by Harlan Ellison
“There is no home, if there is no rest. There is no rest if there is no Home.”
These tales are like that black and white cigarette commercial from The Simpsons–“I don’t know what’s in ’em; I just know I can’t stop smoking ‘em.” Story after story pounds the brain, and you’ll repeatedly found yourself at the point where you need to stop and reflect on what you’ve read. Slow down for Christ’s sake, they’ll be there tomorrow.
Right off the bat we get “Commuter’s Problem” and get hit directly in the face with the type of force this guy is going to bring to the table over his career in speculative fiction, where a man accidentally finds his way onto a subway that wasn’t meant for him and learns a few things about our universe.
Next is the superb “Do-It-Yourself” (with Joe L. Hensley), where a wife, sick to death of her husband, receives her mail order Do-It-Yourself Murder Kit and goes about trying to follow the instructions to get rid of the man.
Then “The Silver Corridor” where two statesmen are locked in illusory combat in a corridor that allows the courage of their respective convictions to decide the winner while the loser dies.
A few stories later comes another topper, “The Sky is Burning,” where people on Earth are dying as meteor-like objects are falling through the atmospheres of all the planets of our solar system. But they’re not meteors, and they have a message.
“The Wind Beyond the Mountains” is told mostly from the perspective of an alien race experiencing first contact with visiting Man. Here’s a commentary on our necessity to wander, spread, and to never be content with what we have at home.
Other amazing stories were “Hadj” and “In Lonely Lands,” commentaries on religion and friendship, respectively. And those were just the best in a book filled with highlights.
Besides the already listed highlights everyone should really read the stories “Mealtime,” “Battlefield,” “The Very Last Day of a Good Woman” and “Back to the Drawing Board” (for those who read on Kindle).
Unless written by the author and it’s the book’s initial publication there are strong arguments to be made to avoid Introductions the first time reading collections. The same arguments don’t apply for the second read. This can be controversial, and lots of folks might say some of the book’s production value is wasted. They’d be correct if the book is never read a second time. But if the heart of a book isn’t good enough to warrant a second read why would anyone want to read what someone else thinks of it? And if it is good enough to pick up a second time, read the Intro then, so it’s never really wasted, right? Well that’s all good and logical but probably the best reason to avoid Intro’s on the first read is sometimes writers talk about key story points as if everyone’s already read them, including spoiling endings.
This excellent, PS Publishing version of Ellison Wonderland has over 130 pages of introduction, nearly all of which was skipped for this review except Mr. Ellison’s original 4-pager. A good part of the book has been ignored in doing so, but it won’t be the next time, and there will be a next time. The Afterward by Josh Olson was outstanding, and his story about his 9th grade English teacher handing him Ellison Wonderland was touching and a perfect way to end this potent collection.
These were early works and language and technique was further refined in his career, but this book ripples with raw power. Even more-so than later, “better” works. So what if it’s not honed to a razor’s edge? Blunt force can still do massive damage, and this can be counted among the best of Ellison’s collections. He improves form later on, but that’s just gravy. You can tell from this collection he really didn’t need to, he’s already serving gold. And shame on the editors who turned him away before he became THE Harlan Ellison®. You guys nearly cost the entire planet something wonderful.
In the world of speculative fiction Mr. Ellison is a tornado, a fiery death-ball with messages to everyone, especially those too stubborn to open their eyes and realize we’re in big trouble. And here’s where he was born.
“Night had come to the lonely lands; night, but not darkness.”