Friday, November 9, 2012


Harlan Ellison's achievements are at least three-fold: he has written excellent work in prose and in scripting comics and a/v work; he has been an inventive and energetic editor, for publishers and of anthologies (and, early on, in fanzines); and he has demonstrated new means and approaches for writers to promote themselves, in an environment in which publishers (and others) certainly have consistently been less than intent on promoting writers who don't seem to be the flavor of the moment...and if he's come off not as grandly as he might in this last on occasion, one might simply point to the public self-promotion of the likes of Norman Mailer to see that there are great depths which Ellison at his most thoughtlessly prankish has not come close to plumbing.  Meanwhile, here are some quick takes on five books, two of which have been out of print for some years, and the other three spottily in and out of print, now available as ebooks and all available in either their original or omnibus forms (from the Edgeworks series).  

The Book of Ellison, edited by Andrew Porter (Algol Press, 1978)

  • Introduction (by Isaac Asimov)
  • The Book About Ellison
    • Essence of Ellison (by Lee Hoffman)
    • Harlan Ellison (by Ted White)
    • The Jet-Propelled Birdbath (by Robert Silverberg)
    • 7,000 More Words About Harlan Ellison (by David Gerrold)
    • Harlan Ellison and the Formula Story (by Joseph Patrouch Jr.)
  • The Book By Ellison
    • Ellison on Ellison
    • School for Apprentice Sorcerors
    • Getting Stiffed
    • A Time for Daring
    • A Voice From the Styx
    • The Whore with a Heart of Iron Pyrites; or, Where Does a Writer Go to Find a Maggie?
    • Voe Doe Dee Oh Doe
    • Hardcover
    • A Walk Around the Block
  • Harlan Ellison: A Nonfiction Checklist (by Leslie Kay Swigart)
The first collection of nonfiction by and about Ellison aside from the two volumes gathering his regular column, The Glass Teat, television criticism for the LA Free Press and elsewhere. The appreciations at the front of the book are of varying quality, with Gerrold's being the least, and Silverberg's perhaps the best (certainly the most dramatic in incident). "Ellison on Ellison" might be his first quick survey of his own life at length, up through the mid-'70s; other essays address his standing in the sf/fantasy community, accounts of his work at the Clarion writers' workshops and similar bits of instruction, and a returned favor of an appreciation of Robert Silverberg. This item was already hard to find in the pre-WWWeb days of the earliest 1980s when, as a high-school student, I was able to locate a copy at the University of Hawaii's more comprehensive Hamilton Library; Ellison and editor/publisher Andrew Porter (neither the most temperate of personalities when irked) had some sort of falling out over the book and little of its content has been reprinted since, particularly a pity given some of the rarity of some of its initial publication sources (fanzines such as Inside and Abstract, special publications for conventions, etc.).

Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed: Essays by Harlan Ellison, edited by (Ms.) Marty Clark (Borgo Press, 1984)

Editor's Introduction (by Marty Clark)
  • You Don't Me, I Don't Know You
  • Stealing Tomorrow
  • Down the Rabbit-Hole to TV-Land
  • Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don't Look So Terrific Yourself
  • Epiphany
  • Rolling Dat Ole Debbil Electronic Stone
  • A Love Song to Jerry Falwell
  • Science Fiction: Turning Reality Inside-Out
  • Defeating the Green Slime
  • How You Stupidly Blew $15 Million a Week, Avoided Having an Adenoid-Shaped Swimming Pool in Your Back Yard, Missed the Opportunity to Have a Mutually Destructive Love Affair with Clint Eastwood and/or Raquel Welch, and Otherwise Pissed Me Off
  • Fear Not Your Enemies
  • Face-Down in Gloria Swanson's Swimming Pool
  • From Alabamy, with Hate
  • Leiber: A Few Too Few Words
  • Serita Rosenthal Ellison: A Eulogy
  • Centerpunching
  • Voe Doe Dee Oh Doe
  • Robert Silverberg: An Appreciation
  • Cheap Thrills on the Road to Hell
  • True Love: Groping for the Holy Grail
  • Notes
  • Index
A rather more comprehensive collection of the work in nonfiction Ellison was proudest of, as also selected by Marty Clark, who essentially served as his administrative assistant through the '70s; "Voe Doe Dee Oh Doe" reappears from The Book along with a more conventionally-titled take on Silverberg, and some of the same matter addressed in the earlier collection is dealt with in newer essays here, such as his fraught relation with his more importunate fans and other literary sorts ("You Don't Know Me...").  The Eulogy for his mother is followed by a profile of Steve McQueen; and "How You Stupidly Blew..." was his formal announcement of withdrawal from the fantasy/sf community (as with most such announcements of withdrawal and/or retirement, as from Ellison's friends Silverberg and Barry Malzberg or Donald Westlake or even Kurt Vonnegut, it didn't take). I'm finally replacing my copy of this one, having essentially traded it for a copy of the hardcover of Shatterday (one of Ellison's retrospective collections) with my aunt Beverly, a certified Ellison fan who was visiting and had never heard or nor seen the Borgo Press item, but happened to have the fiction collection with her for re-reading. I was happy to be able to pick up for her a signed copy of the first collection from Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, the comics title, a few years later; Ellison wasn't quite sure what to make of my Spitboy t-shirt, and gently mocked my first published short story, in the same issue of Algis Budrys's Tomorrow Speculative Fiction magazine as Ellison's "Attack at Dawn." 

