot, Run”) stories to “A Boy and His Dog” lack the virtuosity of Ellison’s lauded novella, they serve as much more here than mere filler. These further escapades across a devastated landscape expand upon the complexities of the Vic-Blood relationship–the arguments, betrayals, desertions, and ultimately-enduring camaraderie. The pair of stories also form an interesting counterpoint to “A Boy and His Dog” in terms of technique, as here it is Blood–not Vic–who supplies the first-person (“first-canine”?) narration.

Nearly half of the page-space in Blood’s a Rover is taken up by the titular teleplay (which Ellison scripted for a prospective late-1970’s series that was never developed). This sudden jump into a different literary medium isn’t as jarring as it sounds, as Ellison’s teleplay practically reads like narrative fiction (albeit with dialogue in altered form). “Blood’s a Rover” extends seamlessly from the preceding pieces, and brings the Vic and Blood adventures to a satisfying conclusion. Certain plot points are finally delineated: we get to see the long-awaited showdown between Vic and Fellini, the grotesque, despotic gang-leader (think a humanoid Jabba the Hutt) that Vic has run afoul of throughout the series of stories. There is also some neat thematic symmetry, as a new (not necessarily love-) triangle forms: the introduction of tough girl Spike disrupts the relationship between Vic and Blood, recalling the wedging effect of sexpot Quilla June in “A Boy and His Dog”.

Reading this posthumous volume is a bittersweet experience: the book is enormously entertaining, yet also a sad reminder that the world lost a literary genius with Ellison’s recent passing. Regrettably, there will be no further adventures recounted (in his foreword, editor Jason Davis notes that Ellison was debilitated by a stroke back in 2014 after just beginning to draft a new Vic and Blood story). But thankfully, we do have this terrific release from Subterranean Press to relish. Blood’s a Rover is well worth settling down with, whether in these dog days of summer or any other time of year.

A.G. Exemplary? Considering the American Gothicism of Herman Melville’s “The Bell-Tower” and Alice Cary’s “The Wildermings”

The (long overdue) seventh installment of a recurring feature exploring just how “American Gothic” are works of literature collected in anthologies bearing that titular label. Continuing to work through the contents of editor Charles L. Crow’s American Gothic: An Anthology 1787-1916:

 

“The Bell-Tower” by Herman Melville

Melville’s 1856 story centers on “the great mechanician, the unblest foundling, Bannadonna,” who has been commission to construct the eponymous architectural marvel. Bannadonna is a quintessential eccentric genius whose operation via “secret design” tends to unsettle others (“his seclusion failed not to invest his work with more or less of that sort of mystery pertaining to the forbidden”). Before his work is completed, Bannadonna is found slain in the belfry, apparently bludgeoned to death by the automaton bell-ringer he designed (and which looms over his corpse in macabre tableau). Melville vacillates between mechanical and supernatural explanations for Bannadonna’s fate: was the oblivious builder simply blind-sided while busy putting finishing touches on the bell,  or did he receive vicious redress for his previous murder of a timid workman (whose blood mixed in with metal during the casting of the bell)? The fact that the bell crashes to the ground during Bannadonna’s funeral, and that the tower itself is subsequently leveled (on the first anniversary of its completion) by an earthquake, suggests that a higher power has disapproved of Bannadonna’s lofty ambition and merciless pursuit of glory. As Melville moralizes in the closing paragraph: “So the blind slave obeyed its blinder lord; but in obedience, slew him. So the creator was killed by the creature. So the bell was too heavy for its tower. So that bell’s main weakness was where man’s blood had flawed it. And so pride went before the fall.”

In his headnote to the entry, editor Charles Crow asserts: “With a strong belief in the reality of evil, a sense that reality is slippery and ambiguous, and an oppositional stance toward many conventional American values, the Gothic mode was natural, perhaps inevitable, for Melville.” Crow goes on to cite the author’s Captain Ahab character as a preeminent Gothic hero-villain, and Bannadonna (a Promethean over-reacher who also forms a Victor Frankenstein figure) certainly fits this mold. But with its overt Italian setting, “The Bell-Tower” is decidedly foreign to the United States; it does not allegorically align–along race or gender lines–with a native situation, either (cf. Crow’s comment that Melville’s Benito Cereno “is a profound Gothic meditation on race in the Americas”). As such, the tale does not make for a terribly representative piece of American Gothic fiction.

 

“The Wildermings” by Alice Cary

Cary’s 1852 sketch is set primarily in a “lonesome little graveyard” in the woods outside the rural community of Clovernook. The cemetery is a source of superstitious lore for the locals, who claim that it is haunted by the ghosts of “unresting spirits” such as Mary Wildermings, “a fair young girl who died, more sinned against than sinning, [and] had been heard to sing sad lullabies under the waning moon sometimes, and at other times had been seen sitting by her sunken grave , and braiding roses in her hair, as for a bridal.” When a mysterious trio–a handsome young man, a 14-year-old girl (his presumed sister) and an elderly woman (mother? servant?)–inhabit the abandoned cottage nearby the cemetery, the reader (helped by Cary’s story title) can infer that these people are somehow related to Mary. The strange girl, ever stoic and vigilant (“her melancholy are wide open all the time”), takes ill and expires, and is climactically established as the daughter of Mary: “her mother, they say, died in watching for one who never came, and the baby was watchful and sleepless from the first.”

The pitiable Mary Wildermings hardly makes for some malevolent revenant, and Cary’s is no doubt a genteel version of Gothic narrative. Nevertheless, in this darkly romantic tale of a jilted lover/ruined woman, the author (who twice cites Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”) creates a fine sense of graveyard ambiance. Charles Crow’s headnote states that Cary’s collections of sketches about the fictional Clovernook “anticipate later regional realists such as Freeman and Jewett,” but Clovernook might also be viewed as a forerunner of more famous American Gothic towns created by writers such as Faulkner, Bradbury, and King.

“The Last Generation,” At Last

Back in 2011, my story “The Last Generation” appeared in the Apex Book Company anthology The Zombie Feed–Volume 1. To this day, it remains one of my favorite pieces that I have written. In “The Last Generation,” I set out to turn the conventions of the zombie/post-apocalyptic-survivor tale inside out. The story is strongly indebted to Hemingway’s classic fictional chronicle of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises, and takes its impetus from popular zombie narratives such as Mort Castle’s “The Old Man and the Dead” and Douglas E. Winter’s “Less Than Zombie” (unlike those stories, though, it does not form a deliberate pastiche of another author’s style).

For months, I have been meaning to format the story so I could add it as a FREE READ on the Publications page of this website. Since fireworks fill the sky in the climax (in hommage to Romero), I figured the 4th of July would be an appropriate day to finally get “The Last Generation” posted. Hope you enjoy, and wishing a happy holiday to all the twisted citizens of the Macabre Republic.