Harlan Ellison, thoughts?

Fried Egg

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Anyone read much of this author.

I've just finished my first book by him, a collection called "I have no mouth and I must scream." I thought it was very good. I particularly liked the story "lonelyache".

I can imagine that some would find his work too negative and harsh but I think he was very talented.

All all his collections of this high standard? Any recommendations?
 

J-Sun

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I love Alone Against Tomorrow (which partly duplicates yours as both the title story and "Lonelyache" are in there) and Deathbird Stories. I have a gigantic tome of The Essential Harlan Ellison but haven't read it yet. I've read one of his more mainstream works, too - I wasn't as impressed with it. And, of course, dozens of anthologized stories. So it's not much to go on. However, my impression is that his collections are sometimes inconsistent. Not that I gather any are awful but many of them are themed or chronologically focused and if the theme doesn't appeal or the style in the particular era doesn't suit, you might not like it as much.

I think his work is fantastic - it's more his personality that some find negative and harsh. ;) To some he's a prince who looks out for his friends and to some he's a litigious *bleep*. To some he's a master storyteller and to some he's a showoff (famous for writing stories in store windows or on the spur of the moment from audience requests or whatever). He and Isaac Asimov were famous at conventions for trading insults (Harlan's very short, for instance). Unless I'm mistaken, they were friendly insults (I think it's a New York thing).

Many of his stories are suited to youthful rebellion ("'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" is a classic example) though Alone has the specific theme of "alienation" and is dedicated to the students killed at Kent State, among others. Deathbird is a "pantheon of modern gods". And, of course, Essential is a 1000 page "35 year retrospective". (I think there's a different edition which covers even more turf.)

-- Forgot to mention: he of course wrote one of the best episodes of Star Trek with "The City on the Edge of Forever" and rightly won a Nebula for one of my all-time favorites: "A Boy and His Dog". Sounds sweet doesn't it? Two hints: it's written by Harlan Ellison and the dog's name is "Blood". :)
 
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D_Davis

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Good in small doses, but I find his misanthropy a little too much to handle sometimes.
 

blacknorth

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I have very little to add to what J-Sun has said, except to say Jeffty Is Five is a very great story, and Ellison is an excellent writer. I wouldn't class him as misanthropic - I think he hates sytems, but often recognises systems are made up of people, and rules/rooms/circuits invented by people, all designed to enslave or corrupt other people; and many of his stories seem to be a genuine protest, in the manner of I have no mouth...

He reminds me of Bob Dylan (who is also short :)).
 

dask

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HE is very hit and miss with me. Started his novel SPIDER KISS but couldn't get into it and so placed it back on the shelf. "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" was the only story I enjoyed in the collection of the same name. His famous stories tend to be the best: "Jeffty Is Five", which I read in F&SF's Harlan Ellison issue impressed me much more than I had expected, "Shattered Like A Glass Goblin" was great but don't remember why, and "Deathbird" rolled tears down my face. Admittedly I've read only a fraction of his output and need to read more. I've skimmed a friend's copy of THE GLASS TEAT and would very much like to fine a copy of that someday.
 

Diggler

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I have only read The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, which is just a bunch of short stories. But it does include his fantastic (and most well known) short story, A Boy and His Dog. Which would have to be one of the most influential Post Apocalyptic stories written.
 

clovis-man

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I have only read The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, which is just a bunch of short stories. But it does include his fantastic (and most well known) short story, A Boy and His Dog. Which would have to be one of the most influential Post Apocalyptic stories written.
The novella was adapted into the 1975 film of the same name featuring a very young Don Johnson and Jason Robards. His list of film and TV credits is impressive:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0255196/#Writer

My favorite is the Star Trek episode from 1967, "The City on the Edge of Forever". I also liked the 1964 Outer Limits episode, "Demon with a Glass Hand".
 

