Tuesday, August 23, 2011
It's funny where a book journey can take you. Back in June, I signed up for the Follow That Blurb Reading Challenge. In short, we were to pick a starter book, read that, then read a book by someone who wrote a blurb for that first book. And so on, for a total of ten books. Shatterday by Harlan Ellison is my 8th book. I started with a mystery. That book led me through five more mysteries. It was beginning to look like my little book trek was going to be all mysteries, all the time. Then book number six led me to a mystical, new-agey book by Lawrence Block (another mystery writer, granted--but I deliberately chose one of his books that wasn't a mystery). And that book brought me here.....to Harlan Ellison and some excellent classic science fiction.
It's been a long time since I've read any Ellison. I discovered him back in the day when I was on my science fiction kick. Let me just tell you straight....Harlan Ellison is not for everyone. He's not for the squeamish. Or the prudish. You want your fiction all neat and tidy and full of rainbows and sunshine and happily-ever-afters. Ellison is not your man. That's not to say he can't write a happy ending. He can. He does in this collection. But it's not your everyday, Disney happy ending....and getting there may be a bit more painful than you'd like. Ellison, as he puts it, walks through our lives and runs them through his spectacular imagination and hands them back full of all the horrors and nightmares and mortal dreads we don't want to face. No, I'm not talking about zombies or things that go bump in the night. At least not in most of the stories. "Flop Sweat" comes the closest to a nice horror-movie case of the screaming heebie-jeebies, but it's not the evil things that are the scariest. It's the idea that these things were called forth by human beings just like you and me.
And that's what makes these stories so great. Maybe we'll never climb into a space/timeship and go off to another dimension; maybe we'll never have to face a day when our self has divided and there's two of us and we have to figure out which one is real; maybe our past won't ever catch up with us and force us to do horrible things. But...then again. We can relate to the characters because somewhere, sometime there was a situation, not the same situation, but a situation nonetheless where we acted/reacted/didn't react like we should have...in just the same way. The stories show us to ourselves....and if we're brave enough we learn from it.
I had forgotten what a master storyteller Ellison is. I had forgotten his skill at twisting the everyday and making it thought-provoking. And I had forgotten what a slippery little cuss he is. Just when you think you've figured out what kind of writer he is...science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, black comedy, psychological...he throws you a curve ball and does something completely different. No wonder he's racked up so many awards in so many fields. This is a fabulous short story collection. My favorites are "Flop Sweat," "The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge," and "Count the Clock That Tells the Time." Five stars.