The New York Times called him relentlessly honest and then used him as the subject of its famous Sunday Acrostic. People Magizine said there was no one like him, then cursed him for preventing easy sleep. But in these stories Harlan Ellison outdoes himself, rampaging like a mad thing through love (Cold Friend, Kiss of Fire, Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman), hate (Knox, Silent in Gehenna), sex (Catman, Erotophobia), lost childhood (One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty) and into such bizarre subjects as the problems of blue-skinned, eleven-armed Yiddish aliens, what it's like to witness the end of the world and what happens on the day the planet Earth swallows Barbra Streisand. Oh yeah, this one's a doozy!
A glossary of Yiddish words and their meanings follows on pp. 92-96. Please refer to same if you are farblondjet.
From Robert Silverberg’s “Earthmen and Strangers” anthology, 1966:
The Budrys story depicts meek, peaceful alien beings, intelligent but simple. Now we meet a very different sort of creature: a ravenous beast out of nightmare, rippling with strength, coursing with barely repressed violence. Yet Harlan Ellison’s Lad-nar and Algis Budrys’ Tylus both regard the Earthmen who visit them as supernatural beings. They recognize in them the skills and powers of superior civilizations. In this story, intelligence meets brute force in a conflict that is not quite a conflict, and a strange, curiously touching relationship develops between man and monster on this rugged lightning-blasted world.
Harlan Ellison has been a professional writer since 1955, and this was one of his first published stories. It reveals the power and intensity of imagination that has since carried him to a successful career as an author of screenplays for television and motion pictures.
When the government wields its power against its own people, every citizen becomes an enemy of the state. Will you fight the system, or be ground to dust beneath the boot of tyranny?
In his smash-hit anthologies Wastelands and The Living Dead, acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams showed you what happens when society is utterly wiped away. Now he brings you a glimpse into an equally terrifying future — what happens when civilization invades and dictates every aspect of your life?
From 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale, from Children of Men to Bioshock, the dystopian imagination has been a vital and gripping cautionary force. Brave New Worlds collects 33 of the best tales of totalitarian menace by some of today’s most visionary writers.
From Huxley's Brave New World, to Orwell's 1984, to Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, dystopian books have always been an integral part of both science fiction and literature, and have influenced the broader culture discussion in unique and permanent ways. Brave New Worlds brings together the best dystopian fiction of the last 30 years, demonstrating the diversity that flourishes in this compelling subgenre. This landmark tome contains stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Cory Doctorow, M. Rickert, Paolo Bacigalupi, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and many others.
Ellison Wonderland is a collection of short stories by author Harlan Ellison that was originally published in 1962. Gerry Gross bought the book from Ellison in 1961, providing him with the funds he needed to move to Los Angeles. Subsequent payments after the book was published supplied the author with enough money to survive until he was able to find a job writing for a television series. It was later reprinted in 1974 by New American Library with an introduction by Ellison.
The stories are in the genre of speculative fiction, and concentrate on the themes of loneliness, the end of the world, and the flaws of humanity. Ellison wrote a short introduction to each story, a tradition that he would repeat in many of his later short story collections. Many of the stories in this collection, such as "All the Sounds of Fear", "The Very Last Day of a Good Woman" and "In Lonely Lands", would turn up in later anthologies of Ellison's short stories.
The trouble with Miniver Cheevy (child of scorn who cursed the day that he was born) was that—aside from the fact he was a bit of a fink, with no understanding of the contemporary image he projected—he was always building dream castles, and then trying to move into them. It’s muddy thinking, youth, to expect to do any better in another epoch than the one you’re in. A guy who is a foul ball in one time, must assuredly be so in another…unless his name is da Vinci or Hieronymous Bosch. And the poor soul in this little epic is named neither, which may be the reason he suffers a
Current crazes fascinate me. Though I couldn’t operate one to save my life, the hula hoop was an entrancing little path to dislocation of the spine and ultimate madness, and I watched with not too much lasciviousness as the pre-adult vixens of my acquaintance shimmied and swirled in the use of same. The telephone-booth-stuffing trend seemed to me abortive, and I was not at all surprised when it faded in lieu of the “limbo” acrobatics at voodoo calypso parties. Mah-jongg, Scrabble, ouija boards, Lotto, TV quiz shows, pennies in kids’ loafers, bongo boards, snake dances, panty raids, rumble seats, trampoline classes, croquet, Empire-line dresses, day-glo shirts, stuffed tigers in car back windows, Billy Graham and Fabian (no relation)—all of them awed and bemused me, as I watched the world swallow them whole, digest them and infuse them into the daily scene. Trends knock me out, frankly: Whether it be painting by the numbers or making your own full-scale skeleton of a tyrannosaurus, I think the most imaginative, and auctorially-useful fad of recent years has been the one aptly called
Simply put, an adventure. A fable of futurity. A pastiche of men in conflict, in another time, another place, where the strength of the inner man counts for more than the bone and muscle and cartilage of the outer man. A swashbuckler and a fantasy, perhaps, but in the final analysis, when all the geegaws, foofaraws and flummery are cleared away, don’t we all fight our own particular, contemporary, pressing problems in a kind of half-world of thought and phantasmagoric perception like
What kind of a culture are we breeding around us? A society in which everyone tries to be average, right on the norm, the common denominator, the median, the great leveler. College kids demonstrating a callow conservatism that urges them not to stick their heads above the crowd, not to be noticed. Political candidates so bland they must of necessity be faceless to gain identification with their equally faceless constituents. A sameness in thinking, in demeanor, in dress, in goals, in World Communism, famine, plague, pestilence or the singing of The Everly Brothers, I fear for the safety of my country and its people from this creeping paralysis of the ego. I have tried to say something about it in
What can I tell you? When I was a kid in Painseville, Ohio, and involved in the intricacies of Jack Armstrong, the Green Hornet, I Love A Mystery, Hop Harrigan and Dick Tracy, anything was possible. Under the side porch of our house, magic lands of adventure and intrigue made themselves known to me in the pages of comic books that chronicled the adventures of the Sandman, Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch, the Boy Commandos, Captain Marvel, Starman, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and (my favorite), Hawkman. My Saturday afternoons of quivering joy were secretively spent in a theater whose name I have sadly forgotten that stood next to the Cleveland Trust, where Kresge’s 5 and 10 now looms. (In fact, one personally autographed letter of gratitude is waiting for whatever correspondent with an “A” or an “O,” and truthfully, it’s one of those bits of memory I’d hate to have slip away forever. Duplicate prizes will be awarded in case of a tie.) And in that tiny movie house I saw my first Dick Tracy serial, starring Ralph Byrd. I saw the Shadow with Victor Jory. I shivered at The Clutching Hand and cheered Don Winslow Of The Navy and hissed as The Crimson Skull doomed the hero to a room whose walls came inexorably together. It was a golden time, before TV, in which the imagination and the need to be young were coupled with a world of wonders. In my world, at the corner of Harmon Drive and Mentor Avenue, was a wonderful dark woods, just like the one in
When I first arrived in Hollywood in February of 1962 I found myself thinking about the next story frequently. There is no logical reason for its insistent reappearance in my thoughts, except that somehow there seems to me a subtle similarity between the “atmosphere of doom” in the allegory that follows, and the land of the Film Industry. Though everyone out here has been most kind to me, not only in matters of friendship, but in such dandies as giving me large sums of money (most of which I don’t deserve), I sometimes wake in the morning expecting to hear a sepulchral voice intoning, “Okay, strike the Hollywood set!” and I’ll look out the window to see them rolling up Los Angeles and environs. There is an unreality here that superimposes itself over the normal continuum, effecting a world-view much like that observed through a dessert-dish of Jell-O. Or like the one I cannot seem to forget, in the story I called
Bluntly put, the following story has truly been used. I am always astounded at writers who sell and re-sell and re-re- sell their stories or books, wringing every last possible penny from them. But in the case of the following epic, I can truly say I take backseat to no man. The idea occurred to me in my first days at Ohio State University, back in the early Fifties. I wrote it and it was published in the Ohio State Sundial, the humor magazine I later edited. When I got to New York in 1956, I submitted the idea as story-continuity to EC Publications, now the producers of Mad magazine, then the producers of such goodies as Weird Science-Fantasy comics, in which this story appeared as “Upheaval.” Between these two appearances, however, the story showed up in the amateur science fiction magazine I published, Dimensions. In that incarnation it was called “Green Odyssey.” Eventually, I wrote it as a full short story and it appeared in Bill Hamling’s short-lived Space Travel Magazine. No two of these setting-downs were alike, incidentally. Then the radio performance rights were purchased by an outfit that was planning to revive Dimension X for Sunday listening on the Mutual Broadcasting System. It never got off the ground, but I had been paid, so that was another sale. There may have been another conversion or two of this story, but I can’t remember right now if such was the case. What I do remember is that the basic tenet of this story—You ain’t as hot an item as you think, Chollie!—has appealed to every editor who has seen it. Which speaks well for mankind, I guess, if you think there’s validity in the encounter viewed in
You know the world is going to end. There’s no question about it, no supposition, no ravings from a bushy-bearded fanatic that may prove false…this is the real thing, we all go splat a week from next Wednesday. What do you do? What if you were a young man who had never enjoyed the manifest pleasures of a woman’s body? What if you had been hidebound and stultified all your days, when you got wind of the coming Boom? What then? Why, perhaps you would follow a course of action similar to the hero of this little piece, in which I tried to say that everything is relative, and even dross, under the proper conditions, can be as good as gold. And you know, it’s indicative of our current Clipster Culture that very often the ones who would rob are the ones who get robbed, the fleecers get fleeced, and hypocrisy counts for nothing when the chips are down. In other words, the love of a less than kindly creature can be the single most important possession in the universe on
While in the US Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, one of my duties was Troop Information NCO, and the story that follows (published in a magazine at that time) seemed to me an interesting departure from the usual stodgy troop lectures I was required to give. I read this story to a number of groups of hardened twenty-year men (as well as six- monthers and two-year draftees) and asked for comment. Those who spoke up (inarticulation is an occupational disease in the Army after a three-year period) said it wasn’t as fantastic as it sounded. That it seemed such a thing might some day come to pass, and they wanted to know how I, a man who had never been in combat, had been able to devise such weird ideas, and put them down in a form that seemed rational. I told them I had glimpsed hell, and that I thought some day perhaps the whole world would be that hell, unless we stopped trying to strangle decency, unless we stopped trying to turn logic and imagination and the hearts of men toward a
The pun, a sadly-misunderstood delicacy in the confectionary of humor, holds for me the same kind of infectious hilarity as a vision of three brothers named Marx, chasing a turkey around a hotel room, or wiry Lenny Bruce retelling his hazards and horrors on a two-week gig in Milwaukee, or Charlie Chaplin, caught among the gears of mechanized insanity in “Modern Times.” Humor comes packaged every which way, and profundities about its various guises and motivations do nothing whatsoever to explain why one man’s chuckle is another’s chilblain. In science fiction, with the notable exception of the work of Kuttner, when he was wry and wacky, the pun and humor in general have come of} rather badly. Perhaps “funny” and “science fiction” are incompatible, or perhaps the fantasist takes himself, his Times, and its problems too seriously. Whatever the reasons, from time to time I have tried to make sport of the established genres of science fantasy, as in this fable called
Since I was thirteen, to greater or lesser degree, I have been a rootless person. Oh, there have been homes and residences and all the trappings of being settled, but aside from my days in New York, which always seem to me to be the best days, I’ve wandered. Up and down and back across the United States, wherever the vagaries of life have carried me with my writing, military service, marriage, job opportunities or just plain chance. And from these peregrinations has come the belief that not only is home where the heart is, but the heart is undeniably where the home is. I was also prompted by this obscure notion, to write
The Wind Beyond the Mountains
It is down in the Book of the Ancestors with truth. The Ruskind know but one home. Ruska is home, for home shall be where the heart is. The stars are not for the Ruskind, for they know, too, that the heart is where the home is.
