Friday, November 20, 2015

FFB, Winter Holiday Edition: ALL THE LIES THAT ARE MY LIFE (and SHATTERDAY, the collection) by Harlan Ellison (1980 publications in various formats)

For the second week in a row, I've been compelled to reread an item I hadn't intended to review for FFB, but even more than last week's example, Harlan Ellison's "All the Lies That Are My Life" has a certain resonance with my own recent day-to-day activities, as well as being a good and engaging example of quasi-autobiographical fiction--not the first piece nor the last that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would print that wasn't in any way actually fantasy or science fiction, so much (in this case, as with a few others) as being drawn from the lives of several sf and fantasy writers.  It involves a funeral and the playback of the videotaped reading of a will, the last testament of a highly successful writer, whose writer-friend is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Naturally, the writer-friend gets to reminisce throughout about his relation with the dead writer and the other members of the inner circle of family and friends gathered for the reading, including the woman who had been our protagonist's ex, before marrying the late writer some decades before and having sustained a tempestuous and open marriage since.  Ellison has been willing and able to share autobiographical details in various fora, not least in the introductions to his various collections and anthologies, so much is familiar even as transmogrified here, i. e. the late writer's sister getting a final kiss-off in the taped presentation; Ellison has written occasionally of his utter enmity with his sister, perhaps at greatest length in describing the eulogy he delivered at their mother's funeral, and his sibling's voluble hostility as he spoke. There are bits and pieces drawn in the story from earlier accounts of Ellison's relations with Robert Silverberg (though apparently in the introduction to the chapbook publication of the novella, Silverberg makes it clear that the story doesn't in any obvious way parallel their friendship or interactions), though even there there's a mix and match of
autobiographical and personality and personal style bits between the two primary characters, who are both to some extent mixtures of Silverberg and Ellison and utterly their own characters as fictional simple roman a clef here. I note "apparently," since I don't yet have the chapbook form of the novella, published in 1980 by Underwood/ Miller in an illustrated text (visuals by Kent Bash, whose work is mentioned in passing in the story and whose paintings can be seen on both the book's cover and that for the F&SF issue the story is in, above and at right).  I'll need a copy of the Underwood/Miller edition, I think, not only for the Silverberg "rebuttal" in advance but also for the number of afterwords by other notable writers, at least a few of whose interactions with Ellison and details of their own lives play into the story. (And quite aside from any notions of the Winter of Our Discontent, a notable passage in the story takes place just before and after a holiday snow-covered roadway accident puts the two writers at the heart of the story inside a Chevy temporarily jammed into a snowbank...this for a Winter Holiday Theme edition of Friday's Books, this week.)

Barry Malzberg, whose review of the Galaxy retrospective anthology I FFB'd a few months back follows the novella in the magazine, has written some similar quasi-autobiographical contemporary-mimetic work set in the fantastic-fiction literary/fan community, among others "Corridors" (first appearing in his 1982 collection The Engines of the Night); for that matter, Malzberg also reviews a Robert Sheckley novel, Sheckley being one of the writers who wrote an afterword to for the Underwood edition and one I was thinking of whose interaction with Ellison was probably mined for a few aspects of the story. And I'd forgotten that "Lies" had also been published in that year in Ellison's major collection released that year, Shatterday, one of his strongest collections gathering much of his best 1970s work; it and Deathbird Stories might be his two best collections of fiction. And my copy of Shatterday is deeply in storage somewhere at the moment, it being the copy my Aunt Beverly traded me for an Ellison nonfiction collection, Sleepless Nights on the Procrustean Bed, which had been published not too long before her mid-1980s visit to my parents' house. Beverly, despite being a very great fan of Ellison, had not heard of the small press collection before. I was reminded of this not too many weeks ago, when Beverly, who'd been holding on through no few medical crises in recent years, passed...what I wrote on that occasion wasn't quite as detailed as what I wrote after Thomas Disch's death some years ago (Disch, too, contributed to the Underwood edition), but my cousins were kind enough to suggest they were given a little comfort by it. All the things we take from this life and do what we can with them. 

And I bought my new copy of this issue of F&SF a month or so ago at a community booksale at the high school around the block, from the tables staffed by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, whose annual PhilCon begins tonight at a hotel a mile away. Insert Zeno's Paradox references here, amid the notions of what we remember, how we remember, and what's gone and always with us.

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Courtesy ISFDB and the Contento/Locus indices:

  •  · Introduction: Mortal Dreads · in
  •  · Jeffty Is Five · ss F&SF Jul ’77
  •  · How’s the Night Life on Cissalda? · ss Chrysalis, ed. Roy Torgeson, Zebra, 1977; Heavy Metal Nov ’77
  •  · Flop Sweat · ss Heavy Metal Mar ’79
  •  · Would You Do It For a Penny? · Harlan Ellison & Haskell Barkin · ss Playboy Oct ’67
  •  · The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge · ss Analog Aug ’78
  •  · Shoppe Keeper · ss The Arts and Beyond, ed. Thomas F. Monteleone, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977
  •  · All the Lies That Are My Life · na Underwood-Miller; Columbia, PA Oct ’80
  •  · Django · ss Galileo #6 ’78
  •  · Count the Clock That Tells the Time · ss Omni Dec ’78
  •  · In the Fourth Year of the War · ss Midnight Sun #5 ’79
  •  · Alive and Well and on a Friendless Voyage · ss F&SF Jul ’77
  •  · All the Birds Come Home to Roost · ss Playboy Mar ’79
  •  · Opium · ss Shayol #2 ’78
  •  · The Other Eye of Polyphemus · ss Cosmos SF&F Magazine Nov ’77
  •  · The Executioner of the Malformed Children · ss Iguanacon Program Book, 1978
  •  · Shatterday · ss Gallery Sep ’75; Science Fiction Monthly v2 #8 ’75
  • Publication: All the Lies That Are My Life
  • Authors: Harlan Ellison
  • Year: 1980-09-00


George said...

I'm about to reread some Harlan Ellison, too! Excellent comments on a unique writer!

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, George...there's plenty to dive into...

Mathew Paust said...

"All the Lies That Are My Life." Perfect title for a fiction writer's memoir.

Todd Mason said...

You should probably read it, Matthew. You'd like the dire conclusion it comes to about how one writer can burden another without actually intending to....

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great post. It has been a while since I read SHATTERDAY but remember it fairly well, I think (sic), of course I now really feel the need to get the Underwood edition of ALL THE LIES (I bet it aint easy). This collection, along with STRANGE WINE too and DEATHBIRD marked an extraordinary run of collections from Ellison. Somehow I had managed to not pick up about the details of Ellison's relationship with his sister - not sure how, now ...

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

PS just pulled the trigger and bought a copy - as always Todd, you're an inspiration!

Anonymous said...

The Kent Bash illustrations in the Underwood-Miller book make no attempt to conceal the real origins of Ellison's roman a clef. Bash specifically draws Kershner as Ellison, Larry Bedloe as Robert Silverberg, and Brandon Winslow as Ed Bryant.

- matthew davis

Todd Mason said...

Yes, though aspects of Ellison and Silverberg are redistributed between Kercher and Bedloe...Bedloe is, for the most part, more Ellison in several ways, Matthew. Bryant as collaborator and houseguest is a bit more straightforward, if also an in-joke.

I just purchased an inexpensive copy of LIES online, Sergio, so I'll see what condition it arrives in...glad to inspire!

Mathew Paust said...

Ah, yes. this is where the Ellison bug finally bit me.

Mathew Paust said...

Just now ordered Lies. Thanks again, Todd.