1959 - The Discarded

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Ben
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1959 - The Discarded

Postby Ben » Mon Mar 27, 2006 10:35 pm

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"The Discarded" is a story from PAINGOD AND OTHER DELUSIONS. As Tony Rabig pointed out: www.ereader.com has PAINGOD as an ebook, and www.fictionwise.com has the story by itself. There is a graphic adaptation in DREAM CORRIDOR VOL. 2. It also formed the basis of an acclaimed episode of MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION (2007, available on DVD) written by Ellison and Josh Olson. Buy the t-shirt: http://www.amorphia-apparel.com/designs/samswope.html - Mod.

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Since Harlan was adapting THE DISCARDED for the upcoming MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION installment, I finally made the effort to check out the original story myself.

After finishing the last page, I came to the conclusion that THE DISCARDED is a far better tale for Harlan to re-format than REPENT! HARLEQUIN, mainly because THE DISCARDED seems to touch on more potent issues of the early 21st century. Namely, the importance and value of physical appearance ABOVE ALL ELSE. Spirituality, intelligence, and inner worth have become useless commodities. Being ugly isn't the only factor working against you anymore. Nowadays being even REMOTELY 'normal-looking' can influence your job, your life and your relationships. And it's your fault simply because you were BORN.

The one aspect of the recent WAR OF THE WORLDS adaptation that irked me was the casting of Tom Cruise in the role of an everyman. There's something faintly offensive about Mr. Entertainment Weekly trying to pass himself off as Mr. Joe Average. It's like one of the Gods of Olympus suffering the indignity of becoming a mere mortal. Unless an ordinary man looks like Tom Cruise, the movie seems to be saying, he isn't an "ordinary man" at all. This unpleasant trend can be spotted in a growing number of movies, and not all of them mainstream either.

Strangely enough, THE DISCARDED reminded me of one film in particular (at least on a visual level); NIGHTBREED. I'm a little hesitant about bringing this up as Clive Barker isn't all that popular in these parts, but if the movie failed in the narrative and character departments, it most certainly succeeded in creating some of the most imaginative monster designs of the past few years. I found the Midian of Barker's film the distant cousin of Harlan's Discard ship; a hi-tech version of a leper colony; a terrible, vast prison containing the most outlandish of creatures; some nightmarish, others strangely beautiful. Although some of the special effects have dated pretty badly (lots and LOTS of rubber), what ultimately made NIGHTBREED fail, I think, was its lack of any emotional punch. This is where Harlan's DISCARDED adaptation is liable to be superior.

Bedzyk, of course, is our eyes and ears into the world of the Discards. Whoever winds up playing him in the MASTERS episode should be able to tap into Bedzyk's down-to-earth mentality. He's hopeful, yet cynical; reasonable, yet quick to anger. There should be an aura of strength about him (and I'm not talking physical strength) which would make the viewer believe why the Discards would indirectly dump him in the role of leader, but there should also be a vulnerability about Bedzyk that proves to be his undoing (I'm referring to the brutal scene where he's betrayed by Samswope and the other Discards.) What I love about the story is its beautiful sense of balance. The Earthmen are loathsome and unforgivable in their actions, but the Discards aren't exactly innocents either. There's no real sense of unity or kinship among the Discards, and that's probably the saddest thing about them. Even Samswope's betrayal can be understood. Trapped in a godforsaken prison ship for so many years, surrounded by people he only sees as a long series of mirrors, who wouldn't jump at the first opportunity to get out, as naive as your hopes might be?

What I like most about Harlan's original tale was his decision to keep Earth entirely "off-screen", as it were. Unlike most real-life 'freaks', the Discards began as normally-shaped human beings. The Sickness proceeded to rip away their bodies, their families, and ultimately their homes. (Possibly one reason why there's no sincere camaraderie among the Discards; they hate each other as much as they hate themselves.) Earth becomes a broken dream to these people, and I hope that concept is carried over to the MASTERS installment.

All in all, I'm excited to see this story adapted. There are many moments that could be incredibly powerful, if done right. My greatest fear is a story that feels like any random episode of the new OUTER LIMITS show, but with Harlan working behind the scenes, the chances are pretty slim.