In the original edition of ELLISON WONDERLAND, this space was occupied by a short story appearing under the title, “The Forces that Crush.” Some years later I rewrote it, included it in my collection THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD (Signet Books, 1974), and it appeared under the title Paul Fairman gave it when he published it in Amazing Stories back in the fifties: “Are You Listening?” I didn’t want to let it appear twice so soon, so I’ve pulled out of obscurity a nice little fable about a robot that I’ve always liked. Now, if it weren’t that my oId friend Isaac Asimov has written just about everything there is to write about robots (and what Ike didn’t do, Kuttner did as Lewis Padgett), I would have no trepidations, but Ike and I have been gigging each other with love and truculence for almost twenty-five years, and I just know he’ll have some smartass remarks to make the next time I see him, when, with twinkle in eye, he finds some circumlocutious way to compare his famous robotics stories with my humble, yet undeniably brilliant, effort called
Man alone. Man trapped by his own nature and the limits of the world around him. Man against Man. Man against Nature. All of thee inevitably come down to the essential question of how courageous a man can be in a time of massive peril. They all come down to how a man can survive, by strength of arm, by fleetness of foot, and most of all, by inventiveness of intellect. This has been the subject of much that I have written, perhaps because I see my Ties and my culture in the most “hung-up” condition it has ever known. Each man, each thinking individual, for the first time in the history of the race, completely—or as near completely as prejudiced mass media will allow—aware of the forces hurling him into the future. The Bomb, ready to go whenever the finger jumps to the proper button, the ethics slowly but steadily deteriorating, the morality finding its lowest common level, and each man, each thinking individual, virtually helpless before the fluxes and flows of civilization and herd instinct. Yet, is he really alone? Ever? Or is the imagination and fierce drive to survive a tenacious linkage among us all? And if it is, then are we not brothers to the man who had
There really isn’t much to say about this next story, save that I’ve tried to make a bit of a caustic comment on the “faithful” and their faith. I have no quarrel with those who wish to believe—whether they believe in a flat Earth, the health-giving properties of sorghum and blackstrap molasses, Dianetics, the Hereafter, orgone boxes, a ghostwriter for Shakespeare, or that jazz about the manna in the desert—except to point out that nothing in this life (and presumably the next) is certain; and faith is all well and good, but even the most devout should leave a small area of their thoughts open for such possibilities as occur in
When I first arrived in New York, the city was in the midst of its Monsoon Season: January to December. After mooching room, board and writing counsel from Lester del Rey and his wife Evelyn for a few days, I moved into one of the great abodes of memorabilia in my life—a hotel on West 114th Street, where already resided Robert Silverberg, the writner, who had been attending Columbia University and selling stories on the side (or vice versa). In the first week of my residence, I completed three short stories. The first was sold to Larry Shaw, then editor of Infinity, and provided rent for several weeks to come. The second sold to Guilty Detective Story Magazine, and provided food for the tummy. The third was prompted by the dreadful weather, the silver rain that fell past my third floor window hour after hour. It did not sell till three years later, to the British magazine Science Fantasy. I rather liked the yarn, and could never understand why American science-fiction magazines were not devious enough to slip in a little straight fantasy every now and then. But since they don’t, I’m pleased to be able to have that third-written story in print again in this country, reminding me of my days of childhood naturalism in New York, when I stood before my grimy window and rather hysterically murmured
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Friendship that most fleeting of human relationships, seems to me to be one of the most precious. The old saw about “he is a rich man who can truly say he has three true friends” may be saccharine, but it has its merits. The vagaries of the human spirit, particularly in times as debilitating and sorrowful as these, seem almost to stack the deck against lasting friendships. And I wonder how much more valuable and difficult they will be, in our particular future, when man has been consigned to numerous oases in the sea of stars. I think many will find their prejudices and fears being swept away in the face of their needs for companionship, particularly
First in the long-running series of erotic horror tales! Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Robert R. McCammon, Graham Masterton, Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, David J. Schow, Lisa Tuttle, F. Paul Wilson, Theodore Sturgeon, and other masters of the macabre take readers into their private world of fear, fantasy, and fatal attraction — in 24 tales of dread and debauchery, riveting stories of sex and terror.
La nostalgica storia di un bambino che si rifiuta di crescere, per continuare ad ascoltare i programmi del passato.
Vincitore dei premi Hugo e Nebula per il miglior racconto breve (Short Story) in 1978.
Vincitore del British Fantasy Award in 1979.
Nominato per il World Fantasy Award in 1978.
This stellar collection of Jewish science fiction and fantasy carries on in the tradition of its companion volume—the enduring classic Wandering Stars—breaking new ground with every story.
Trouble with mothers; invading aliens and demons; the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah… all these phenomena and more are tackled in these tales from a creative group of extraordinary writers. We go to the edges of the universe, finding humor, pain and humanity in the unlikeliest of places and situations. Filled with wit, vigor and sharp insight, this is a fantastic feast for the imagination that will intrigue and delight everyone who picks it up, Jew and non-Jew alike.
YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF! The only trouble is, fear comes in so many different shapes and sizes these days. It comes as rejection by a beautiful woman. It comes in the brutalization of your love by an amoral man. It comes with the threat of impending nuclear holocaust; with the slithering shadows in the city streets; with the ripoff artists who lie in wait behind every television commercial. Fear is the erratic behavior of all the nut cases and whackos walking the streets-they look just like you and me and your lover and your mother-and all they need is a wrong word and there they go to the top of an apartment building with a sniperscope'd rifle. Fear is all around you. You have nothing to fear but fear itself, right? Sure. The only trouble is, the minute you get all the rational fears taken care of, all battened down and secure, here comes something new. Like what? Well, like the special fears generated in these 16 incredible stories. Fear described as it's never been described before, by the startling imagination of Harlan Ellison, master fantasist, tour-guide through the land of dreadful visions, unerring observer of human folly and supernatural diabolism. Or, quoting the Louisville Courier-Journal & Times, Ellison's "stories are kaleidoscopic in their range, breathtaking in their beauty, hideous in their deformity, insulting in their arrogance and unarguable in the accuracy of their insight." AND HERE ARE 16 NEW TERRORS TO SCARE THE BEJEEZUS OUT OF YOU!
Robert Heinlein says, “This book is raw corn liquor. You should serve a whiskbroom with each shot so the customer can brush the sawdust off after he gets up from the floor.” Perhaps a mooring cable might also be added as necessary equipment for reading these eight wonderful stories: They not only knock you down — they raise you to the stars. Passion is the keynote as you encounter the Harlequin and his nemesis, the dreaded Tictockman, in one of the most reprinted and widely taught stories in the English language; a pyretic who creates fire merely by willing it; the last surgeon in a world of robot physicians; a spaceship filled with hideous mutants rejected by the world that gave them birth. Touching and gentle and shocking stories from an incomparable master of impossible dreams and troubling truths.
Late in March of 1965, I was compelled to join twenty-five thousand others, from all corners of the United States, who marched on the then-bastion of bigotry, the then-capitol of corruption, Montgomery, Alabama (though South Boston now holds undisputed title to the designation, Montgomery is still no flowerbed of racial sanity) (but the myth of the “liberal” North sure got the hell shot out of it by the Southies from Irish-redneck Boston).
I was part of the human floodtide they called a “freedom march” that was trying to tell Governor George Wallace that Alabama was not an island, that it was part of the civilized universe, that though we came from New York and California and Illinois and South Dakota we were not “outside agitators,” we were fellow human beings who shared the same granfalloon called “Americans,” and we were seeking dignity and civil rights for a people shamefully bludgeoned and mistreated for over two centuries. It was a walk through the country of the blind. I’ve written about it at length elsewhere.
But now it’s ten years later and yesterday a friend of mine’s sixty-five-year-old mother got mugged and robbed in broad daylight by two black girls. It’s ten years later and a girl I once loved very deeply got raped repeatedly, at knife-point, in the back seat of her own car in an empty lot behind a bowling alley in the San Fernando Valley by a black dude who kept at her for seven hours. It’s ten years later and Martin Luther King is dead and Super Fly is alive, and what am I to say to Doris Pitkin Buck, who lost her dear and magical Richard on the streets of Washington, D.C., to a pack of black killers who chose to stomp to death a man in his eighties for however much stash-money he might have been carrying?
Do I say to that friend of mine: when they went to drag the Mississippi swamps for the bodies of the civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, they dredged up the bodies of sixteen black men who had been cavalierly murdered and dumped in the muck, and no one even gave a damn, the newspapers didn’t even make much of a note of it, that it was the accepted way to handle an “uppity nigger” in the South? Do I say that and hope I’ve said something rational?
Do I say to that girl I loved: every time you see a mocha-colored maid or waitress it means her great-great-grandmother was a sexual pin cushion for some plantation Massa’, that rape and indentured bed service was taken for granted for two hundred years and if it was refused there was always a stout length of cordwood to change the girl’s thinking? Do I say that and hope I’ve drawn a reasonable parallel?
Do I tell brave and talented Doris Buck, who never hurt anyone in her life, that we’re paying dues for what our ancestors did, that we’re reaping the terrible crop of pain and evil and murder committed in the name of White Supremacy, that white men rob and rape and steal and kill as well as black, but that blacks are poorer, more desperate, more frustrated, angrier? Do I say that and hope to stop her tears with logic?
Why the hell do we expect a nobility of blacks that whites never possessed?
Of course I don’t say that pack of simple-minded platitudes. Personal pain is incapable of spontaneous remission in the presence of loss. I say nothing.
But my days of White Liberal Guilt are gone. My days of championing whole classes and sexes and pigmentations of people are gone. The Sixties are gone, and we live in the terrible present, where death and guilt don’t mix. Now I come, after all these years, to the only position that works: each one on his or her own merits, black/white/yellow/brown. Not all Jews are money-gouging kikes, but some are. Not all blacks are slavering rapists, but some are. Not all Puerto Ricans are midnight second-storey spicks, but some are.
And we come to the question again and again, what kind of a god is it that permits such misery … are we truly cast in his image, such an image of cruelty and rapaciousness … were we put here really to suffer such torment? Let the Children of God answer that one with something other than no-brain jingoism. Mark Twain said, “If one truly believes there is an all-powerful Deity, and one looks around at the condition of the universe, one is led inescapably to the conclusion that God is a malign thug.” That’s the quote that caused me to write “The Deathbird.” It’s a puzzle I cannot reason out.
I doubt. I have always doubted, since the day I read in the Old Testament — the word of God, remember — that there was only Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, and then Cain got married. To whom? To Eve? Then don’t tell me what a no-no incest is.
Isaac Asimov assures me it’s a rational universe, predicated on sanity and order. Yeah? Well, tell me about God. Tell me who He is, why He allows the foulest hyenas of our society to run amuck while decent men and women cower in terror behind Fox locks and Dictograph systems. Tell me about Him. Equate theology with the world in which we live, with William Calley and Kitty Genovese and the people who keep their kids out of school because the new textbooks dare to say Humans are clever descendants of the Ape. No? Having some trouble? Getting ready to write me a letter denouncing me as the Antichrist? “God in his infinite wisdom,” you say? Faith, you urge me? I have faith … in people, not Gods.
But perhaps belief is not enough. Perhaps doubt serves the cause more honestly, more boldly. If so, I offer by way of faith Paingod.
Now it can be told: my secret vice. Buried deep in the anthracite core of my being is a personal trait so hideous, so confounding, a conceit so terrible in its repercussions, that it makes sodomy, pederasty, and barratry on the high seas seem as tame as a Frances Parkinson Keyes novel. I am always late. Invariably. Consistently. If I tell you I’ll be there to pick up you at 8:30, expect me Thursday. A positive genius for tardiness. Paramount sends a car to pick me up when I’m scripting, otherwise they know I’ll be off looking at the flowers, or watching the ocean, or reading a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man in the bathroom. I have been brought to task for this, on innumerable occasions. It prompted several courts-martial when I was in the Army. I’ve lost girlfriends because of it. So I went to a doctor, to see if there was something wrong with my medulla oblongata, or somesuch. He told me I was always late. His bill was seventy-five dollars. I’ve decided that unlike most other folk with highly developed senses of the fluidity of time, the permanence of humanity in the chrono-stream, et al, I got no ticktock going up there on top. So I had to explain it to the world, to cop out, as it were, in advance. I wrote the following story as my plea for understanding, extrapolating the (to me) ghastly state of the world around me — in which everyone scampers here and there to be places on time — to a time not too far away (by my watch) in which you get your life docked every time you’re late. It is not entirely coincidental that the name of the hero in this minor masterpiece closely resembles that of the author, to wit: “Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktockman
Madness is in the eye of the beholder.
Having done exhaustive research on sociopathic behavior for a two-hour NBC dramatic special recently, I won’t give you the faintest murmur of an objection that there are freaks and whackos walking the streets; they’re as liable to shoot you dead for chuckles as they are to assist you in getting your stalled car moving out of the intersection. One reliable estimate of the number of potential psychomotor epileptics undetected in our midst is 250,000 in the United States alone. And if you’ve read Michael Crichton’s TERMINAL MAN you know that the “brain storm” caused by psychomotor epilepsy can turn a normal human being into a psychopathic killer in moments. No, I won’t argue: there are madfolk among us.
But the madness of which I speak is what the late George Apley might have called “eccentricity.” The behavioral pattern outside the accepted norm. Whatever the hell that might be. The little old man sitting on the park bench having an animated conversation with himself. The girl who likes to dress as an exact replica of Betty Boop. The young guy out on the sidewalk playing an ocarina and interspersing his recital with denunciations of the city power and water authority. The old lady who dies in her two-room flat and the cops find sixty years’ worth of old newspapers plus two hundred thousand dollars in a cigar box. (One of the wooden ones, the old ones you simply can’t find any more because they don’t make them. They’re great for storing old photos and comic character buttons. If you have one you don’t want, send it along to me, willya?) The staid businessman who gets off by wearing his wife’s pantyhose. The little kid who puts a big “S” on a bath towel and, shouting, “Up, up and awaaayyy!” jumps off the garage roof.
They’re not nuts, friends, they’re simply seeing it all through different eyes. They have imagination, and they know something about being alone and in pain. They’re altering the real world to fit their fantasies. That’s okay.
We all do it. Don’t say you don’t. How many of you have come out of the movie, having seen Bullitt or The French Connection or Vanishing Point or The Last American Hero or Freebie and the Bean, gotten in your car, and just about done a wheelie, sixty-five mph out of the parking lot? Don’t lie to me, gentle reader, we all have weird-looking mannerisms that seem perfectly rational to us, but make onlookers cock an eyebrow and cross to the other side of the street.
I’ve grown very fond of people who can let it out, who can have the strength of compulsion to indulge their special affectations. They seem to me more real than the faceless gray hordes of sidewalk sliders who go from there to here without so much as a hop, skip, or a jump.
One morning in New York last year, I was having a drug-store breakfast with Nancy Weber, who wrote THE LIFE SWAP. We were sitting up at the counter, on revolving stools, chewing down greasy eggs and salty bacon, talking about how many dryads can live in a banyan tree, when the front door of the drug store (the now-razed, much-lamented, lovely Henry Halper’s on the corner of 56th and Madison, torn down to build, I suppose, an aesthetically-enchanting parking structure or candidate for a towering inferno) opened, and in stormed a little old man in an overcoat much too heavy for the weather. He boiled in like a monsoon, stood in the middle of the room and began to pillory Nixon and his resident offensive line of thugs for double-teaming Democracy. He was brilliant. Never repeated himself once. And this was long before the crash of Nixon off his pedestal. Top of his lungs. Flamboyant rhetoric. Utter honesty, no mickeymouse, corruption and evil a-flower in the land of the free! On and on he went, as everyone stared dumbfounded. And then, without even a bow to the box seats, out he went, a breath of fresh air in a muggy world. I sat there with a grin on my face only a tape measure could have recorded. I applauded. Superduper! Nancy dug it, I dug it, and a bespectacled gentleman three down from us — burnt toast ignored — dug it. The rest of the people vacillated between outrage and confusion, finally settling on attitudes best described by a circling finger toward the right ear. They thought he was bananas. Well, maybe, but what a swell madness!