Stalking the Nightmare Harlan Ellison (Phantasia 0-932096-16-6, 1982, hc)
  • 1 · Foreword · Stephen King · fw
  • 15 · Introduction: Quiet Lies the Locust Tells · in
  • 25 · Grail · nv Twilight Zone Apr ’81
  • 55 · The Outpost Undiscovered By Tourists · ss F&SF Jan ’82
  • 63 · Blank... · ss Infinity Science Fiction Jun ’57
  • 75 · The 3 Most Important Things in Life · ar Oui Nov ’78
  • 95 · Visionary · Harlan Ellison & Joe L. Hensley · ss Amazing May ’59
  • 111 · Djinn, No Chaser · nv Twilight Zone Apr ’82
  • 135 · Invasion Footnote [as by Cordwainer Bird] · ss Super Science Fiction Aug ’57
  • 145 · Saturn, November 11th [installment 6 of An Edge in My Voice] · ar Future Life Mar ’81
  • 159 · Night of Black Glass · ss Beyond #1 ’81
  • 171 · Final Trophy · ss Super Science Fiction Jun ’57
  • 187 · !!!The!!Teddy!Crazy!!Show!!! · ss Adam Oct ’68
  • 199 · The Cheese Stands Alone · ss Amazing Mar ’82
  • 217 · Somehow, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas, Toto · ar Genesis Jun ’74; revised
  • 237 · Transcending Destiny [revised from “School for Assassins”, as Ellis Hart] · nv Amazing Jan ’58 
  • 265 · The Hour That Stretches · ss F&SF Oct ’82
  • 289 · The Day I Died [inst. 10 of The Harlan Ellison Horn Book] · ar Los Angeles Free Press Jan 5 ’73
  • 301 · Tracking Level · ss Amazing Dec ’56
  • 313 · Tiny Ally · ss Saturn Oct ’57
  • 319 · The Goddess in the Ice · ss Adam Bedside Reader Dec ’67
  • 327 · Gopher in the Gilly · ss *
This was by no means the first Ellison collection to mix fiction and nonfiction by him to a considerable degree (that might've been Partners in Wonder) but it was the first to do so in such a ratio (albeit some of the essays become by design more speculative and fictional, such as "The Day I Died"...or include, one hopes, some fictionalized aspects, such as the murder described in "The 3 Most Important Things..."). "Somehow..."  is Ellison's first extended take on his protracted battles with the producers of the quickly-cancelled Canadian tv sf series The Starlost;  "Saturn, November 11th" is rather straightforward, and excellent, participant reportage of the Voyager mission encounter with that planet and its satellite system. Frankly, the fiction in this collection, as good as it can be, has difficulty in matching the best of the nonfiction and borderline nf here; "Grail" is an exception (and even such less than superb Ellison fiction as "The Hour That Stretches" remains charming, in this case in part due to the setting in the Pacifica Radio series Hour 25, a Los Angeles institution Ellison helped to preserve for some years after the death of founding producer and host Mike Hodel).

Strange Wine Harlan Ellison (Harper & Row, 1978, hc); Also in pb (Warner Jun ’79), includes author’s introduction to each story.

· Introduction: Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look So Terrific Yourself · in