J-Sun

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How's that for keeping it going? Harlan Ellison just won a 2011 Nebula for short story for "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" (tied with Kij Johnson).
 

antiloquax

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I am a big fan of Harlan Ellison (I also have the big "Essential" collection). As well as the ones mentioned I like: "The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge", "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World", "All the Birds Come Home to Roost", "Grail", "The Time of The Eye", "Driving in the Spikes", "Punky and the Yale Men".
And then there's "The Soldier" - the script for the Outer Limits that influenced "Terminator".

I think he is amazing. Very dark. In a good way!
a
 

Rodders

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I must confess that i know very little of Harlan's work outside of Star Trek, Babylon 5 and the courtcase regarding the Terminator. I am intrigued though.
 

JustPassingThrough

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I think Harlan is a bit like Muhamed Ali. Both are quite good. Really good. Damn good. However, I also think that their boasting helped them a lot in getting into the minds of people. And I say that as a enjoyer of Mr. Ellison. Deathbird is something that can only be experienced in one's life.

Speaking of Soldier, I just recorded it the other night and am going to watch it. Had never seen it before.
 

J-Sun

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Sorry if this is a bit off-topic but I wanted to post it and don't think it really merits its own thread.

Harlan Ellison Drops His Lawsuit Against 'In Time' :rolleyes:

That is probably one of the most damaging things to his reputation that he does. Even worse when it's shown to be frivolous or motivated only by prestige/profit rather than principle. But I suppose his published stories will outlive the memory of his litigiousness.

Or maybe not, if the idea that he is a legal brief fetishist and occasional scribbler sticks. Ow.
 

j d worthington

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Wish I'd been back online when this thread started, as I've love to have got into the discussion when F.E. was first reading these, but...

At any rate:

That is probably one of the most damaging things to his reputation that he does. Even worse when it's shown to be frivolous or motivated only by prestige/profit rather than principle. But I suppose his published stories will outlive the memory of his litigiousness.

Or maybe not, if the idea that he is a legal brief fetishist and occasional scribbler sticks. Ow.
Sorry, but I really think this is something which, though it will never go away entirely, is going to be no more important to the history of Ellison's literary reputation than Edgar Poe's drunkenness and irrascibility as a critic; or the fact that John Buchan had a strong streak of anti-Semitism in his work. He's just too damn good a writer, and he has a very sizable body of work to his credit. Here, for instance, is a thread I posted some time back giving a brief bibliography (and I've not even updated it in some time, at that):

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/11559-harlan-ellison-bibliography.html

As for my thoughts on Ellison... a lot of them can be found here:

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/11547-h-e.html

As those threads show, I can't agree with the classifying of Ellison as a "misanthrope"; if anything, he is very far indeed from that. He is extremely impatient with stupidity and venality, with the human tendency to let our lowest motivations rule more often than our best... but, ultimately, at the core of all of his work that I've read (and I've read all pieces named in that bibliography save Slippage and Troublemakers, and dipped into those) is something he said as far back as "Delusion for a Dragon Slayer": "A man may truly live in his dreams, his noblest dreams, but only, only if he is worthy of those dreams". That is even at the core of "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream"; horrific as that story is, I have to agree with Harlan himself on this -- it is a very humanistic story. Think about it (and just so those who haven't read the tale, or don't know its plot know... ***SPOILERS***): Awful as the outcome is, Ted finds the one solution available and delivers his comrades from their torment, even though it finally means that he himself will suffer unimaginably throughout eternity... and not even be able to voice his agony. Now that, it seems to me, is one of the noblest human acts I have ever encountered. It ain't easy; it ain't pertty; and it sure as hell ain't happy... but given the situation, it is the only solution there is, and he knew what the outcome was likely to be for himself... and he did it anyway.