Or take my bed, for instance.
When you come into my bedroom, you see the bed up on a square box platform covered with deep pile carpeting. It’s in bright colors, because I like bright colors. Now, there’s a very good, solid, rational reason why the bed is up there like that. Some day I’ll tell you why; it’s a personal reason; in the nature of killing evil shadows. But that isn’t important, right here. What is important is the attitude of people who see that bed for the first time. Some snicker and call it an altar. Others frown in disapproval and call it a pedestal, or a Playboy bed. It’s none of those. It’s very functional, and serves an emotional purpose that is none of their business, but Lord, how quick they are to label it the way they see it, and to lay their value judgment on it and me. Most of the time I don’t bother explaining. It isn’t worth it.
But it happens all the time, and every time it happens I think about this story. Madness is in the eye of the beholder. What seems cuckoo to you may be rigorously logical to someone else. Remember that as you read.
The pain in this one is the pain of a mind blocked from all joy and satisfaction by an outworn idea, an idée fixe, a monomaniacal hangup that tunnels the vision. Think of someone you know, even someone you love, trapped into a corrupt or self-destructive or anti-social behavior pattern by an inability to get around the roadblock of erroneous thinking. Pathetic.
The story is about a man and a woman. The woman is the good guy, the man is the dummy. When it appeared in Analog, Kelly Freas did a drawing that showed the man as the stronger of the two, his body positioned in such a way that it looked as if he was protecting the lesser female. Wrong. I tried to get Ben Bova, the editor of Analog , to get Kelly to alter the drawing, but it was too close to the publication deadline, so it went in that way.
But, much as I admire and respect Kelly, I took it not so much as a sexist attitude on his part — Polly wouldn’t permit such an evil to exist — as an unconscious understanding of the massmind of the general Analog readership, which is, at core and primarily, engineers, technicians, scientists, men of the drawing board and the spanner.
So I wasn’t perplexed or saddened when the story came in at the bottom of Analog’s Analytical Laboratory ratings. Where else would a story that says machismo is bullshit and a woman thinks more reasonably than a man come in? Diana King at the magazine assures me the short stories always come in last, but I think she’s just trying to help me over a bad time; I handle rejection, I just don’t handle it well.
Nonetheless, I’m including it in this collection, an addition to the stories that appeared in previous editions of this book, not only to give you a little extra for your money, but because it’s the latest in my Earth-Kyba War stories. And what with “The Crackpots” here, the first of the series, it makes a nice little package.
There’s not much else to say about it. This isn’t the most soul-sundering tale I’ve ever tried to write, it’s just an attempt to do an actual, honest-to-God science fiction story for Analog. To see if I could do it on my own terms. And to see if I could gig the Analog readers of thirty-and-more years’ good standing, who would have coronary arrest at seeing Ellison in the hallowed pages of their favorite magazine. You can imagine my joy when I saw the is sue on the newsstands, with my name on the front cover with Isaac Asimov’s, knowing that Analog’s faithful would be gagging, and knowing the little jibe I had waiting for them inside with Sleeping dogs.
“How did you come to write this story?” I am frequently asked, whether it be this story, or that one over there, or the soft pink-and-white one in the corner. Usually, I shrug helplessly. My ideas come from the same places yours come from: Compulsion City, about half an hour out of Schenectady. I can’t give a more specific location than that. Once in a great while, I know specifically. The story that follows is one of those instances, and I will tell you. I attended the 22nd World Science Fiction Convention (Pacificon II) on Labor Day, 1964. For the past many “cons,” a feature has been a fan-art exhibit, with artwork entered by nonprofessionals from all over the science fiction world. Several times (for some as-yet-unexplained reason) I have been asked to be among the judges of this show, and have found the level of work to be pleasantly high, in some cases really remarkable. On half a dozen occasions I have found myself wondering why the certain illustrator that impressed me was not working deep in the professional scene; and within a year, invariably, that artist has left the amateur ranks and become a selling illustrator. At the Pacificon, once again I attended the fan-art exhibition. I was in the company of Robert Silverberg, a writer whose name will not be unfamiliar to you, and the then-editor of Amazing Stories, Cele Goldsmith Lalli (the Lalli had only recently been added, when that handsome bachelor lady finally threw in the sponge and married Mr. Lalli, in whose direction dirty looks for absconding with one of the ablest editors s-f had yet produced). Cele had been trying vainly to get a story out of me. I was playing coy. There had been days when the cent or cent-and-a-half Amazing Stories paid was mucho dinero to me, but now I was a Big-Time Hollywood Writer (it says here somewhere) and I was enjoying saying stupid things like, “You can’t afford me, Cele,” or “I’ll see if Joseph E. Levine will let me take off a week to write one for you … I’ll have my agent call you.” Cele was taking it staunchly. Since I was much younger, and periodically disrupted her efficient Ziff-Davis office, she had tolerated me with a stoic resign only faintly approached by the Colossus of Rhodes. “Okay, okay, big shot,” she was replying, “I’ll stretch it to two cents a word, and we both know you’re being overpaid.” I sneered and marched away. It was something of a running gunbattle for two days. But, in point of fact, I was so tied up with prior commitments in television (that was my term of menial servitude on “The Outer Limits”) that I knew I didn’t have the time for short stories, much as I lusted to do a few, to keep my hand in. That Sunday morning in September, we were at the fan-art exhibit, and I was stopped in front of a display of scratchboard illustrations by a young man named Dennis Smith, from Chula Vista, California. They were extraordinary efforts, combining the best features of Finlay, Lawrence, and Heinrich Kley. They were youthfully derivative, of course, but professionally executed, and one of them held me utterly fascinated. It was a scene on a foggy landscape, with a milk-wash of stars dripping down the sky, a dim outline of battlements in the distance, and in the foreground, a weird phosphorescent creature with great luminous eyes, holding a bag of skulls, astride a giant rat, padding toward me. I stared at it for a long while, and a small group of people clustered behind me, also held by the picture. “If somebody would buy that, I’d write the story for it,” I heard myself say. And from behind me, Cele Goldsmith Lalli’s margarine-warm voice replied, “I’ll buy it for Fantastic; you’ve got an assignment.” I was trapped. Hell hath no fury like the wrath of an editor with single-minded devotion to duty. Around that strange, remarkable drawing, I wrote a story, one of my personal favorites. Dennis Smith had named the picture, so I felt it only seemly to title the story the same: Bright Eyes.
Pretty people have it easier than uglies. It smacks of cliché, and yet the lovelies of this world, defensive to the grave, will say, ‘tain’t so. They will contend that nice makes it harder for them. They get hustled more, people try to use them more, and to hear girls tell it, their good looks are nothing but curse, curse, curse. But stop to think: at least a good-looking human being has that much going for openers. Plain to not-so-nice-at-all folk have to really jump for every little crumb. Things come harder to them. The reasoning of the rationale is a simple one: we worship the Pepsi Generation. We have a pathological lemming drive to conceal our age, lift our faces, dress like overblown Shirley Temples, black that grey in the hair, live a lie. What ever happened to growing old gracefully, the reverence of maturity, the search for character as differentiated from superficial comeliness? It be a disease, I warn you. It will rot you from the inside, while the outside glows. It will escalate into a culture that can never tolerate The Discarded.
Pain. The pain of being obsolete. I go down to Santa Monica sometimes, and walk along through the oceanside park that forms the outermost edge of California. There, at the shore of the Pacific, like flotsam washed up by America, with no place to go, are the old people. Their time has gone, their eyes look out across the water for another beginning, but they have come to the final moments. They sit in the vanilla sunshine and they dream of yesterday. Kind old people, for the most part. They talk to each other, they talk to themselves, and they wonder where it all went.
I stop and sit on the benches and talk to them sometimes. Not often; it makes me think of endings rather than continuations or new beginnings. They’re sad, but they have a nobility that cannot be ignored. They’re passed-over, obsolescent, but they still run well and they have good minutes in them. Their pain is a terrible thing because it cries to be given the chance to work those arthritic fingers at something meaningful, to work those brain cells at something challenging.
This story is about someone in the process of being passed-over, being made obsolete. He fights. I would fight. Some of the old people in Santa Monica fight. Do we ever win? Against the shadow that inevitably falls, no.
Against the time between now and the shadow’s arrival, yes, certainly.
That’s the message in Wanted in Surgery.
Repetitiously, the unifying theme to the stories in this collection is pain, human anguish. But there is a subtext that informs the subject; it is this: we are all inescapably responsible, not only for our own actions, but for our lack of action, the morality and ethic of our silences and our avoidances, the shared guilt of hypocrisy, voyeurism, and cowardice; what might be called the “spectator-sport social conscience.” Catherine Genovese, Martin Luther King, Viola Luizzo, Nathanael West, Marilyn Monroe … how the hell do we face them if there’s something like a Hereafter? And how do we make it day-to-day, what with mirrors everywhere we look, if there isn’t a Hereafter? Perhaps it all comes down to the answer to the question any middle-aged German in, say, Munich, might ask today: “If I didn’t do what they said, they’d kill me. I had to save my life, didn’t I?” I’m sure when it comes right down to it, the most ignominious life is better than no life at all, but again and again I find the answer coming from somewhere too noble to be within myself: “What for?” Staying alive only has merit if one does it with dignity, with purpose, with responsibility to his fellow man. If these are absent, then living is a sluglike thing, more a matter of habit than worth. Without courage, the pain will destroy you. And, oh, yeah, about this story … the last section came first. It was a tone-poem written to a little folk song Tom Scott wrote, titled “38th Parallel,” which Rusty Draper recorded vocally some years later as “Lonesome Song.” lf you can find a 45 rpm of it anywhere, and play it as you read the final sections, it will vastly enhance, audibly coloring an explanation of what I mean when I talk about pain that is Deeper than the Darkness
Anche pubblicato come “«Pentiti Arlecchino!» disse il Tictacchiere” e “Pentiti, Arlecchino”.
Mercurial, belligerent, passionately in love with language and wild ideas, Harlan Ellison has, for half a century, steadily gathered to himself and his thirty-seven books an undeniably fanatical readership. Winner of more awards for imaginative literature than any other living writer, he is the only scenarist ever to win the Writers Guild of America award three times for outstanding teleplay. Though his contemporary fantasies have been compared favorably with the dark visions of Borges, Barthelme, Poe and Kafka, Ellison resists categorization with a vehemence that alienates critics and reviewers seeking easy pigeonholes for an extraordinary writer. The San Francisco Chronicle writes, "The categories are too small to describe Harlan Ellison. Lyric poet, satirist, explorer of odd psychological corners, moralist, purveyor of pure horror and black comedy; he is all these and more." In this, his thirty-seventh book, setting down as never before the mortal dreads we all share, Harlan Ellison has put together his best work to date: sixteen uncollected stories (half of which are award-winners), totaling a marvel-filled 105,000 words and including a brand-new novella, his longest work in over a dozen years.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives.
The purpose of these introductory notes to each story is to reaffirm that fact, over and over again. It cannot be said too often. A writer cannibalizes his own life, that’s true: all we have to relate are the perceptions of ourselves and our experiences that parallel other people’s perceptions and experiences. But you are not alone; where you’ve been, there have I gone; what you’ve felt, I have also felt. Pain and joy and everything that lies between are universal.
I have taken what you’ve given me—though you never knew I was watching—and I’ve run it through the purifier of my imagination for the sole purpose of giving it back to you with, I hope, some clarity. If you would best use these reconstituted snippets and scintillae of your lives, I urge you to hold up the realities portrayed here to the mirror of fantasy. Things often seem clearer in the silver light of the extraordinary. Some call this magic.
Take “Jeffty Is Five” for example.
At the moment, this is one of my half dozen favorite stories. It is both a hard-edged and a romanticized view of the innocence that we all possessed as children. Jeffty has become an image of reverence for the parts of my childhood that were joyous and free of pain.
I suppose what I’m saying is that a large part of myself as an adult is Jeffty. They are parts of my nature I hold very dear. But, sadly, Donny is also a part of me. The part of me that grew up in order to deal with the Real World.
The Real World exists utterly in the Now; in a present time that seems to find the dearly remembered Past abhorrent, unbearable. And so, as this story contends, the Present tries to eradicate the Past. Please note that a distinction is drawn between change and eradication. This is not one of those embalmed adorations of nostalgic sentimentality. It merely suggests for your consideration that there are treasures of the Past that we seem too quickly brutally ready to dump down the incinerator of Progress. At what cost, it suggests, do we pursue the goal of being au courant?
There are those who ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” Of all the silly questions asked of writers, that one, surely, is the silliest. It presupposes there is a place or a method by which dreams become actualities on paper.
No. There is no such place (though I usually respond with the spine-straightener that I get my stories from an idea service in Poughkeepsie, New York… $25 a week and they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas fifty-two times a year). and there is no universally explicable method (hell, not even Aristotle could codify the act of creation). But you’d be both amazed and appalled at how many people ask me for the address of that idea service in Poughkeepsie.
But this I can tell you of how I came to write “Jeffty Is Five”:
My friends Walter and Judy Koenig invited me to a party. I don’t like parties. I do like Walter and Judy. I also like their kids. I went to the party.
Mostly I sat near the fireplace, friendly but not overly ebullient. Mostly I talked to Walter and Judy’s son, Josh, who is remarkable beyond the telling. And then I overheard a snatch of conversation. An actor named Jack Danon said—I thought he said—something like this—”Jeff is five, he’s always five.” No, not really. He didn’t say anything like that at all. What he probably said was, “Jeff is fine, he’s always fine.” Or perhaps it was something completely different.