People really should stop moping about the loss of a HARLEQUIN adaptation. This is a cool story.

rich

Postby rich » Fri May 12, 2006 1:38 pm

I disagree, Ben, that The Discarded touches on more potent issues of the early 21st century, than say, Repent. But a couple of thoughts regarding the story and the subsequent and ongoing teleplay or screenplay.

The story itself is not particularly noteworthy. There's some great imagery as Ellison let's his imagination run wild with the mutants and the manifestations of the Sickness, but the story, the plot, is fairly pedestrian. It reads like something that might've been written for The Twilight Zone.

Which brings me to the adaptation that's currently in the works. This is a story that fits most into the mold of The Twilight Zone and shows of that nature. It's a morality play, done with not much subtlety, and an ending that absolutely is one of the hallmarks of the heavy-handed Twilight Zone episodes we all know and love.

So it seems to me that the story seems to be something producers could grasp their heads around, and ensure that money could flow into the project since the premise is something that most everyone is familiar. Which also leads me to believe that this is some type of anthology series, not destined for the big screen.

And if that's the case, they're going to have to do better than The Discarded.

Needless to say, if Olson and Ellison are working on the script, I would assume that there will be some changes to make the story less pedestrian. I found it wasn't so much a treatise on "beauty", but the subtext was on the plight of the Jewish folk, most notably before, during, and after WW2. That's just my interpretation.

I think given that interpretation, as opposed to a simple beautiful/ugly tale, there might be more weight to it. I'd love to see Olson and Ellison incorporate religion, or the prejudices against certain religions/ethnicities into the piece without it being overly simplistic or overt references to such topics.

(And for the record, I think Tom Cruise did a fine job in WAR OF THE WORLDS playing a not-so-good Dad. I think he's a fine underrated actor, and one of these days I'm going to type out the essay saying he's this generation's Paul Newman. How's that for balls?)

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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 09, 2006 12:22 pm

I finally got around to rereading this old sucker. The story was published in 1959. I remembered it very vaguely from a few years back and was not impressed enough at the time to remember the ending.

This one's pure Twilight Zone - I can see how it lends itself to be adapted into a half-hour program. Hell, the introductory notes (in the Pyramid edition) you almost hear with Serling's voice. There's the weird situation, followed by a turning point and a surprise twist at the end.

I can see there would be some considerable costuming and CGI/makeup challenges, which got me thinking. Wouldn't an adaption benefit from toning down the freakiness of the Discards? As a story it strikes me as a bit old-fashioned that way, it's very on-the-nose. If this is indeed a "future", I would go with discarded people who hardly look bad at all judging by today's standards.

This would also free (or have freed) Harlan and Josh (who have written the adaption) from finding an explanation that matches our times better than the 50ish "the bombs did it" rationale. People are looking better and better today, owing to many factors. For example, television and billboards help form a society in which those whom we consider "ugly" would have been normal looking a century ago.

I wonder if this is something Josh and Harlan have thought of or perhaps, um, discarded. Ellison showed a lot of originality, though, in the presentation of these diverse looking men and breathed life into the Discards.

I noticed the scarcity of female parts in the story, as was not unusual for Ellison at the time. The problem is that I think if you look at our society, people do apply higher standards to women's looks. Men can be "characters", while women are often in a position where they have to find ways to look better than the rest. Again, television programs provide good examples of that. If I were to write a story strictly about the advantages of looking good, I would deal with the male/female differential as well or even focus on it.

I usually try to say something about what a story tells us about Ellison. This time we find the experience of outsider-dom that Harlan experienced and later cultivated, which would prove important again in REPENT, among others. Also, the way the human race is portrayed seems rather typical for Ellison's work at the time (correct me if I'm wrong) - humans here know little justice and almost no equality. They lack integrity, which Harlan, who prides himself on possessing it, points out in various stories.