And that's not even touching on the number of times he has done stories dealing with friendship and courage and compassion, such as "In Lonely Lands", "Blind Bird, Blind Bird, Go Away From Me", "The Other Eye of Polyphemus", "Adrift Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54' N, Longitude 77° 00' 13" W", "The Place with No Name", "Paladin of the Lost Hour", "Riding the Night Train Out", "A Path Through the Darkness".... Or his comic pieces, such as "I'm Looking for Kadak" or "Mom".... And then there are his essays....

I'll be frank and state that I think Ellison is one of the twentieth century's most important writers, certainly working in the short story and essay forms, and for all his faults, one of the best. The passion, verve, intelligence, wit, imagination, and sheer brilliance of much of his writing, put him quite high on my list of writers who should be read in or out of the sff genres. I list him as one of my four favorite writers (the others being Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Moorcock); ones I return to again and again without ever finding a diminishment in what I receive from the experience. Even his screenplays are (at least the ones I've seen) genuinely original and damn fine works. And, though I love the particular Star Trek episode, don't judge "The City on the Edge of Forever" just from what came out on the screen. Look up a copy of the script, and read it with open eyes, and without perconceptions. It is darned near a whole 'nother animal, and much more subtle in many respects; it would have made a fine piece of drama had it been done as written, just as his screenplay for I, Robot would have been. Unfortunately, Hollywood didn't see it that way, and the only way to experience these visions is to read the scripts themselves. Fortunately, both have been published, and are easily accessible. However: for those who are turned off by Ellison the personality -- and there are many such -- I'd advise just reading the screenplays themselves... though I am reminded of something Neil Gaiman has said concerning this aspect of Harlan: that he has all his life been doing a piece of performance art called "Harlan Ellison", a statement which I think has more than a little truth in it... and is backed up by some of Ellison's own reflections on his life in the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth.

As for the actual collection I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream... for me, it is a bit uneven. Some of the pieces in there are brilliant, while others (such as "Big Sam was My Friend" and even "The World of the Myth") are much shakier. But, overall, I think it is a rather good collection as an introduction to Ellison... certainly much better than Ellison Wonderland, though that one also has some fine pieces in it, notably the aforementioned "In Lonely Lands", "The Time of the Eye" (which, beyond just the setting, always reminds me of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari), "All the Sounds of Fear", and the very gentle "The Wind Beyond the Mountains".

Ah, well, you asked for thoughts, and I could go on for Ellison for quite a space; best I leave it at this, for now.....
 
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Fried Egg

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Wish I'd been back online when this thread started, as I've love to have got into the discussion when F.E. was first reading these, but...
I do have "Deathbird Stories" lined up to read at some point, no doubt I'll post back here with my thoughts when I do.

I loved "I have no mouth but I must scream", it was one of my top ten reads this year.
 

Fried Egg

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I'm now making my way through "Deathbird Stories" and so far, so good.

"The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" was harsh but effective. "Along the Scenic Route" was hilarious. "On the Downhill Side", sad and another story about making the ultimate sacrifice so put me in mind slightly of "I have no mouth but must scream." "O Ye of Little Faith" I was less keen on as it felt a little heavy handed in my opinion.

I've just noticed that two stories in this collection overlap with the last collection I read which is slightly annoying but never mind.
 

J-Sun

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I've just noticed that two stories in this collection overlap with the last collection I read which is slightly annoying but never mind.
Ellison's good for that. A lot of his collections have themes or moods or whatever and he'll happily re-use stories if they're popular/successful and fit more than one collection. And sometimes (or at least once, anyway) he'd release a mix of mainstream and fantastic and then split them out or vice versa, but leave one collection with the same name but radically different contents. Definitely have to be on your bibliographical toes with him. :)
 

Extollager

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Anyone read much of this author.

I've just finished my first book by him, a collection called "I have no mouth and I must scream." I thought it was very good. I particularly liked the story "lonelyache".

I can imagine that some would find his work too negative and harsh but I think he was very talented.

All all his collections of this high standard? Any recommendations?
I intend to try several of his award-winners in the next few weeks.
 
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