But I had been awed and delighted by Josh Koenig, and I instantly thought of just such a child who was arrested in time at the age of five. Jeffty, in no small measure, is Josh: the sweetness of Josh, the intelligence of Josh, the questioning nature of Josh.
Thus from admiration of one wise and innocent child, and from a misheard remark, the process not even Aristotle could codify was triggered. And soon afterward, Jeffty and Donny and the terrible and wonderful thing that happened to them ordered itself on paper.
One more thing about this story.
Despite what seems to be a quality of universality that I attribute to you more than to me or to any great genius in the writing of it, the ending of the story somehow escapes the slovenly reader. It’s all there, what happened to Jeffty. Very clearly. It’s done with what I hope is some subtlety, and you may have to read the last page or so with some careful attention to detail… but it’s all there.
As the Past is always there, if you learn from it; treasure the treasures and let the dross go without remorse.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives. Jeffty is me; he is also you. This is a short, memory-filled trip through your own life.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives. As I write this, I’m sitting on an American Airlines flight between Toronto and Los Angeles. I’ve just come back from delivering a lecture at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, about 265 kilometers from Toronto and I’m sitting here at 37,000 feet above Bryce Canyon annoying the other passengers with the tippy-tap of my portable Olympia.
I tell you this because it happened again in Kingston:
Some wiseass took a tour through my life.
The feep in question is Gary Crawford, an otherwise nice guy who attempted to encapsulate me for a female housemate of his by quoting out of context one line from the introduction to my collection Love Ain’t Nothing but Sex Misspelled.
Her response to that line, when Gary suggested she attend my lecture, was something akin to this: “Go see that sexist pig asshole? Forget it.”
For the introduction to that book, I wrote an essay in which I attempted to summarize everything I thought I knew for sure about love; everything I’d learned in the forty-one years I’d been around at that point, five years ago. It was not a very long essay.
But in that essay I recounted an anecdote concerning myself and the woman who was to become my fourth wife. We had just met, were just beginning to date, and she asked me how many women I had been with. “Been with”: that’s one of those phrases we use.
After a few days of hemming and hawing, and avoiding answering the question because I didn’t think she really wanted to hear the truth, I was pressured into answering, and I did. It was a substantive number of liaisons.
Gary Crawford read that line about how many women I’d “been with” to this total stranger, this Anne who shares the cost of renting a house up in Kingston; and with a demonstration of provincial audacity that resonated perfectly with the concretized tenets of the Judeo-Christian Ethos, she concluded I was a brutalizer of women, a shallow gigolo or profligate tramp; a womanizer of the most odious sort.
Ah, lady, would that it were so. Too much pain and visceral material expended during the course of my love life ever to garner me such unassailable encomiums. No, kiddo, I’m just a slave of love like you.
The judgment is one, clearly, of geography… not morality.
But there it was happening to me again: some reader taking a tour through my life and doing it with considerable ineptitude, and then reporting back to strangers the skewed visions he had had while on his jaunt. And there goes Anne, getting all pruney around the lips and calling me bad names.
I won’t run my credentials. Call me what you will. It’s your problem and none of my own, friends. Anarchist, rakehell, asshole, monster, pyromaniac, child molester, assassin, lover of the music of Lawrence Welk… the most awful things you or I could think of. What the hell do I care? I’m still the one who can write these stories.
And no one ever said Dostoevski was a paragon of the virtues; but I’ll bet he bought his way into Heaven with The Idiot.
Why does he tell us all this?
I tell you all this because the next story you’ll read here is about fucking. No, not lovemaking, or “being with,” or anything more meaningful sexually than fucking. And I tell you all this ahead of time so you will understand that I think love and sex are separate and only vaguely similar. Like the word bear and the word bare. You can get in trouble mistaking one for the other.
The same goes for love and sex.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives. This is a hippity-hop through all of yours; even you too, Anne; you who engage in all that deep breathing about love and romance and the intricate pavane of sexual encounter when the truth of the matter is… the whole damn subject is mostly just funny.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives. Sometimes it’s done casually, an evening stroll whistling down an innocent lane or around a familiar block. Innocent and familiar until the light is seen in the abandoned house, until the fabric of space and time is torn and the gaping hole opens onto The Other Place, until the lurker in the shadows emerges. “Flop Sweat” is one of those. I wrote it innocently enough; but something dark and unexpected happened here that I didn’t plan on.
In December of 1977 I was contacted in Los Angeles by Carole Hemingway, host of the ABC radio affiliate KABC talk show bearing her name. I had done her program a number of times and had apparently been sufficiently weird for her vast audience to ask for return engagements. Several of these listeners remarked on my having written new stories in bookstore windows, and mentioned that I had even written a story over the radio for the Pacifica outlet here in L. A. She was intrigued and asked me if I would repeat the act on her show.
But with the enormous number of commercial interruptions endemic to the show’s format, it was obvious to me that even with a two-hour time-slot I wouldn’t be able to write anything coherent and still be able to carry on a conversation. So an alternate modus operandi was devised. And this was the method:
Carole would announce my forthcoming appearance for a number of days preceding, and as early as possible on the morning of the day I was to be her guest, she would call me and give me a specific thing she wanted me to use as the core of the story. I would take that basic situation or plot-element or whatever and write the story that day, completely that day, without any headstart or preliminary thinking… and have it finished to be read when we went on the air at 8:00 P. M.
Well, even under the most salutary conditions writing a story to order, with that pressing a deadline, from dead stop to completion, is a bit of a throw. But Carole made it that much more difficult by not calling till 1:00 in the afternoon; and when she did finally get through to me, her story springboard was—how shall I put this nicely—less than innervating.
Had she said, “An effluvium-covered brigantine without a living soul on board tacks into San Francisco harbor late in the winter of 1888. In the hold is an incredibly stout cage made of rare bubinga wood. The lock that seals the cage has affixed to it a strange, oddly disturbing runic seal. From within the cage come the sounds of something not-quite-human… in labor,” yeah, had she said that, I’d have been home free.
Or had she said, “Start with a sixty-year-old Viennese violinist who has been having a love affair with a woman who comes to the seedy club where he has played for the past forty-five years since he was a young man, every year, but only once a year, on the anniversary of their first liaison. And he continues to age and wither… but she has stayed twenty years old,” yeah, had she said that, I’d’ve whistled all the way to the studio that night.
Had she even said, “Disprove the existence of ghosts, or God, or Ronald Reagan,” I’d have had something to sink my fangs into. “Tell me a story of the ancient spirit ghosts of the Mohawks, come again to bedevil those modern-day Amerind high-steel workers on Manhattan towers,” okay, that’s a story beginning. “Do me a story that explains why such a high percentage of big business crooks are practicing attorneys,” not bad, a bit nebulous, but a workable basic concept; sure, I could have handled that.
But she said none of those. Nor anything else that might have made my life easier. What she said was:
“Write a story about a female talk show host.”
I think I groaned.
A female talk show host wanted me to write a story about a female talk show host. If true love could ever possibly have blossomed between Carole Hemingway and me, it was brutally crippled in that moment. And it had been so many years since I’d done any radio interviewing myself, I wasn’t sure I could write it with any degree of verisimilitude.
Nonetheless, undaunted, I accepted the challenge, sat down and started plotting. I had 6 ½ hours to devise and write a coherent story that wouldn’t get me laughed off the air. In a few minutes I had the basic idea and started typing “Flop Sweat.”
In the course of typing as fast as I could (I do about 120 words a minute on an Olympia office manual; never an electric, yucchhh; two fingers only), I found I needed some data I didn’t have in my library. So I called her assistant at the station, Fred Harris, and asked him to describe the physical setup of the broadcast booth, how many and what kinds of telephone lines they had (it’s a call-in show), and how many commercials per minute. And more. And more. That kind of stuff.
The dominant news story during that period, here in Los Angeles, was the mystery of the Hillside Strangler. I decided to use that as one of the basic elements in the piece, and I sat here writing the story with Ms. Hemingway’s station blasting away so I’d get the proper cadence of talk-to-commercials that would make the story read realistically.
I wrote all day, and by 7:30 that night had completed the 4500 words… wasting myself in the process. But I then had to shower, get dressed (I’d been working in a bathrobe all day and I was, er, um, a bit fragrant), get in the car, and drive all the way across Los Angeles to KABC-AM.
The show went on the air at eight.
Fortunately, the top of the hour is given over to a five minute news roundup that’s fed from ABC New York. That was all the slack time I needed. In the car, speeding down the Santa Monica Freeway at 80 m. p. h., I heard Carole Hemingway on my radio, saying, “Harlan Ellison isn’t here yet, but as you listeners know, he’s a most unusual person, and I’m sure he’ll rush into the control booth at any moment.”
“I’m coming, godammit, I’m coming’“ I screamed back at her, pounding the padded dashboard.
I hurtled into KABC-AM at 8:16 PM, took a few minutes for salutations and the catching of breath… and proceeded—if one can judge from the subsequent phone calls to the program—to scare the shit out of thousands of radio listeners with the story you’re about to read.
This story has not been revised. It comes to you precisely and exactly as it was written between the hours of 1:00 and 7:30 P. M. on December 21, 1977, the day it was performed over KABC TalkRadio.
Why does he tell me all this? Well, I tell it to you to prove that writers are not mythical creatures that live on crystal mountaintops. They are laborers working with inexplicable and invisible materials, but no more or less noble than a cabinetmaker who takes pride in his or her craft, who makes sure the rabbets are tight and smooth; no less approachable than a classy bricklayer who takes joy in the look of a line of bricks laid even and true; no more mysterious or honorable than a schoolteacher who can bring the Wars of the Roses to life for young people.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives.
And every once in a while the observed becomes an integral part of the life of the observer. Make no mistake, and when the reviews are written and the idle chatter is passed—never permit the deletion: I did not write this story alone. It was a true collaboration between me and one of the most exemplary human beings I have ever known, Haskell Barkin.
We wrote this as a lark, a number of years ago, and it was published in Playboy. In that way, Huck—as we call him—helped me realize a secret desire. I had always wanted to see my work in Playboy but had been unsuccessful in getting them to consider the stories seriously enough. Not only because Playboy is arguably the highest-paying magazine market in the world, but because as times have changed and fiction has waned in importance for that journal, to be replaced by topical nonfiction, the pages allocated for fiction have diminished. They are always hot to publish Cheever or Updike or Le Carré (and with justification because they are excellent), but because those fiction pages are held so dear they are highly selective in whom they permit to occupy that space. Unless one has had a popular success, from which instant name-identification provides an added value for their table of contents, it is strictly the quality of the material that buys a writer the chance at that forum.
Despite my having sent Playboy virtually everything of what I considered first rank for many years, including stories that later won awards and became widely anthologized, I could never get the nod. On one occasion they rejected a story titled “Pretty Maggie Money-eyes” on the grounds that the female character was stronger than the male character. As I say, even at Playboy times have changed. But for many years I was on the outside looking in. And it galled me. On a low energy level, to be sure, but a burr under my saddle nonetheless.
Then one Sunday Huck stopped by with an idea for a story. He told it to me and suggested we write it together, because he’d never written short stories. “Horse puckey,” I said, eschewing harsh language. “Write it yourself, kiddo. It’s a terrific idea and you’ve got the stuff aplenty to write it properly. Never take two people to do a job one can do as well.” (This, from a man who has written an entire book of collaborations. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. And while I’m about it, thanks Walt.)
You see, Huck has one of the great antic senses of humor in the civilized world. If anyone ever asked me to define droll, I’d schlep them over to Huck’s house and point at him. He is droll. So I was hardly being humble when I urged him to write the story himself. I was being logical: one hires an expert in matters vitreous when one requires an intricate job of glassblowing… not a window-washer.
The story-idea was a funny one.
And though I like to think many of my stories have an ample dollop of humor in them, droll is one of the many things I ain’t.
So Huck went off and a while later he came back with a story of maybe half a dozen pages. I read them, and the skeleton was there, but it hadn’t really been fleshed out. So I said, “Well, maybe we can make this a little better. Leave it with me, if you like, and I’ll run it through the typewriter again.”
Huck opined that would be peachykeen, and I shoved the story into a pending file till I had a little free time.
Ten thousand years later (to hear Barkin tell it), I got around to unshipping the manuscript, reread it, and did a final draft. I gave it to Huck to read, and he sat there laughing not at all. That’s his way. Droll, yes; effusive, forget it. When he got finished I thought he’d tell me it was ka-ka. Instead, he smiled and said, “It’s terrific; very funny.” Go figure it.
So we sent it out to the late A. C. Spectorsky of Playboy, with a recommendation kindly added by Ted Sturgeon, who was high in favor at Playboy at the time. And a few weeks later they bought it. My first sale to Playboy, a secret dream actualized through the direct involvement in my life of Huck Barkin.
Why is he telling us all this?
I tell you all this because writers take tours in other people’s lives and the dearest treasure one finds, second in importance only to wisdom and insight, is friendship. I write of friendship frequently. Oh, most of the time you may not recognize it, because I have it dressed up in outrageous garb, but that’s one of the most important things in life, as I see it, and I try to examine it as closely as love or courage or the mortal dreads… real friendship. Elsewhere in these pages you’ll find a very long tale about friendship called “All the Lies That Are My Life,” and though this story isn’t about friendship, it came into being because of friendship.
Huck has been my truest friend for a lot of years; going on twenty. The affection I’ve had lavished on me by Huck and his wife Carol and their daughter Tracy has carried me through many thorny times. He is one of the few people ever to call me out because of my bad behavior and do it in such a wise and loving way that I stopped doing what I’d been doing and changed my manner. Tracy has been a constant amazement to me, growing from a clever child into a remarkable young woman, and all the while providing a handy reminder that not all modern kids turn out to be me-generation nitwits or Texas-Tower snipers. Carol, as architect and self-fulfilling prophecy of female determinism in these most parlous times, has filled my home with light and beauty and loyalty.