  • · Croatoan · ss F&SF May ’75
  • · Working with the Little People · ss F&SF Jul ’77
  • · Killing Bernstein · ss Mystery Monthly Jun ’76
  • · Mom · nv Silver Foxes Aug ’76
  • · In Fear of K · ss Vertex Jun ’75
  • · Hitler Painted Roses · ss Penthouse Apr ’77
  • · The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat · ss Universe 6, ed. Terry Carr, Doubleday, 1976
  • · From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet · ss F&SF Oct ’76
  • · Lonely Women Are the Vessels of Time · ss MidAmeriCon Program Book, Kansas City, MO., 1976
  • · Emissary from Hamelin · ss 2076: The American Tricentennial, ed. Edward Bryant, Pyramid, 1977
  • · The New York Review of Bird [original version] · nv * (a heavily edited version appeared in Weird Heroes)
  • · Seeing · nv Andromeda 1, ed. Peter Weston, London: Futura, 1976
  • · The Boulevard of Broken Dreams · vi Los Angeles Review #1 ’75
  • · Strange Wine · ss Amazing Jun ’76
  • · The Diagnosis of Dr. D’arqueAngel [“Doctor D’arqueAngel”] · ss Viva Jan ’77
A collection of Ellison's stories from the mid 1970s that only occasionally demonstrates Ellison at his absolute best, and yet his mastery of the short-story form allows his work to be powerful even when it hasn't quite achieved all his ambitions. For example, the opening passage of the title story, Ellison's contribution to the 50th anniversary issue of Amazing, is a devastating account of a father brought to an auto accident scene to identify the corpse of his daughter, killed in the mishap, with the interior monolog revelation that the father, wracked with grief, at least believes himself not to be in the proper situation, beyond the obvious..."This should be happening to a human." The rest of the story, while making its point, has difficulty in matching the opening passage, which frankly I haven't spoiled even by giving this revelation, so deftly is it observed and constructed. Ellison can be seen to be challenging himself as well as the reader in most of what's collected here, whether technically (can one write a genuinely engaging and cohesive set of 26 vignettes such as "From A to Z..."? Yes, one can, particularly with wit and sharp observation, even if some are inevitably much more slight than others...can one sensibly challenge even some of the most deeply held beliefs of most of the audience, at very least? Yes..."Hitler Painted Roses" is both memorably and justly provocative, somewhat in the way Lenny Bruce's routine about Hitler and the MCA is, and in somewhat deeper ways, as well). And the introduction is among Ellison's best polemic writing.

Medea: Harlan’s World ed. Harlan Ellison (Phantasia 0-932096-36-0, Jun ’85 [May ’85], $50.00 signed numbered 475-copy special edition; $20.00 725-copy trade edition, 532pp, hc) [Medea] This small-press version is simultaneous with the one from Bantam Spectra and is the only hardcover. The special edition is sold out. It’s a fine job of bookbinding and should be a highly prized collector’s item. (Charles N. Brown)
Fletcher Pratt had attempted something similar to this project in the early 1950s, with The Petrified Planet, only, in that case, after John D. Clark had worked out the world in which the stories for the anthology were meant to be set, Pratt, H. Beam Piper and Judith Merril contributed a novella each. This, in comparison, was a much more hands-on effort by a wide range of contributors, even including, as not quite noted in the table of contents above, audience participants at a public seminar discussing the shared world setting for the stories commissioned. These stories were appearing in the first year I was regularly reading the sf and fantasy magazines, and I generally found them quite entertaining...particularly in seeing how differently Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl and Thomas Disch might take on the same raw material of setting and to some extent incident...unlike most so-tagged "sharecropper" fiction since, the contributors were encouraged to be as much themselves in the work in question as the project allowed, and for the most part they succeeded, though none of the stories would qualify as the best work by the writers involved...a number of the better "shared-world" projects since have emulated this aspect. And for some folks, such as former planetary science majors who had been thinking about writing fiction for years even at the time of this book's publication, the essays and discussion transcripts laying out the groundwork had their own fascination...a fascination that I think would be shared by most fans of all or any of the writers participating. I'm not sure why this volume has been out of print since its initial editions, but it's a pity it's so. (For that matter, The Petrified Planet deserves reprinting...)

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.  Contents listings from the Contento/Locus indices and the Islets of Langerhans site.


SB said...

(Saw linked on another blog). I loved Harlan's short stories collections and most probably the best are DEATHBIRD STORIES and STRANGE WINE. SLEEPLESS NIGHTS listed here is quite excellent, as his essays are stronger than some of his usually very good fiction.

Good post!

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Steve. I agree, DEATHBIRD STORIES is probably the best single collection of Ellison's fiction so far, though THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON, that doorstopper, has the advantage of being the Mostest of Ellison between two covers. STRANGE WINE is a good book even with only a few of HE's best stories in it...

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Wonderful stuff Todd, just wonderful. Never been able to come across a copy of either THE BOOK OF HARLAN or MEDEA, and the lack of the former (in an affordable edition) has always been a real source of frustration. You're not exactly making it any easier to bear chum! Glad to say I have all the others at least - I recently got the first volume of BRAIN MOVIES signed by Ellison and J. Michael Staczynski which I'm very pleased about.

Great post Todd - thanks mate.


Todd Mason said...

Thank you, Sergio...and I see that is kind enough to offer THE BOOK OF ELLISON used currently for as little as L86...which is why it might be worth your while to order it from (US) or another US source, even with the extra shipping fee...Ammy Yank has used copies up for $7 and change...there's no way the shipping will eat very much into that differential. And ABE, IndieBound or Alibris might go you even better.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks for the sage advice Todd, as always.

George said...

I have a great fondness for Ellison's A TOUCH OF INFINITY (half of an ACE Double) and the first paperback edition of ELLISON WONDERLAND. I have always felt that Ellison got a Bad Rap from the critics (and some fans) because he never wrote a Great SF Novel.