I wonder what Harlan thinks of the pathological "lemming drive to conceal our age" these days. Again, men (which includes me) benefit from being the most attractive to women as well as socially most attractive somehwere towards middle age, so it's generally easier for us to say how silly this all is. Women live longer and are considered past their prime most of their life. Harlan's foreword is wonderful, though, especially this bit: "What ever happened to growing old gracefully, the reverence of maturity, the search for character as differentiated from superficial comeliness." (Does anyone have another foreword?)

According to the copyright page the original title of this was "The Abnormals". I'll assume an editor came up with that since the word is never used in the story. (On the other hand, neither is "discarded", is it?)

Haven't looked at the previous postings here yet but will do so soon.

Jan
Last edited by Jan on Fri Jun 09, 2006 4:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 09, 2006 12:34 pm

[This is Josh Olson's post from the Pavilion which was in response to Ben's statements about the story which Ben later put here (modified or not). - Mod.]

Josh Olson
- Tuesday, March 14 2006 15:15:37


The Discarded
Sorry for being late to the game... Josh Olson here. I'm working with Harlan on the adaptation of The Discarded. You can probably imagine how thrilled I am to be working with the cat who made me want to be a writer when I was 14. (It was Ellison Wonderland that did it, in case you're wondering).

Ben Winfield had some interesting comments about The Discarded, and the ABC version I’m writing with/for/under Harlan.... You definitely get the story, Ben, and I think you’ll be pleased. At the risk of enraging our glorious host by giving anything away, I have some interesting plans for Harmony Teat, and at least one other female character. (My girlfriend read the story and loved it, but commented - as the womenfolk are inclined to do about such things - that there were no female characters. Harlan points out that it was the late fifties and he was in the army, and there WERE no damn females PERIOD. So there, Annie.)

On top of that, I had some small success injecting sex scenes into my last adaptation, so I thought I’d give it a go again, and unless you want to see Brokeback Discarded with Bedzyk and Samswope, we’re gonna have to add some women.

I’m also with you about keeping Earth off-screen, although I have one tiny blip of a scene in my first draft that might drive Harlan up a tree when he reads it. But if it doesn’t and it survives, you might get a teeny glimpse of Earth. When I say teeny, I mean about three square feet.

I’m with you yet again about War Of The Worlds. Imagine how much better it would have been with, say, Paul Giamatti in the lead? Every time Cruise hit the screen, I felt like I was watching some male model show off the nifty working man’s clothes he’d just bought at Saks. Yack!

And y’know, I think by posting that publicly, I’ve now blown any chance that Tom would play Curran. Damn. We were so close to signing him....

Sorry, Harlan.
Last edited by Jan on Fri Jun 09, 2006 12:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 09, 2006 12:47 pm

[Took me a while to find it, but this was Harlan's response to rich, the first bit referring to one of rich's Pavilion postings. Harlan had originally wanted to post something here but couldn't log on. - Mod.]

HARLAN ELLISON
- Saturday, May 13 2006 16:30:32



RICH:

I hardly think you're "full of shit" for your opinion on the short story Josh and I are adapting for MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION, the forthcoming series on ABC. No such inference should be drawn from my "politeness" post.

1) I stay out of the S.P.I.D.E.R. threads almost entirely, mostly so you who post there will speak candidly, freely, fully, and without fear that you'll "hurt my feelings" or, worse, for fear your opinions will "incur my wrath." I very sincerely curry intelligent criticism and insights, whether I agree with them or not, as I've tried to hammer into your heads again and again, though I think the full measure of that concept has only permeated the colloid mass of a few of you.

2) That doesn't mean I either agree or disagree with your conclusions, Rich. It means I slowly read what you say, I sit and think on it for a while, then I do an autopsy on it and salvage the viable body parts for the Frankensteinian golem that is my working ethos.

3) MY feeling about "The Discarded" (story, as opposed to teleplay) is that you are closer to on-the-button than awry, but that while your interpretations are sound, where they led you seems to me perfunctory. (I suppose I'm wondering at what point in our long hegira to tomorrow it became a dismissive to compare a story's aspect with "The Twilight Zone," which up till now has--for the most part, speaking of its best episodes, not its weakest or most saccharine--been considered a GOOD thing.)