It helps. God knows it helps. When a writer spends decades taking nasty sojourns through the brutalized lives of the kinds of people that make interesting fiction, being able to balance it off against a happily married, sensibly oriented, constantly growing, decent and honest family unit helps, God knows it helps.
And how do I repay these limitless kindnesses? In ways I do not think Amy Vanderbilt would have approved: first, I blame the faint cavalier tone of adolescent sexism in this story—however innocent and moronically slaphappy it may be—on Huck. It was his fault, Gloria! Second, I used Haskell Barkin’s name for an utterly amoral, vacuous and psychopathic character in another story I wrote a long time ago. It is the perfect name for a big blond beach-bum kinda guy. Go sue me. Art sometimes demands rapacious behavior. (Or as Faulkner once put it: “If a writer has to rob his mother he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.”)
This trip is mapped through a dark passage in my recent past. It deals with a mortal dread we all share: the madness that betides us when we have been fucked over once too often by the petty thugs and conscienceless pillagers who infest the world—from venal politicians who manipulate our lives for personal gain, down to the building contractors who promise decent craftsmanship and leave you with leaking roofs. At some point you go blind with rage. Why me? you wail! I don’t cheat people, I do my job honestly and with care… how can creeps like this be permitted to flourish?
Well, I offer you the words of the Polish poet Edward Yashinsky, who said, “Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you; fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers to walk safely on the earth.”
When I was a kid there was a popular novel titled Leave Her to Heaven. Though the book has long since passed out of my memory, the title has stuck. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “divine retribution.” The universe is neither malign nor benign. It’s just there, and it’s too busy keeping itself together to balance the scales when some feep has jerked you around. I am a strong adherent of the philosophy that one must seek retribution oneself.
And if the courts of the land cannot deliver up these people to justice then don’t form a lynch party, because that forces you to become what you have beheld, as vile as those who did you dirt. Instead, unleash primal forces against them. Force entry and take a trip through their lives in ways they will find most troublesome.
Write a story and let the power of the massmind git’m!
I was riding down Beverly Glen with Arthur Byron Cover. I said to Arthur, “You know, one of the things that always bothered me about those fantasies in which some dude comes across a magic shop that sells real magic, or three wishes, or genuine love potions, or whatever, is they never told you what kind of life was lived by the proprietor. I mean, where did he get his stock? In what sort of coin could you pay someone for things that valuable? When the dude leaves the shop it always vanishes; where does it go? What happened to the poor schmuck who ran the joint? Huh, answer me that?”
Arthur looked at me seriously and said, “You know, you’re a very weird person.”
That is how this story came to be written.
To satisfy my curiosity.
And you can stick it in your ear, Cover.
Art, someone said, is meant to clarify and elucidate complex experience.
This story is intended as clarification and elucidation. The topic under discussion is friendship. As I warned earlier in these pages, this is the long one that forms the core of the collection. It is 22,300 words in length, and it has taken me about twelve years to write it. No, I don’t mean I’ve spent the last twelve years working on this piece to the exclusion of all others… I mean it’s been perking and getting itself born for that long. I knew bits and pieces of it a long time ago; but other parts I simply wasn’t old enough or self-aware enough to understand.
I’m not saying I’m any smarter now than when I first went at this idea. What I am saying is that some stories refuse to let you at them until they’re sure you know what the hell you’re doing.
(Later on in this book there’s a story I wrote before it was ready to be written. I’ve included it because it’s a recent work and I want it in print; but before this book makes the transition from copyedited manuscript to galleys I’ll try to thrash the bejeezus out of that story in hopes I’ve learned enough in the last two years to make it come right. If not, you’ll read a crippled thing. I don’t have to tell you which one it is: you’ll know.)
This is my most recent writing. It tries to deal with just what we mean when we say of someone else, “He’s my friend.”
One time I was arrested and canned for being an “outside agitator” in Valdosta, Georgia. I was not alone; there were quite a few other “outside agitators” who also got swept up by the Laws. But I suppose it was my assertion that I could not possibly be an “outside agitator” because I was a member of the human race, a citizen of the world, just another link in the chain, that prevented me from paying the fine like the others, and being carted to the state line for instant dispersal. They decided to hold me for a few days, just to teach me a lesson.
And sitting there in the Valdosta slam, I complained to the innkeeper that I hadn’t eaten all day and I. d like something plain and downhome. After he stopped laughing he advised me that brunch had long since been served and that I’d have to wait till that night for the sumptuous county-provided meal.
In the next cell was an old man who’d been hauled in for pissing on some woman’s garden. He never told me why he’d taken it upon himself to nourish the flora in that way.
He dug around in his pockets and came up with a half-eaten Power House candy bar. He offered it to me, and I took it. There was no reason why he should have done that, but he did it, and I thanked him. Several times I thanked him.
For a few minutes there in Valdosta, Georgia, that old man was my friend.
Another time, just recently, a man who had been a close friend for eight years, who had assured me that when and if I needed his assistance he would be there, who had always talked a very courageous talk, who came to my home and who shared meals with me, who acted (in all ways that required no demonstration of risk) as if he were my friend… betrayed me in a court of law, while under oath, renouncing what he had said in sworn deposition… and all to the end of trying to cripple a lawsuit it took me four years of my life to get before a judge and jury.
The pain of listening to him dissemble, there in that courtroom, was infinitely greater than the pain inflicted on me by the original injustice, by the days, weeks and months I have lost trying to get justice, by the vast sums of money I have expended trying to counter powerful opponents. During the time he testified I felt the pain of watching a friend die. Despite his perfidy, I won… and won big.
I can only suppose he did it out of self-interest, out of lack of courage, out of fear. Nonetheless, I now realize he could never have been my friend.
So what is friendship?
My answers to that question are no more formidable than my answers to the questions what is love or what is art?
It redefines itself each time the question is confronted. But this I do think is true: there is an element of risk in friendship. It is a quality that defines itself in terms of love and loyalty as the readiness to inconvenience oneself at risk of something valuable. And that seldom means money. It means the skin goes on the line.
I think that’s right.
But maybe not.
In this story a writer delivers his own obituary. Some of that last will and testament is mine. Some is not. The narrator and the protagonist are partially me and partially a close friend of mine, a man I’ve called friend for over twenty-five years. The two of us are purposely intermingled, and large chunks of pure invention have been added to both. This is fiction, not personal memoir. Try not to read too much one-for-one into the bits and pieces of this work.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives, and readers must be canny enough to understand that some writers like to playa mean little game of misdirection when it looks as if they’re inviting entry into the private back rooms of the writer himself.
I wrote this story on the 8th and 9th day of November, 1977, sitting in the front window of the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore in Boston.
Bill Desmond effected a sound hookup that permitted me to play the wonderful music of the French-Algerian guitar genius, Django Reinhardt, while I worked.
Writing in the window was a promotional gimmick to bring people into the bookstore because the owners of the shop were footing my hotel bill while I was in Boston lecturing.
As I wrote that story, I had the strangest feeling I was being watched from a far distance by someone no longer with us. Understand: I am a pragmatist. I do not believe in reincarnation or messages from Beyond or ghosts or even the Nameless Ones who lie sleeping in Ultimate Darkness. But I had a prickly feeling all that time in the window.
And it unnerved me as I am seldom unnerved when writing. As if someone were over my shoulder, watching anxiously to make sure I did it right.
Consequently, I had the feeling I’d written the story all wrong; that I didn’t really know what I was writing; that I didn’t understand my own subtext.
When the story was finished I offered it to the editors of Galileo magazine who, not coincidentally, also own the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore. They had wanted a story from me for some time, and I’d promised them the fruits of my labors in their windows. I offered the story with trepidation.
While I am occasionally rejected by magazines, even these days, it happens infrequently enough to scare the hell out of me when it seems possible. I suppose one is never inured to the fear of that kind of rejection.
But they liked it, they bought it, they published it, and the story drew sufficient praise to dull my worries. Not enough praise to flense the fear completely, but sufficient to permit my continued arrogance.
When you’re all alone out there, on the end of the typewriter, with each new story a new appraisal by the world of whether you can still get it up or not, arrogance and self-esteem and deep breathing are all you have.
It often looks like egomania. I assure you it’s the bold coverup of the absolutely terrified.
It was not until the story was selected—in a blind judging by Poul Anderson, himself an excellent writer, who did not know who had written what—as the winner of the annual Galileo short story contest, from all the stories the magazine had published that year, that my fears were laid to rest.
Success, no matter how complete, no matter how persistent and ongoing, cannot totally shield us from the mortal dreads.
I wish it were otherwise, gentle readers, but the simple truth is that I am in the box with you.
And there is always someone over your shoulder… watching.
For those whose reading taste runs to People Magazine and TV Guide, whose idea of “conversation” is the self-aggrandizement and flotsam-jetsam chitchat of The Merv Griffin Show, who cannot wait to buy books that reveal Elvis Presley was a dope addict and that Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy (Jesus, do you believe that lunacy? Robin Hood was a Nazi spy! Gimme a break, Lord!)—for all such open receivers of meretricious, mischievous gossip who happened to wander in here, I offer the current information that my fourth marriage broke up several years ago and I am once again loose on the streets of the world.
Why does he tell us this?
I tell you this because the story you’re about to read was begun on the shores of Loch Tummel in Scotland on October 12, 1975, during a stay at the Queen’s View Inn while in company with Lori, whom I later married. (For historians of trivia, I asked Lori to marry me on Saturday, May 8, 1976; we were married on Saturday, June 5, 1976; she left me for Smilin’ Jack on Saturday, November 20, 1976; and the divorce was effected on Wednesday, March 16, 1977.)
I was in love. Apparently Lori was in love. We were in love with each other. And I began what I intended as a love story. Things began falling apart, though, even before we were married; and I wrote only three pages of the story that Sunday night at the Queen’s View. The day before we’d taken the train to Edinburgh, we’d wasted most of the day sleeping in at the Portobello Hotel in London. I’d awakened several times during that lazy morning and afternoon that I’d intended to spend revisiting for the third time the Tate Gallery, and I was struck by how much valuable time is wasted in even the most adventurous and event-filled life. Thought about that, lying there staring out through the French doors at the Stanley Gardens, and went back to sleep. Woke later, more time gone, and thought about it again as a fly buzzed through our room. And slept again.
Just so are stories born. Apocryphally, on that day were sown the seeds of the dissolution of love and marriage—even then, before we were wed, it was falling apart.
And the next evening, in Scotland, where I’d longed to live for as far back as I could remember, sitting there before a roaring fireplace in the Queen’s View Inn, I was overcome with the painful knowledge that I was alien to that place, that love somehow would not endure, that I could never come to make my home in Scotland, and I began the story.
I did not finish that story until September of 1978.
It was concluded in four days of sporadic writing while sitting in a plastic tent on the mezzanine of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. I was engaged in two mutually contradictory activities at that time. I was the Guest of Honor at the 36th annual World Science Fiction Convention (the IguanaCon) and I was protesting Arizona’s failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Quite a lot has been written about all that, and it hasn’t much to do with the writing of this story, so I’ll skip over it, leaving to those whose curiosity has been piqued, all the reams of copy about my subversive, fandom-destroying activities in the name of equal rights.
To the point: because I felt that too often Guests of Honor are inaccessible to the mass of attendees at such World Conventions, I arranged for the IguanaCon committee to erect a work-space in full and open view of the entire membership of the Convention. I promised to write a new story, to be taped to the wall for progressive reading as I worked, that would keep me available to the attendees but would also provide a minimal loss of writing time during that long weekend of Guest-of-Honoring.
I concluded “Count the Clock that Tells the Time” on Sunday, September 3, 1978, just a few hours before I won my seventh Hugo award for “Jeffty is Five,” the story that opens this book.
I finished the story, I won another Hugo, I fulfilled my moral and ethical obligations… and I was once again alone. How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself…
When I was a very little boy in Painesville, Ohio, a woman who lived up the street had my dog, Puddles, picked up by the dogcatcher and gassed while I was away at summer camp. I’ve never forgotten her. I think I hate her as much today, forty years after the fact, as I did the day I came back from camp and my father took me in his arms and explained that Puddles was dead. That old woman is no doubt long gone, but the hate lives on.
Each of us moves through life shadowed by childhood memories. We never forget. We are bent and shaped and changed by those ancient fears and hatreds. They are the mortal dreads that in a million small ways block us off or drive us toward our destiny.
Is it impossible to realize that those memories are merely the dead, ineffectual past; that they need not chain us?
A fine writer named Meyer Levin once wrote, “Three evils plague the writer’s world: suppression, plagiarism, and falsification.”
The first two are obvious. They are monstrous and must be fought at whatever cost, wherever they surface.
The last is more insidious. It makes writers lie in their work. Not because they want to, but because the truth is so terribly clouded by insubstantial wraiths, personal traumas, the detritus of adolescent impressions. Who among us can deny that within each adult is caged a frightened child?
This is a horror story.
There are no ghosts or slimy monsters or antichrist omens. At least none that can physically reach out and muss the hair. The horrors are the ones we create for ourselves; and they are the ones we all share.
This is also a cautionary tale, intended to say You are not alone. We all carry the past with us like the chambered nautilus; and we all must find ways to exorcise it at peril of our destiny.
In recent years—and you’ve probably heard me bitching about this elsewhere—writers of contemporary fantasy have come in for considerable attention from Academe. I’ve been spared more of that kind of literary disembowelment than, say, Bradbury or Heinlein or Le Guin, mostly because I tend to move too fast and too shiftily for any publish-or-perish professor to get a handle on me. (There are those who contend I’m unworthy of serious attention, and to them a tip of the hat. I have this paranoid belief that the more acceptable one becomes to the Establishment, the less dangerous and troublesome is one’s work.)
