The Charles L. Harness series continues.
I have by no means read all of his work but, between this and the novels in Rings, you get a good sense of his work.
This is the only collection of Harness fiction and includes the short novel The Rose.
Raw Feed (2002): An Ornament to His Profession, ed. Priscilla Olson, 1998.
“An Ornament”, Priscilla Olson — A brief but informative introduction to Charles Harness’ characteristic subjects and themes.
“Charles Harness: New Realities”, David G. Hartwell — A brief and useful overview of Charles Harness’ themes and writing career and the influence and significance of Harness’ novels Flight Into Yesterday
aka The Paradox Men
and The Rose
. Hartwell makes the interesting observation that, like Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick, Harness put his own spin on the type of stories written by A.E. van Vogt. I think that’s a valid observation and explains my like of all three authors.
— This is the second time I’ve read this short novel. I didn’t think much of it the first time. At that time, I was rather puzzled at Ruy Jacques quest for the rose, though he won’t acknowledge the quest to Anna van Tuyl. This time it was obvious that his quest was for his art to not only maintain immortality but equal power to his wife’s Martha’s Scionmnia Equation. It was also obvious that love has turned to possessive, bitter competition between the Jacques. I was even more forcibly reminded of the van Vogtian elements of using artistic concepts in a systemized way as weapons. I have no idea how true Harness’ examples are, drawn from music, art, and ballet, of art discovering scientific principles first. Nor do I have any idea if the Oriental five-four rhythms of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony require special training by Western musicians to play or if Delcrozian eurythmics are real. (Harness mentions Tchaikovsky in several stories.) After this reading, I can spot the influence of this novel on Michael Moorcock. (Moorcock wrote a very favorable introduction to the novel in another edition.) Specifically, you can spot Harness’ influence on Moorcock’s The Winds of Limbo
. Harness’ introductory notes were interesting. John W. Campbell rejected this story, evidently because of his lack of knowledge about music. Harness was, as you would expect, deeply influenced by the death of his older brother, age 26. The brother was an artist and the inspiration for the imperious artist Ruy Jacques. Harness also said that the story was built around a story beloved by his brother: Oscar Wilde’s “Nightingale and the Rose”. The story provided the theme and plot outline of the novel. In Wilde’s story the nightingale, provides the dye, with the blood from its fatal, self-inflicted injury, to turn a white rose red. The Student needs a red rose for admission to a dance.) At the end, Harness playing with the reader’s expectations by making us believe that it is Ruy who is really to die like the Nightingale and Anna is to be the Student. I appreciated the story’s blatantly allegorical qualities this time. It’s another Harness tale of transcendence.
“Time Trap” — This is Harness’ first published story and has many of the themes and elements of his later work. There are the two individuals, Poole and Jon Troy who turn out to be the same individual, existing contemporaneously due to time travel. There is the mutation, in Jon Troy, looked for by shadowy groups. Harness throws in a scientific explanation on how Troy’s power to prevent “devitalization” and general death from violence and poisoning. It involves manipulation of carbon dioxide and oxygen cycles in hemoglobin and was evidently good enough for the story to be published in John W. Campbell’s Astounding SF. Harness carefully doesn’t explain how physical injuries, like a rabbit being resurrected after its head is severed, are reversed in Troy’s “viton” field. Harness also doesn’t come up with a good explanation as to how come Poole/Troy doesn’t remember all the times he’s been through this “standing wave” of time until he goes back in time one last time. The systemization of even prison escapes bears the hallmark of 30s–50s sf where almost any human activity can by systematized and rationalized. Harness, in his introduction, explains that the legal chicanery of Poole claiming his younger self, Troy, is innocent of murder because, at various times and locations, the intent did not match the actual act is drawn from a real case he studied in law school. Specifically, an attempt to murder is unsuccessful. The wouldbe killer transports the body elsewhere, believing the victim to be dead, and then cuts the head off. The defense is that the initial act was only assault, unintended by the perpetrator, and the actual decapitation was intended to only be a mutilation of a corpse, not murder. Of course, legal elements were also to become part of Harness’, a patent attorney, fiction.
Continue reading “An Ornament to His Profession”