4) And I should be posting this at the S.P.I.D.E.R. thread, Jan and Rick, but as I've bleated previously, no tickling of the Mosler's tumblers will open that vault for me. Pitiful beastie that I seem to be. Anyhow...

I made some incredibly amateurish errors in the story as originally written, and I seek no get-outta-jail-free card just because it was written and published within a year or two or three of my first sales, back in the '50s. I wrote it, I'm responsible for it; but your concerns that it is too slight a work for MASTERS as opposed to something like "Repent, Harlequin!" is, I suggest, jejeune and misplaced: thus the "politeness" response.

5) In the short story, for instance, I make as egregious a tyro's mistake as did director Pete Hyams in OUTLAND. Both of us are clearly technologically semi-literate. We both fired a gun with a bullet, a missile, inside a spaceship. Yoicks! What a dunderhead! I am aware of my shortcomings in that area, and have worked diligently for the last almost-fifty years to get educated. I still don't give Greg Benford or David Brin or Bruce Sterling or Ben Bova even a close second at this race--I'm somewhere back in the pack of squirrels trying not to let the peanuts eat US--but I do work at it; and in the teleplay, you'll see none of those hideous gaffes. You may see OTHERS, but not those in the published story.

6) "Repent, Harlequin!" is a story I'd long ago decided I was never going to allow to be made into a film/tv show/theme park ride/DVD/hologram/puppet-show/Broadway musical. I've turned down L A R G E amounts of green for the rights. For some dumb reason I conned myself into thinking I could do it for Keith Addis and MASTERS, but the longer I worked at translating it, the more determined I became that it was a spurious undertaking. No matter HOW cleverly I framed it. This is a story to be read, not "performed." Same for "Jeffty is Five."

7) When I tried to beg out of the project, Keith Addis was gentleman enough, and smart enough, and kind enough, to suggest I pick another story. And work on it with a writer of my choosing, whose work I would "oversee." I selected four stories I thought would transmogrify well, and one of them was "The Discarded," a story I've always liked, ever since 1957. Well, it turned out even better than any of us had anticipated, and as you can imagine, I don't have to "oversee" Josh. He's good, really good, and this is the first and only time I've ever worked with a partner ... and it is a marriage made, if not in Heaven, well at least in Arkham Asylum. We've become good friends, we work smoothly together, and we produce a "third voice" that captures the best of both of us.

8) But the place where I think you get shunted onto a foggy, abandoned spur of this choo-choo, Rich, is in assuming one-for-one that the published story (with all its flaws) is what we're doing for the visual incarnation. Hardly. It bears the same comparison of presentation to the published version as Catherine Zeta-Jones does to Gravel Gertie. "The Discarded" can be made within the ABC budget, and look elegant, look just great! "Harlequin!" would've broken the bank at Monte Carlo.

One does what one CAN do, without abandoning one's standards of excellence, rather than busting one's hump on a game that ain't worth the candle. (You can look up that reference in my archive of posts here, if it doesn't rattle for you.)

9) Working with Josh, working on this script, revising and updating and rethinking THIS story, have been a joy. There is damned little joy to be had in TV-land, so I did "politeness" rather than getting into it with you. But I gotta say (and I wish I could remember who it was) that the post preceding yours bulked more accurately, in my view ... the praiseful part of it aside.

Yr. pal, Harlan

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Postby Ben » Mon Jun 12, 2006 12:47 am

rich wrote:And if that's the case, they're going to have to do better than The Discarded.

For the life of me, I don't understand the general nose-raising that was displayed by the majority of the Webderland following Harlan's decision to switch from REPENT! to this story. "Oh, he's doing The Discarded, is he?" Many declared with haughty disdain. "Isn't that the odious tale where a pin-headed woman bashed her brains against a wall during the first page? My oh my, won't that make an absolutely enthralling piece of television!"

rich

Postby rich » Mon Jun 12, 2006 12:03 pm

I don't think I did any nose-raising in regards to either one of the stories. I don't even know that Repent would've made for enthralling television. I just responded to the supposition you posted regarding whether The Discarded is better than Repent as far as 21st century themes go.

