In the Fourth Year of the War by Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison. We’ve all met someone like Harlan Ellison at a party. If you don’t know what I mean look up some of his video interviews. This is a solid Ellison yarn originally published in Midnight Sun 5.

In the Fourth Year of the War is about a man who has been battling with some sort of intruder in his mind for the last four years. The story begins when it seems this intruder, Jerry Olander, has begun to gain the upper hand. The wonderful thing about this story is the ambiguity of who this intruder could be, an alien, a ghost, a psychic, or most horrifically himself.

What I found most interesting about this story was the weaponization of memories. The mental intruder often pulls up forgotten or blocked memories to weaken the resolve of the unnamed protagonist. The way in which Ellison describes them is as if they were “Zombie things from the quicklime pit…”. I love this concept of our memories. We try to forget, we try to ignore them and dispose of them in the quicklime of our minds, but, like the undead they keep coming back to haunt us.

Ellison ends the story with a quote:

Life is too short to occupy oneself
with the slaying of the slain more
than once.

                                                                              -Thomas Henry Huxley

Really intriguing quote and beautifully chosen. Thomas Henry Huxley being a huge supporter of the work of Darwin it made me think of survival, and adaptation. I asked the question is that the driving force behind the actions this Jerry Olander is taking? Is it the attempt to survive the past memories and move forward to a new state of being? Memories are things of the past, gone and having no form. Why do we keep battling them? Life, as Thomas Huxley says, is too short.


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