Notwithstanding these baseless canards, there have been essays and monographs and even treatises published in learned journals about the rampant symbolism in my stories, my preoccupation with the Machine As God, the deeply religious anti-religiousness in Deathbird Stories, obvious uses of the Jungian archetypes, the crucifixion and resurrection symbology peppered through my stories, and the frequency of the use of the word “ka-ka.”
I am always startled at the depths revealed in my stories by these erudite critics. I try not to argue with them. I just smile knowingly and respond, “You little devil, you. You found me out!”
The more profound they think they are, the more they require their students to read you; and that means the poor kids have to buy the books containing my stories. And that means a fat and happy life of work, free from the horrors of maybe having to write television scripts. So who am I to say nay, who am I to suggest they’re stuffed topfull of wild blueberry muffins?
What is beginning to unman me is that this plague seems to be spreading to my readers. Now I conceive of all of you as the noblest, wittiest, most intelligent audience in the world. Otherwise you’d be off reading ka-ka like that proffered by Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon, to name only two of the creative typists masquerading as writers.
Well, sir. You can imagine my horror and surprise when I received a letter last February from a reader that went like this: [Letter reprinted by permission of James Griffin, Philadelphia, Pa.]
Dear Mr. Ellison:
Last summer I found, by accident, your story “Croatoan” and was disturbed and excited by the resemblances to the sixth book of Vergil’s Aeneid. There were too many to be accidental, but I still couldn’t imagine you following Vergil intentionally, even to the meeting with the man with no hands. I was afraid I had stumbled on something out of the universal subconscious, and felt responsible for doing something about it.
Tonight I browsed through Strange Wine and noticed the references to Isak Dinesen and [Cyril Connolly’s book of essays] The Unquiet Grave. I read the story again and wondered why the comparison of the child to a lemur hadn’t tipped me off. I’m relieved to think you knew what you were doing.
Thanks for giving us, along with a good story, new ways to think about Vergil.Sincerely yours, James Griffin
What can I say? Humbly, I bow my head and dimple winsomely. Paw the dirt with my hoof, tug my forelock, suck my thumb and murmur aw, shucks. You’re very perceptive. That’s exactly what I was doing. You little devil, you. You found me out!
There’s just one small glitch in the smooth flow.
I’ve never read Vergil’s Aeneid.
The story you are about to read is stuffed full of very conscious symbolism. Catch it now, friends; I don’t do it that often; maybe three times in twenty-five years.
This story was written in direct response to the killing pain of my last wife taking off with another guy. The pain lasted at least twelve minutes, which is the actually recorded duration of genuine’ pain. Everything over twelve minutes is self-indulgence and pointless attempts to make the first twelve minutes seem more important. We are a vainglorious species, and if we were able to cop to the fact that even the most sauvage of what the French call la grande passion commands only twelve true minutes of intense pain before it begins to mellow, we would all dash to the cliffs and do a lemming. So we justify it by enhancing it, by making it seem more important, more consuming. We wander around for twenty years after the affair has broken up, beating our breasts and wailing at the sky.
No nobler than you, I wandered for several months after my last marriage broke up, beating my breast and wailing at the sky, not to mention my friends, who (with uncommon good sense) told me to shut up already. And one night, during a performance of Jacques Brei Is Alive and Well in Paris, a line from one of his wonderful songs struck right to the core of my lost love, and I wrote this story.
I wish to God I could remember what the line was.
In twenty-five years as a professional writer, I’ve had the kind of Olympian, enriching experience with an editor, mythologized by the career of Maxwell Perkins in relation to Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Ring Lardner and James Jones… only twice. What I mean to say is that I have worked hard at learning my craft; there is a continuity in the material; a stance that is my own, a voice I hope is singular: I know more about what I do than anyone else in the world.
Most of the editors with whom I’ve had liaisons have had salient points to make, valid suggestiorls for tightening up this or that, directions they thought I might take. But only twice have I been lifted beyond my abilities by the direct intervention of an editor.
This story is the most significant example, and speaks to a deep sense of loss in me.
“All the Birds Come Home to Roost” took many years to write. I had the idea back in the early seventies. It came to me because a number of women with whom I’d had relationships, which relationships had broken up and the women vanished from my world, suddenly began reappearing. Nothing mysterious about it: when I’d known them they were young and they’d gone off to begin careers, to get married, to discover themselves. Now, eight, nine, ten years later they were going through transition. Marriages dissolved, career changes, youthful escapades having palled on them, they were returning to the scenes of happier times. And they were getting back in touch with those they knew in those brighter days.
But with the mind of the fantasist I made the leap into a fictional construct: what if some guy found his life being run in reverse but only in terms of the women he’d known?
And that meant something ominous had to be at the end of the chain.
Since the story paralleled my own experiences in many ways, experiences shared by so many of us, I decided to take one of those tours through others’ lives by taking one through mine. I used as the focus of the story the fact that the protagonist had had a disastrous first marriage that had haunted him across the years, that had blighted his subsequent relations with women.
Before I proceed, let me reiterate: I do not write diary. A writer cannibalizes his own life and memories, yes, that is true. All we have to work with is what we know and what we dream. But nothing is more boring than kvetching in fiction. Thinly disguised personal reminiscence is not fiction. Those who, in the past, have identified me with everything that goes down in my stories have assumed I am a murderer, a transvestite, a cannibal, a sexist, a feminist, a racist, an egalitarian, an elitist, a vegetarian, an esthete, a commoner, a psychopath, a pacifist, a pederast, a womanizer, a layabout and a workaholic. Despite the fact that I have never used drugs, there is a large segment of my readership that swears I’m a heavy doper.
Why is he telling us all this?
I’m telling you all this because the protagonist of the story before you speaks of his first wife as having been in an insane asylum for many years, and my first wife also went through many years of emotional disorder. But though I have drawn on my own experiences, I am not the Michael Kirxby of this story.
I tell you this to explain why the intervention of my editor at Playboy, Victoria Chen Haider, was so important to the story, and to me. I tell you this because her wisdom is so rare in editorial circles that it must not be forgotten.
After I’d written the story and sent it to Vicky Haider, she called and said she was very high on it, wanted to use it in Playboy,. and had only one reservation. I asked her what that might be.
She made reference to the section in the story where Kirxby is talking about how terrible his marriage had been, how it had damned near driven him crazy, and how he knew if he ever got into his ex-wife’s clutches again it would end in his confinement to a madhouse. Vicky Haider said there was something missing at that point.
“What was so awful about the marriage?” she wanted to know.
My blood ran cold.
Vicky Haider knew nothing of my background, had no awareness of the terror that lurked back there in my past, the four deadly years with Charlotte.
She had no way of knowing that I was only now, twenty-some years later, able to speak of that monstrous period in my life. Oh, I wasn’t paralyzed by it. Not that extreme. I had relegated all those awful memories to a dark cell at the farthest point at the rear of a dank, chill subterranean cavern in my mind. And from time to time I would descend the slippery stone stairs to that cavern, pass between the moist evil-smelling walls and shine a dim light into the cell. I could take quick, short glimpses in there when I had to; but it wasn’t anything I wanted to spend a lot of time examining.
My conscience was clear about what happened to Charlotte, but no one escapes that kind of relationship without feeling some vestigial guilt, deserved or not.
I had mentioned the affair indirectly in one or another story through the years, but I’d never used it as a major element in my fiction. This time I’d been brave, I’d gone down the steps, through the cavern to the cell, and held the dim light up to the barred window for longer than ever before. It had shaken me, but I’d thought I was really courageous in doing it.
Now here was Vicky Haider asking me to go down there and open the door and stare for a long time at the horrible memories chained to the wall. Without any indication save her remarkable instincts as an editor, she had struck directly to the flaming core of the torment in the story. What she was asking me to do was more terrifying than suggestions of diving into a tank of hammerhead sharks. She wanted me to confront one of the most deeply hidden secrets of my life.
How could she have known?
She was an editor, in the noblest, most innovative sense of that word. She was not one of the parvenus who wind up behind desks and call themselves editors; she was an editor. She understood story, understood that it is only when a writer comes to grips with the darkest fears and mortal dreads in his caverns of memory that dangerous, meaningful fiction is produced.
I swallowed hard and told her I’d see what I could do.
Though it had taken years to get the story written, once I’d begun the actual writing it had gone swiftly, only a few full days of unceasing labor.
It took me two months to produce the ten paragraphs she needed, the mere two pages of additional copy that would encapsulate with one incident the four year hell through which Charlotte and I had toiled.
How do you sum it up? What one escapade foreshadows and memorializes all the cumulative ghastliness that ends in divorce and madness? Relationships aren’t like that. They don’t have clear-cut melodramatic parameters. They’re amalgams of a million isolated, minuscule slights, affronts, cruelties and brutalities.
Two months. It took me two months, but I finally did it, and it left me sweating and cold. I sent her the pages and she said, “Yes, this is what was missing.” Yes, it was. The soul of darkness.
This story is one of my best, I now think. It is certainly one of my most painful. And I owe it all to Victoria Chen Haider. I’m glad I got to tell her that.
On May 25, 1979, Vicky Haider died in the O’Hare Airport crash of an American Airlines DC-10. She was on her way to the American Booksellers Association convention here in Los Angeles. We had planned to meet for the first time.
I never talked to Vicky Haider face-to-face, and now she is gone; and as a writer who once tasted the wonder of working with an exceptional editor who knew more about what I was doing than even I knew, my sense of loss is beyond the telling.
When you’re alone, as a writer is alone, locked in single combat with the imagination, allies are rare and special.
Those who understand are even rarer.
This story is as much Vicky Haider’s as it is mine.
And all of us are the poorer because she will never again work her editorial magic.
This one was written to be read on television.
I’ve done so on two occasions: first, on an NBC interview show called At One With…, with the estimable Keith Berwick as host; the second time I read it over the Canadian Broadcasting Company during the go Minutes Live show, then-hosted by Peter Gzowski.
Bringing the spoken word to the tube-enslaved masses.
No, I’m not going to enter another crazed screed against television and its manifest horrors. Consult my last book for everything I care to say on that dreary topic.
Then why does he tell us all this?
I tell you all this because “Opium” was intended as a bit of guerrilla warfare. It is a story that says only one thing: we are entertaining ourselves into oblivion.
I can’t stand it, we say. I work my ass off all day, and I just want to get away from it all, we say. I don’t want any heavy stuff, I just want to be entertained, we say. And so we spend the major part of our nonworking hours escaping the Real World, the pragmatic universe, if you will. Whether it be fast sex, fundamentalist religion, cheap novels, empty-headed movies, booze, dope, sword’n’sorcery fantasy, endless television-watching, fast food or miniature golf, we run from dealings with the Real World like ants from Raid.
So I wrote this story to say that Entropy tries to maintain the status quo in order to keep the system working. And that permits of very little outlawry, very little berserk behavior. And from the desperados, whether they be Einstein or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, come the strength and the upheaval that moves the world forward toward light and reason.
And the “opium of the people” (as Marx called religion) has changed through the centuries. Now it’s all the elements noted above that keep people distracted and dumb. And that includes the deification of sports. (Quoting from another great philosopher, Howard Cosell, who said: “Sports are the Toy Department of life… the primary means for sustaining delusion and illusion. “)
This story, intended as fifth column warfare against the medium of television, to be read on television, says simply that if the Real World isn’t interesting enough to command the attention of the lives it contains, then maybe the Real World will alter itself magically to keep us away from Taco Bell and Laverne & Shirley.
This moment of softness has been brought to you by Zee Toilet Tissue.
I was dragged, kicking and screaming, on a tour through the lives of two women, once upon a time.
It was one of the most awful experiences of all time.
Including the Spanish Inquisition, the murder of Garcia Lorca, the genocide of the Brazilian indians, the crucifixion of Spartacus’ army of slaves, the sinking of the Titanic, the fire-bombing of Dresden and the trial of the Scottsboro Boys. This experience, I tell you, contained elements of all of the above, plus a few personal nasties that make me shudder when I think of them.
The experience does not, in any but one isolated reference, appear in this story. But it was that long night that inspired the writing.
Further, deponent sayeth not.
I have nothing to say about this story.
Everything that is appropriate to say about this final entry of the current grimoire has been said in the general introduction, “Mortal Dreads,” with the possible exception of this:
There is a curse over the door to my tomb. It says, Beware all ye who enter here—because herein lie the proofs of observation that we are all as one, living in the same skin, each of us condemned to handle the responsibility of our past, our memories, our destiny as elements in the great congeries of life. And if you find these dark dreams troubling, perhaps it is because they are your dreams.
It’s been nice visiting with you.
And when next the full moon rises, and the sounds from beyond the campfire are ominously semihuman, we will gather again and I’ll listen to your tales and then write them up in my way, and give them back to you.
Until that time.
He claims he’s not a fan of rock-and-roll, but somehow Harlan Ellison’s seminal novel based on the career of Jerry Lee Lewis ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the first — and still one of the best — dissections of the wildly destructive rock-and-roll lifestyle, Spider Kiss isn’t about giant cockroaches that attack Detroit or space invaders that smell like chicken soup. Instead, it’s the story of Luther Sellers, a poor kid from Louisville with a voice like an angel who’s renamed Stag Preston by a ruthless promoter. Preston’s meteoric rise on the music scene is matched only by the rise in his enormous appetites — and not just for home cooking — and soon the invisible monkey named Success is riding him straight to hell. This raucous early novel reinforces Ellison’s reputation as one of America’s most dynamic writers.
Won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1969.
In his introduction to the The Best American Noir of the Century, James Ellroy writes, 'noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It's the long drop off the short pier and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It's the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the precise how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad.' Offering the best examples of literary sure things gone bad, this collection ensures that nowhere else can readers find a darker, more thorough distillation of American noir fiction.