The Discarded is an okay story. I didn't hate it, but didn't particularly think it set the world on fire, either. I just implied that the story was better suited for a certain producer mentality.

Either way, we won't know anything about what the actual product will look like until we see it. It may be as pedestrian as the story itself, or the story may be the bare bones of a better teleplay. We'll just have to wait and see.

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Postby Jan » Fri Oct 05, 2007 5:27 am

On the 29th of August, 2007, THE DISCARDED finally aired as as the last of four episodes of MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION. (Six were produced.) Teleplay was by Ellison and Josh Olson, direction by Jonathan Frakes.

The teleplay featured altered dialogue, a few added scenes, a poignant epilogue, and creative solutions to budgetary issues. A lot of the decor, in particular chairs and lamps, were from the early twentieth century. We all know Harlan likes Art Deco, but there was no unified look. Humanity gave the Discards random old stuff to live in. (Robert Justman would have approved.) Since there is no commander on the ship, unavoidable tasks are performed by volunteer groups. Therefore, the whole interior is in a state of neglect, which is underlined by the way the greenery has spread. On the whole, the show (shot in 16:9 HD) looks amazing. The art people were assembled for this episode alone.

Frakes keeps the camera moving slowly, in accordance with the slow pace of the show, which illustrates how time has ceased to be of any importance on the ship. The camera movement helps establish the place in a three dimensional way. It is well-known that Frakes is an actors' director, and his unobtrusive visual sense was apparent even back when he started directing episodes of THE NEXT GENERATION. He's definitely a superior storyteller, and you can always tell when actors have fun.

Brian Dennehy ... Bedzyk
John Hurt ... Samswope
James Denton ... Curran

All of these had their moments and were impressive. Dennehy was at his best, I think, when he argued with Samswope about how to proceed. Hurt received the majority of the best dialogue, as Samswope has a way with words. Everything Hurt did was spot on. Although I always enjoy him, this is among his best work, I feel. I sat there wondering how it's possible he did this little thing for "the tele". He sure didn't have to, but he was definitely totally into it. Harlan says there are "I am Samswope" t-shirts out and that we have to buy them. (e.g. http://www.amorphia-apparel.com/designs/samswope.html)

James Denton as Curran was also well-chosen and held his own. Apart from these, I loved Lori Ann Triolo as Harmony Teet - wonderful actress, great make-up. The episode also featured a noteworthy cameo by Harlan as himself.

The loungy, jazzy nightclub-inspired music was done by series composer John Frizzell. It is in accordance with the production design and the laid back, lazy attitude on board, where the days are like the nights.

The show worked on every level, and I think it brought something back that's missing in a lot of SF television - an ear for dialogue, eloquence, and a sense of scenes and developments needing their time. It's unspectacular, but it's probably the closest that SF television can come to poetry. It's not a soft drink, it's a vintage wine from 1959, it's something that enters you, affects you and leaves you with an aftertaste. While I didn't believe the world of the Discards on the page (and certainly not in DREAM CORRIDOR), it somehow became alive on the screen in a way that, I believe, none of us expected.

The theme of THE DISCARDED has obviously become even more relevant. On the one hand, it deals with the advantages of physical attractiveness, and, related to that, with aging. It's a protest against the superficiality of modern man and part of Harlan's general discomfort with tv-implemented modern values or the lack thereof. It also deals with the human inability (so far) to consider themselves a whole due to differences of, say, religious, geographical or racial nature. We're all a part of sub-groups. Do we care enough about what happens to humans outside our own group?

rich

Postby rich » Sun Oct 14, 2007 8:18 pm

Jan wrote:The show worked on every level, and I think it brought something back that's missing in a lot of SF television - an ear for dialogue, eloquence, and a sense of scenes and developments needing their time.


Though I don't agree that the show worked on every level, I think Jan has a valid point regarding the rest of his sentence. And maybe even the whole series as a whole, now that I think about it. I didn't much like any of the Masters of Science Fiction, but it did show a pacing style and an obvious desire to be different than what one would normally consider science fiction television.

However, with shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, and others considered science fiction Masters wasn't in their league. Maybe, given some time and better material, it may have been called up to the major leagues, but we'll never know.

