The Anthologized Harlan Ellison: History Actually Gets It Right


Making my Self-Doctorate Reading List are many authors and poets from whom I have read a few works and want to read more.  I want to read more from them not only because I enjoy being entertained, enlightened, and/or transported by great literature, but also because I want worthy authors to make an impression on me.  I don’t want to forget about them, to have them swamped, drowned, and forgotten in the raging, never-ending river of all the reading I feel compelled to do.  I want to have a feel for their entire body of work, how it developed (or didn’t), the periods it had, the pervading style, the sense of humor, the underlying values, the flourishes and idiosyncrasies.  You can’t get that from one or two pieces you come across in an anthology when you’re 18.

I’ve been wanting to read more from Harlan Ellison ever since I read my first story from him many years ago.  So I went to the library and checked-out about the biggest collection of his stories around (The Essential Ellison, edited by Terry Dowling).  I guess it has seventy or more stories contained within its far-apart covers.

But I’ll tell you want I found…  I spent many an hour reading that book, only to discover that all my favorite Harlan Ellison stories– I’ve already read.  Yeah.  The ones that made it to anthologies and such… the ones with the creative styles and fascinating plots that made me hunger for more… those turned out really to be the best of the best; that’s not always the case with anthologies, but history seems to have gotten it right with Harlan (and for some reason, like with Oprah or Madonna, it seems natural to call Mister Ellison by his first name).

Although I didn’t find any previously undiscovered stories I liked as much as Repent Harlequin or I Have To Scream, I did get to know the corpus incrediblus a little a better.  I found that many stories resound with the author’s disappointment and disapproval of humanity.  There’s also plenty of in-your-face irreverence, and bucketloads of spite and resentment, and of course there’s the cartoonish, brutal violence.  There’s also an electric current of sexual desire running through many a story, often charged with a clumsy adolescent lustfulness and crackling with bitterness.

Furthermore, I had not realized that Harlan’s stories actually contain very little sci-fi (yes, I truly prefer that unpure, sonorific term to “SF”).  I think Harlan said once that he was more of a fantasist than a sci-fi writer, and I’d agree with that.  There’s certainly very little “hard” sci-fi in his work, that’s a fact.

But man, can that dude turn a phrase!  And what really wowed me as an up-n-coming writer, myself, about Harlan’s work was the creativity of style Harlan has.  There are, indeed, some darn cool plots, but truly, it is the way with words that hooked me.

Shall I list my favorite works from Harlan now? giving special mention to those tales of his which will be remembered for centuries, alongside the great stories of Robert Louis Stevenson or Philip K. Dick?  …Naw… This post is too long already.  Maybe another time.


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