James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, series editor of the annual The Best American Mystery Stories, mined one hundred years of writing - 1910-2010 - to find this treasure trove of thirty-nine stories. From noir's twenties-era infancy come gems like James M. Cain's 'Pastorale,' and its post-war heyday boasts giants like Mickey Spillane and Evan Hunter. Packing an undeniable punch, diverse contemporary incarnations include Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith, Joyce Carol Oates, Dennis Lehane, and William Gay, with many page-turners appearing in the last decade.
Going ten years strong, the acclaimed collection of contemporary horror fiction again showcases the talents of the finest writers working the field of fear. Along with his annual review of the year in horror, award-winning editor Stephen Jones has chosen the year's best stories by the old masters and new voices alike. — The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 10 includes bloodcurdlers and flesh-crawlers from Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Etchison, Thomas Ligotti, Michael Marshall Smith, Peter Straub, Kim Newman, Harlan Ellison, and many others.
In a career spanning more than 50 years, Harlan Ellison has written or edited 75 books, more than 1700 stories, essays, articles and newspaper columns, two dozen teleplays, and a dozen movies.
Now, for the first time anywhere, Troublemakers presents a collection of Ellison's classic stories—chosen by the author—that will introduce new readers to a writer described by the New York Times as having "the spellbinding quality of a great nonstop talker, with a cultural warehouse for a mind."
Here’s one of the few Secret Truths I’ve learned for certain, having been “on the road” since I was thirteen and ran away. (Had nothing to do with my folks; they didn’t beat me; I was a restless kid, wanted to see the world.) The Truth is this: most of the reasons we give for having done something or other, usually something that got us yelled at or grounded or busted, most of the reasons we dream up are horse-puckey. (I’d use the B-word, but libraries are going to be stocking this book.) All those reasons and excuses are just lame rationalizations, and they only tick off the people yelling at you. So shine ‘em on. Forget them. The only reason that makes any sense is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Lame though it may be, it’s the Truth. “Why did you bust that window?” It seemed like a good idea at the time. “Why did you get hung up on that guy/girl when you knew it was a destructive hookup?” It seemed like a good idea at the time. “Why did you do that lump of crack?” It seemed... well, you get it. Too bad the guy in this first story didn’t get it, because the True Answer to why you fell in love with someone who ranked & hurt you is...it seemed like...
I don’t know about you, but I hate it when the coming attractions trailers at the Cineplex give away the whole plot of the flick they want me to pay megabucks to see next week. Same for when they do it on television, or in a review of some book, and they print one of those idiot “spoiler warning” lines-as if we had the self-control to stop reading or watching. So I don’t want to give away the punchline of this next story, but I need to put in right here what the troublemaker “lesson” is. So let me be even more obscure than usual. Pay attention: not everything in life is what it seems to be. On the other hand, this psychologist named Sigmund Freud once said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” meaning not everything is necessarily a symbol for something else, in this case a phallic symbol (you could look it up). We are usually afraid of, or suspicious of, that which we don’t understand; that which is unfamiliar. So before you start seeing enemies under the bed, and thinking somebody who dresses or looks or sounds different from you is a threat, remember the old story about the mouse (or squirrel, or frog, whichever version you heard) who is out on this road at midnight in the wintertime, and he’s freezing his mouse, squirrel or frog butt off, and along comes this big horse, and he sees the creature is turning blue and about to die (or in the case of the frog, to croak), and he drops a big, fat, steaming, smelly road muffin on him. It may be foul in there, but at least he’s warm, and his life is saved. Until a fox comes along, sees him all nice and toasty, his head sticking out, and fox takes a bite and yanks out the itty-bitty critter, and eats him. The moral being: not everybody who dumps you in the sh-t is an enemy; not everybody who pulls you out of the sh-t is a friend. Sometimes things are simpler than they seem. Sometimes all you’re afraid of is your own ignorance.
If this next story seems a bit familiar, it’s only because an ego-drenched movie director ripped it off when I adapted it in 1965 for a segment of The Outer Limits. So I brought a lawsuit against the film company. If you perceive a striking similarity here to a movie called The Terminator, well, go rent a VHS or DVD and watch at the end, when they roll the credits, to see something interesting. So this story has two good troublemaker lessons to be learned. The first one is so obvious I’m embarrassed even to be laying it on you: violence becomes a way of life. If you think a punch in the mouth really solves any problems, pretty soon that’s the only way you can handle a problem, big or small. And finally, one day, you take a swing and someone puts out your lights for keeps. Smart is better than strong. Clever is better than clocking someone. Outthink the problem, don’t let it bench-press you into making it your problem. The other lesson is the one the Academy award-winning director should have learned (and maybe he hasn’t even learned it yet): don’t let your ego get so hungry that it leads you to act unethically because you think you’re such Hot Stuff and nobody can touch you. Don’t think the rest of the world is as stupid as you’d like it to be: somebody is always watching. Sunny Jim, know this: there is always a faster gun out there; and there are some people whom you just cannot scare, no matter how big and loud you come on.
I had this pal when I was about fifteen or so, I’ll call him Dandy, even though that wasn’t his name. He’s still around, and I see no reason to disrespect him, but I want to use him as the example of the troublemaker lesson embodied in the story that follows...an admittedly silly little story I wrote early in my career. Dandy was talented. He was whip-smart, and good-looking and could talk to girls and adults with ease. He was the front-man for our bunch of weird geekazoids, because he got along with the basketball team and the social slicks and the cops, even. But he was one of us, because he liked to read, and he had a talent for writing, and he understood science and math and all like that, sort of an all-around Renaissance High School kid. So we all thought he was going to be the one who became famous and rich and had the best-looking girls. (Remember, I was the one who was gonna wind up in the gutter or jail.) And soon after we all graduated high school, Dandy wrote this story that got published in one of the most prestigious magazines of the time, he got a book contract, he got a full scholarship to an atomic energy university, and he was courted and inducted into a top-line fraternity. And the book never got published, he bombed out of school, he drank too much, and he wound up writing copy for some mail order catalogue. Spent a decade or so wandering around, and last time I heard of him he’d managed to find a happy berth, and was enjoying life. But now he’s approaching seventy, and there was a lot of potential and grandeur that never got to show itself. He procrastinated. He put off till a decade later, that which he should’ve done today. Rain, rain, go away, come again...
The lesson in this “space opera” should be apparent. If you’re hired to do a job, DO THE DAMNED JOB! There are always punk-out reasons you can dream up why: “I’m not being paid enough” or “They work me too hard” or “How come s/he over there is doing the same job as I am, but s/he’s getting paid twice as much” or “They don’t respect me.” You’re supposed to enjoy the work you do, but if circumstances put you in the grease at a Mickey D’s, or under a leaking tranny on somebody’s Yugo, or working the stockroom at a K-Mart or Target, and you have to do it for the dough, and you hate the job, and you hate the hours, and you hate the fact that you can’t be out hanging with the posse, well tough sh-t, Joker; you signed on to do the job, and they pay you to do it, so DO THE DAMNED JOB! If you don’t like the gig, quit. Give ‘em notice promptly, don’t leave ‘em in the lurch suddenly, don’t trash the area out of baby-spite, and don’t start shoplifting. Just DO THE DAMN JOB! That’s how somebody with strength does it. Don’t whine, don’t piss’n’moan, don’t jerk ‘em around, just hang in there as long as it’s ethically necessary, and then get in the wind. But if you sign on to do the job, no matter how onerous the chore, DO THE DAMNED JOB, just do it.
Trying to inject a subtextual “moral” into a story as brief as this one puts me in mind of a great quotation by the author of Moby Dick, Mr. Herman Melville. He once said: “No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.” (And even though the wonderful Don Marquis did a whole book about a cockroach named archy, and his swinging friend, the slut cat Mehitabel, a cockroach is certainly higher on the evolutionary scale than a flea, so what that tells us, hey, I don’t have all the answers.) But though I’m writing this “troublemaker lesson” where it ain’t necessary, because this short-short story is essentially the product of a smartass who never grew up, it does, in fact, suggest a lesson you deadbeats ought to heed. Which is this: if all you’ve got to back up your wisecracks and stupid jokes-the kind you make in the movie audience that gets everyone cheesed-off at you-is more smartmouth, you are very quickly going to look to everyone around you, everyone you want to be impressed by you, as what you truly are: a horse’s patoot.
Since I was in trouble from the git-go (hell, I was taken to the Principal’s Office on my first day in kindergarten; not ten minutes after my mother let go of my hand and left me in that classroom full of babies and sandboxes) (I’ll tell you that tale another time, but I suspect Miss Whatever Her Name Was, the kindergarten teacher at Lathrop Grade School in 1939 or ‘40, whatever it was, in Painesville, Ohio, I’ll bet she still has the marks of my fangs in her right hand), I knew early on that I would have to pretend to be one of the crowd, as best I could fake it, or get the crap kicked out of me at recess and after-school every day. Well, like Alf Gunnderson in this next story, I managed to hide my true personality a little...but not very well, and not for very long times at a stretch. Folks, believe me on this one: if you are what we call a “green monkey,” the other apes are going to rip you a new one every time they smell you. Hiding out is an art. But don’t hide yourself so well that others like you can’t find you. And don’t follow the crowd so much that eventually you’re not playing at it. Don’t wind up doing it so well that the mask you’ve worn to perfection becomes your real face. Protect yourself, but don’t get assimilated. And never wage a land war in Asia. I just thought I’d throw that in. You never know.
So I’m watching the report on CNN about how little kids who’ve become enamoured of smackdown wrestling (which is so fulla crap bogus I can never figure how anybody can be dumb enough even to watch it, much less think of it as anything but staged stupidity, Three Stooges in ugly tights...but then I can also never understand why people who watch those weepy televangelists don’t spot them as the con men they truly are), and the kids are so impressionable...not to mention dumb as a paving stone...that they’re setting up these makeshift WWF play areas in their backyards. And they’re jumping on each other, and they’re hitting each other with chairs, and they’re throwing smaller kids against walls, and they’re dropping both knees into some other urchin’s solar plexus, and in general going way beyond the kind of silly horseplay you and I engaged in when we were their age. (And here’s a question: isn’t there an adult in that time zone who can see what’s going down, and maybe suggest that poking a garden hoe into another kid’s eye might impair his career as an air traffic controller in later life?) But the chilling capper to this report is the moment when one of these doofus children, who has been-are you ready for this-videotaping the massacre, isn’t satisfied with the “reality” of the scenario, and he takes a flippin’ cheese grater to the face of his “opponent,” slicing and dicing the kid for life, and he looks into the camera and grins and says, “See, now ya kin see the blood! Ain’t it kewl!” The troublemaker lesson to be learned from this story is: curiosity about things that you shouldn’t be curious about can get you scarred for life. Oh, and the other lesson: stay away from people dumber than you. If such creatures exist.
The lesson here is pretty much like the lesson in the previous story, except it’s stated differently. So don’t give me a hard time; sometimes I have to write a piece of philosophy half a dozen different ways, just till my weary brain gets the message. Let us not forget that I was getting into trouble even worse than yours, years before you came out of yo momma, squealin’ an’ pukin’, which makes me dumber than you, earlier than you. And it takes me a while to catch on. But one thing I know for certain: when I go to what my wife charmingly refers to as a “face-sucking alien” movie, and some actor we’ve come to like a lot ventures off by himself, or herself, into that dark room or down those basement stairs or, the way Harry Dean Stanton got offed in Alien, wandering into the storage bay with the water dripping down those clanking ceiling chains, and we just know the acid-drooling alien is out there somewhere, and he’s just wandering around like a doofus in a Pauly Shore flick...well, I don’t know about you, but I’m shouting at the top of my lungs in the theater, GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!!! And even if he hadn’t read the script, he should know from the creepy music and the pro forma pre-butchery scare of a cat jumping out of nowhere that within two beats there’s going to be a blade at his throat, a fang at his ear, a power mower going for his wazoo. It’s a convention of scarey movies. So I got this idea for a story, in which the protagonist (I won’t call him a hero, because he’s a creep) is aware of this time-weathered convention, and will not, absolutely will not go into the equivalent of “the dark room.” Wherein lies the lesson to be learned here. Curiosity kills blah blah blah. More than that, though, the lesson is: what you do is gonna catch up with you, kid, no matter how far or fast your run, what you have done will always circle around behind you, get ahead of you, and power mow you in the wazoo.
Okay. So not everyone who puts you into the sh-t is an enemy; and not everyone who pulls you out of the sh-t is a friend. So, okay; you got that. Now let me give you the troublemaker lesson that has made me the Golden Icon you see before you. The point of the story you’re about to read is that even when they tell you “it can’t be fixed, you got to buy a new one, a more expensive one, the latest model,” they are jacking you around. Even when they tell you “it can’t be done, it’s never been done, nobody’s ever done it that way,” all they’re revealing about themselves is that they are limited, minimally-talented, inept, lazy to the point where they’ll let the job walk out the door then have to stretch their imagination to figure out a way the job can be done, and they are not people you should be dealing with, because they can’t solve their own problems, much less yours. The world is full of dullards. Sad, sorry little ribbon clerks who fear taking responsibility for their own lives, so how the hell can you expect them to be brave or smart enough to take on a problem that emanates from your life? They cannot pull you out of the sh-t. They can only put you further into it. They just aren’t very smart. The lesson here is the same lesson you find in all Art, whether book or story or movie or oil painting or classical symphony or great sculpture. (I cannot suggest that hip-hop or rap contain this message, because they’re too illiterate or loud or just bad street doggerel, but that’s my hang-up, so give it a pass, because I don’t suggest you should agree with me, or even like me, because I’m too smart to give a damn if you think I’m kewl or not, ‘cause we already got your money for this book.) What it is that all Art says is this: PAY ATTENTION. That’s it. Nothing more profound or hard to understand. Pay attention. And if you do, just like the guy in this story, you will discover that there are many ways to solve a problem that most other, timid ribbon clerks will never pull down. The lesson of this story-and this book entire-is that you can never know enough, you can never be too smart, and you need to figure out the way the world works without believing that every rule you’ve been told is immutable-it can’t be done, no one’s ever done it, etcetera-just because some limited potatobrain believes it. The world is yours, go get it.