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Postby Jan » Mon Oct 15, 2007 9:54 am

I think comparing this episode or the series as a whole to a series with continuing characters and storylines is a bit unfair because you just can't get involved as much. I would say the episode itself was definitely in the same league as, say, Galactica, and in a higher league than, say, Stargate, but it's the only episode I saw.

I'm curious as to what flaws you detected. The only thing I can come up with have to do with personal taste. I feel that the music could have been more dramatic - that would have helped at certain points. Most of the time mood was emphasized over drama on every level. In particular, the entrance of the new plague victims at the end could have been even more dramatic. (The otherwise inferior comic adaptation comes to mind.) I would have made Curran the antagonist, didn't really want to see him sorry. Having the real antagonists (healthy humans) off screen didn't work as well. But I respect the intentions (like I said, it was more of a sad space poem) and enjoyed it for what it was.

rich

Postby rich » Mon Oct 15, 2007 12:44 pm

Jan, if you really want to know what I thought about The Discarded see the posts from the "Masters of Science Fiction" thread. Anything else I say just opens that can of worms again, and I'm already dealing with the can I just opened yesterday.

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Postby Jan » Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:29 pm

Fair enough.

I hadn't followed the thread due to my absence, all I had seen out of the corner of my eye was people going nuts about the show in the Pavilion.

All I can say is that, having seen the show, I wish someone would produce a whole handful of Ellison adaptations. As we all know, no single story is representative of what Harlan does, and some of you have expected a bit too much from DISCARDED. Those fourty minutes can't fix everythig that is wrong with television. It's a very traditional story with a specific message that required being told in a sort of traditional, old-fashioned way. Criticisms regarding artificial gravity or sounds in space are really beside the point. You cannot take a 50s story and turn it into 2007 - you respect what you tried to do back in the day and don't try to bring it up to speed à la War of the Worlds.

Anyway, this does go down as the best produced Harlan tv adaptation. I think our problem is that we all like to be surprised, and a faithful, old-school adapation of 50s material just didn't quite do it for any of us, as much as most of us enjoyed what we saw. Perhaps the element of passion isn't quite there when you adapt your own material instead of creating something from scratch. Adapting this one was a relatively safe thing to do, and we're not an audience that is crazy about "safe".

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Postby alexanderthesoso » Mon Mar 17, 2008 10:58 pm

It did air? I missed it. And I was pissed I did. I heard about the Discarded, and jumped for joy. Perhaps its nostalgia, the Discarded was the first Ellison story I read, the one that put his name in my mind. It remains one of my favorite.

I also agree with Harlan's comments that Repent was made to be read.

There is a section, wherein the author describes the process of killing a man who has been late. He describes the death from wiping the cardio plate. My 12 year old self, reading this, was appalled. And the story continued, But don't you dare laugh, its not the least bit funny. And as I'm saying to myself, no, its not the least bit funny, I burst out laughing, and couldn't quite understand why. I still don't. The death is horrible. The line following, the height of comedy. Even with a narrator, you just can't get that to translate in a performance.

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Postby shagin » Mon Apr 07, 2008 9:22 pm

"The Discarded" as written is a basic story, albeit one-hundred fold better than I could write in more ways than I care to admit, but given the era in which it was written and the market at the time, it suited the page quite nicely. Yes, you knew how the story was going to end, but "Discarded" is more about the journey than the destination.

As for the televised version, it was enough to send hubby rummaging through my Ellison books looking for the story so he could read it, and was the inspiration for his later enthusiasm when I finished reading "The Essential Ellison" during the Christmas holidays, passing it on to him. If nothing else, the TV "Discarded" entertained and enlightened enough to win both Josh and Harlan kudos in my husband's eyes.

shagin

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Postby Jan » Sat May 03, 2008 3:49 pm

Harlan notes in The Illustrated Harlan Ellison that the story was based on Bosch paintings which were pasted inside his locker at Fort Benning.

Three triptychs in particular formed the basic concept for this story: The Garden of Earthly Delight, Temptation of Saint Anthony and The Last Judgement.


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The Last Judgment (not actual size)


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