Friday, August 24, 2007

Harlan Ellison's "Shatterday"

To indulge in a little bit of understatement, Harlan Ellison is a polarizing literary figure. He evokes only the strongest reactions in those who encounter him, on the page or in person. Poke around the web a bit, and you'll find a number of recent anecdotes that don't present him in a flattering light.

I should say up front that, in the few times I've had personal dealings with him, Ellison has been nothing other than utterly gracious. One of my treasured possessions is a recording he left on my old, analog answering machine after I reviewed "Angry Candy" back in 1989. His gratitude at my having both praised the book and not referred to its contents as "sci-fi" seemed to know no bounds.
Now, though, I want to urge everyone to read "Shatterday," available in a new trade paperback edition from Tachyon Publications. I think it may be Ellison's best fiction collection, and that's saying a lot, when the other contenders are "Deathbird Stories," "Love Ain't Nothing but Sex Mispelled" and "Strange Wine."

It was "Strange Wine" that ripped my skull open and shot a thousand volts into my cerebral cortex that summer between high school and college. I'd never suspected that anyone could write fantasy or science fiction stories like these or reveal so much about themselves in their introductions. But Stephen King has already waxed on and on about that collection in "Danse Macabre," so why should I?

"Shatterday" contains 16 stories, many of them major award winners, each with an introduction. The highlights include "Jeffty Is Five," "In the Fourth Year of the War," "All the Birds Come Home to Roost" and the title story. They're raw, funny, frightening, angry, visionary. They do everything good short fiction should.

It's been 10 years since Ellison's last collection of fiction, "Slippage," was published. In the meantime, he has had health problems and embroiled himself in a couple of lawsuits. So who knows whether there will be another volume of short fiction from him.

Love or loathe him, Harlan Ellison won't be around forever. Many of the selections in "Shatterday," though, will endure as long as there are adventurous readers.


For those who wish to experience Ellison via the magic of multimedia, here are two items:

Tomorrow night, ABC's "Masters of Science Fiction" presents an adaptation of Ellison's "The Abnormals," co-written for television by the man himself.

Sometime later this year, "Dreams with Sharp Teeth," a documentary about Ellison, will be released. You can watch a bunch of clips from it at the Creative Differences site. Film Threat ran a lengthy early review.

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