Wrote this one a couple of times, made it better each time I went after it. Then turned it into a TV segment on Tales from the Darkside. You may have seen it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played the Djinn. (Don’t lose your day-job Kareem.) And the lesson passim this little tale is a good one for those of you who, like me, lead lives determinedly singular and oftimes cutting trail with trouble. The lesson is the same one Nelson Algren included in his famous three rules for living, as they were codified in a terrific novel called The Man With the Golden Arm. He said, “Never eat at a diner called “Mom’s,’ never play cards with a guy named ‘Doc,’ and never get involved with a woman who’s got bigger troubles than you.” (It was a “guy” novel, so if you’re feeling foolishly Politically Correct, which is a pain in the patoot, you can substitute “never get involved with a “guy” for “woman.”) If you learn nothing else from me in the course of reading this little tome, kiddies, let it be this: bad companions can drag your snout down into the mud faster than dope or drink or deep religious\ fervor. The world is full of leaners. People who are bone-stick-stone stupid, but they’ve got a low ratlike cunning. They know how to side you and smooth you and get into your pocket, and then give you ‘tude about how you be hare-assing them when you call them and demand they repay you. They will involve you in idiot schemes, they will waste your time and your energy, they will mooch off you and eventually abandon you, step off when someone starts making static. They are the “bad companions” your momma and poppa warned you about. They are the yamps and shermheads, the biscuits and trife bums who will kill your waking hours and give you night fright when you lie down. The lesson is this: make your own way. Set your own pace. Do not get drawn into some non-productive Jay-up that will sap your strength and let the air out of your dreams. In this story, a pretty nice guy and a pretty nice woman, who probably shouldn’t have rolled on a duo, find themselves paying the price for each other’s bad company. Yeah, sure, it’s got a happy ending, but this is a story, gee, it’s a piece of fiction! It ain’t real.
Got to be careful about codifying the “lesson” in this one, because it is, in some ways, a statement about the way I live my life, and if you follow the trail too closely, you’ll get into more trouble than you deserve, which is the opposite of what this book is supposed to do...according to my publisher, who says this book is intended to make you better citizens and happier individuals, with an understanding that if you litter your Taco Bell and Burger King garbage in the streets I will seek you out no matter where you live, and I will nail your head to a coffee table. At least that’s what my publisher tells me this book is supposed to do. But I haven’t lied to you yet, not as far as I can tell; and I’m not about to start now. As if I gave a-Well, the point of the lesson in this story-which I’m told, by academics who teach it in literally hundreds of college English and Modern American Writing classes, is one of the most reprinted stories in the English Language-have you noticed, it’s only my charming humility that has held me back from true stardom-the lesson is that if they suck you into the System, extricating yourself may be damned near impossible. Letting your life be set to other people’s schedules may satisfy their needs, but you’ll be trading off bits and pieces of your own life to placate others who do not, in actuality, care much about you or your problems or desires or potentialities. They mumble “I know how tough it is for you” or “I understand” but when it comes right down to it, it is their production schedule or swing shift time or actuarial table that mesmerizes them. Their hearts bleed that you’re lying on an operating table having your stomach replaced with a vacuum cleaner or a bidet or somedamnthing, but that pulmonary drip-drip-drip only masks their annoyance that, like the mule you are, you’ve fallen to your knees under the yoke of their schedule. Yes, as I told you before, DO THE DAMN JOB, just do it; nonetheless, Life keeps getting in the way of Being On Time, and once in a great while you just have to say screwit! And bear this in mind, folks: if you work at their pace for twenty-seven years, do 1,444 jobs well, and do them to the deadline, if you ain’t got the juice and you mess up on the l,445th gig, you will catch the same amount of flak and the same amount of guilt and the same amount of badmouth and opprobrium you would snag if you’d been late every time. The lesson here is one that will get you clobbered if you follow it. Run your life at your own pace, not that of the Man.
Ah, yes, Grasshopper, the secret message here is a sly one. As Tuanmu Tz’u said, “We can be taught the external trappings of the Master; we cannot be taught the spirit of his words or his genius.” That’s according to Confucius. Mmmm. To be absolutely flat wit’chu, I got nothing here. Running on fumes. That is word up. Because there really isn’t anything deep or meaningful in this story from which I can draw Some penetrating insight. And maybe that is the lesson where there is no lesson, Grasshopper. Maybe the lesson for a troublemaker is to know when to can the crap, shut the mouth, stop trying to fake the funk and just fess, there is no great revealment in this little story. The lesson is what the artist Mark Rothko said: “Silence is So accurate.”
The lesson in this one is ridiculously obvious: be careful what you wish for...you might get it. Now that seems pretty slick when you first hear it, but at some point you’ve got to ask yourself, “Exactly what the hell does that mean?” What I’m saying, if you wished for it, what’s the downside? Well, from a lifetime of seeking after treasures and riches of all kinds and ages, most of which weren’t worth the hasssle, I am here to tell you incipient troublemakers that there are goodies we all are told to want, that are made of poison ivy and mist and tooth-rot when you get up next to them. Here’s one I’ll just run past you at a clip: my third wife. See, here’s how it was. It was during the year or so when I went through my “Hollywood phase.” I was writing movies and TV, and I was the hot writer wallowing in my fifteen minutes of fame, and one night I’m shooting pool at an exclusive Beverly Hills club called The Daisy with Leo Durocher and Peter Falk and Omar Sharif-well, you ought to know at least one of those-and I see this absolutely knockout looking female come into the place on the arm of an assistant director I had met once or twice, and I took one look, and it was like Michael Corleone in The Godfather...I got struck by the thunderbolt. So I says to Peter, I says, “I’m going to marry her,” and about a month or two later I did. I wished for that goodie, who in this instance was a human being (of sorts), and I got what I wished for. It was a marriage that lasted 45 days. Worst 45 days of my life, I think. With the exception of my two years in the Army, or Ranger basic training at Fort Benning, or this damned lawsuit against internet piracy against AOL and RemarQ, but those are different horror stories, for some other time. It was forty-five days of duplicity, mendacity, infidelity, violence. (I bought her a huge metal hairbrush, she spent a lot of time brushing her hair, and this thing must have weighed seven pounds, like that, and one night she blindsided me as we were getting ready to go out to dinner, and whacked me across the temple with it, a solid roundhouse wallop, and she opened me clean to the bone; and then she freaked out at the sight of blood spurting allover the bedroom, and ran shrieking into the guest bathroom where she tried to hide in the tub; and I crawled in, oozing red everywhere, and told her it was okay, not to worry about it, and she ran off into the night to see some other dude, and I collapsed and only came to when Huck Barkin came by to see me, and got me to the emergency ward where they took I don’t know, something like thirty stitches on the left side of my skull.) Be very careful what you wish for, wannabe troublemaker, because Bad Trouble sometimes comes in very attractive, wish-inducing packages.
Well, we’re nearing the end of our time together. Has this cheery little package of fantasies made you a better person? Are you kinder to little old ladies and people in wheelchairs?. Do you have respect for the environment and now crave a better class of music? Are your armpits kissing sweet, and has your flatulence abated? Listen up: in the history of the written word there are maybe only a hundred or so books that can truly be called “important.” That is to say, they changed peoples’ minds and habits, brought light and intelligence into otherwise dark and ignorant existences. The Analects of Confucius; Plato’s The Republic; the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas; Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; Pascal, Descartes, Spinoza; Thoreau, Darwin, Hegel and Kant. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Nineteen Eight-Four. Maybe a hundred and fifty, tops. You won’t find thinking as significant as any of that in here. Mostly, these stories were written to entertain, to tell a tale and get a quick reaction. If there are life lessons to be learned, that wisdom can only be unearthed in stories like these by the sharp tool of your imagination. Take this next space adventure. It’s a hunt-and-seek action psychodrama about a guy so consumed with the need for revenge that he forgets the admonition in Shakespeare’s line, “heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that thee burn thyself.” So what this story says, I suppose, is that when the fire in your gut overpowers the rational coolness in your brain, you are primed to slip on that slippery slope of action/reaction without consideration of consequences. Blind and stupid, we slip and slide through most of our lives. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But only the thickest brick among you doesn’t already know that lesson. If there is magic in this-or any-book, it can only be conjured by wit and intelligence. When you are a creature of raw emotion, behaving on the moment like a dead frog-leg with a live wire in it, you must, I tell you honestly you must inevitably become somebody’s tool, somebody’s fool. Only by keeping alert-remember all Art has but one message: PAY ATTENTION-can you hope to be the one dong the tracking, rather than winding up being the fool tool who has been tracked and finally trapped. That’s as close to genuine wisdom as I get, this late in the day.
This next story, and the one after that are very dear to me. I suppose because there is just a whole lot of me in each of them. They come out of my own life, the last one straight out of my first big run-in with the law (and we’ll get to that in due measure), and this one because it stars the me who was once five and has never really outgrown that age, in some very major ways. I’m not going to get all dopey and chickflick about it, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Jeffty (with two “f”s, kindly note) because he’s such a sweet kid, and he embodies all my memories of the books and radio programs and movies and comics I loved as a kid. The secret lesson in this story, however, is a different matter. When I wrote this story the ending seemed very clear to me, seemed so obvious I never figured anyone would be confused by it. But damned if every college course that teaches this story wound up with the students and the prof arguing over what happens to Jeffty in the end. And if I tell you, if I explain it to you, well, that would be delivering the punchline before you hear the set-up. So, I can’t tell you what life lesson for troublemakers lies in wait for you at the end of this sad and maybe-a-little-complex tale about how the Present always eats up the Past and leaves you adrift. You cannot know, at your age, what it is like to not be able to run that fast, jump that high, hit a note that pure, work all night and boogie all day (or boogie all night and work all day). At your age you can only see the surface of someone my age, and try not to think about what it must be like to see the night coming on faster than you’d care to think about. Look: this story says some troubling stuff about how fast our world moves, how unfairly it treats innocence, and about what people sometimes have to do in the name of kindness. I am aching to explain the ending of this story to you, but I’m trapped, like a magician who cannot reveal the trick. Just remember this, because you’re probably too young to know about one giveaway telltale clue. It used to be, up until circuit breakers in the electrical panels of modern homes, that when a short occurred, all the lights in the house would flicker and dim for a moment. When they strapped a guy into the electric chair of some penitentiary, and they threw the switch on him, and the juice went through him, the lights would flicker and dim allover the joint. You can stick that in the back of your head and you’ll catch it when it comes up in the denouement. The other clue is this: pay attention to the palest creatures in this story, Jeffty’s mother and father, who are decent people. More than that, if I keep babbling, well, I’ll just be cheating you. And that I am forbidden by the Storyteller’s Creed to do.
Here’s where we part company. You’ve been extremely patient with me, and I know you understand that I’ve been a little loose and twitchy from the start, directing this at people your age for the first time. So I am in your debt, and I thank you. So by way of a proper gracious “bread ‘n’ butter” gift for your indulgence, I’m going to leave you with this last story. The thing of it is, there were only supposed to be 15 stories in this book, ending with what may be one of my best ones, “Jeffty is Five.” But after I sent the book in to my editor and publisher, I thought about it, and I knew I had to add “Free With This BOX!” to the collection because, well, it’s as close to a recounting of what trouble I’ve been in all my life as I have handy. Oh, hell, I’ve written whole books of essays and columns and commentaries and reviews, many of which include anecdotes about my weird span; but in this story, which I wrote a long time ago, I took something that had actually happened to me, when I was a little kid, and I only fictionalized it a little bit. It is a story, yeah, not a memoir, but it is clear and clarion me-speaking-to-you warning about what it means to live the kind of life I’ve lived, amazing and fulfilling as it has been. There is a line I remember from the journalist and madman Hunter S. Thompson, in which he speaks about “the dead end loneliness of a man who makes his own rules.” I recall it now, as I get ready to bid you fond farewell, because if there is a lesson above all others contained in this volume, it is this: be your own person. Be kind, be ethical, be honorable and courageous; respect your friends, keep your word, treat your enemies with honor if you can but spin ‘em if they won’t let you treat them that way; don’t believe the okeydoke that people who’re trying to sell you something lay on you, remember True Love only happens when you have no fear and can laugh about it, and you cannot possibly be too smart. Above all, be your own person. Never blame bad luck, or fate, or “the breaks,” or paranoid delusions about conspiracies for what your life has become. You are now, and you will always be, in charge of your destiny. What was that line out of Buckaroo Bonzai...oh yeah, I remember...”Never forget: no matter where you go, there you are.” Here I am, the product of what I’ve made of myself, in trouble from the git-go; and there you are, looking at me looking at you. Wherever you are, kid, remember, I’m there, too. Take care of yourself. Don’t step on no broken glass.
Ancora un premio Nebula e ancora una storia sulla fine del mondo, ma il punto di vista di Ellison è completamente diverso da quello della Willis e anche l’impostazione delle due storie non ha nulla in comune: laddove la Willis è dolce e sensibile Ellison è duro e scioccante, brutale come soltanto lui sa esserlo. C’è una cosa tuttavia che queste due storie hanno in comune, a parte il tema: entrambe fanno ormai parte della storia della fantascienza moderna, e a ragione!
The first time in a science fiction and fantasy collection that the Jewish People—and the richness of their particular points of view—appear without a mask. A showpiece of Jewish wit, culture, and lore, blending humor and sadness, cynicism and faith.