THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD
"Written with an almost maniacal energy...the many Ellison enthusiasts here will be glad to have these stories available at last...including a longer, revised version of the Nebula-winning A Boy and His Dog." -- Michael Moorcock
The book first appeared as a hardcover and was reprinted several times with corrections, the 1994 limited edition containing the preferred, (once more) corrected text and a new foreword by Neil Gaiman. This version also formed part of EDGEWORKS 4 in 1997. Let us know about any differences between editions that you have noticed.
Buy the latest edition | Langerhans page (notes, cover scans) | Webderland book review by Susanne Luesse | Our discussion of "A Boy and His Dog"
All opinions welcome.
"The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World", winner of the Hugo Award:
This is one of those stories in which Harlan, at least on the surface, deals with madness and evil in the world, this time giving it a science fiction twist. It's not particularly easy to understand because you have to connect the dots yourself. I can only be the first in an attempt to summarize it solely as a basis for discussion, although a summary can hardly do the story (which was written in a circular form) justice.
Harlan envisions a mankind of the distant future (united with other races) which has long ago left Earth and freed itself from all madness, which is regarded as a kind of indestructible element of the universe. The only way to keep society free from the madness which may still hide in some dark recess (the dragon) is to use a machine which dumps the evil "crosswhen" - another place, another time, that is - thereby influencing our present and all of Earth's history. This is the explanation given for mass murders, terrorism, and wars.
On the personal level, this is really a story about a scientist having second thoughts and his inability to take back what he created. There is a discussion between the two protagonists - an inventor and his assistant - over whether the drainage of evil is the right thing to do. The assistant, Linah, feels that the aim should be to keep their society clean; from such a place, he hopes, it would one day be possible to exert a positive influence on the past as well. Semph, who believes that man is not made to live without struggle, tries to destroy the machine he has invented. In the attempt his sanity causes past insanity to cease for a moment (Attilla does not take Rome). However, his assistant stops him from carrying through his plan, and a court sentences the inventor to death. He is not granted the right to destroy his own invention because society feels it cannot do without it. This may be for purely selfish reasons or not, depending on whether their "hopes", as expressed by Linah, are merely an excuse or not. Semph certainly seems to think that the people of the past have been condemned to a life amidst madness due to Linah having saved the machine, but I'm not sure if he's really as angry as he could be.
He requests that a memorial be erected not in his honor (he has invented the machine after all) but "for them" - the people who have to deal with all the insanity that has flown down from the future. The statue had been found by humans earlier in the story because it was put into the past for space-faring humans to find. It represented a madman who had killed hundreds of people before being arrested, inexplicably claiming he loved mankind before being sentenced to death - words also uttered by Semph when he tried to destroy his invention.
Interestingly, Harlan described the 1968 story as "a serious stylistic and structural departure for me", although at least today we can clearly recognize it as an Ellison story. Not only the style gives the authorship away, but also Harlan's preoccupation with ethics, as well as the way he uses scale. At the basis, however, there's a straightforward science fiction idea that would have been turned into another kind of story by, say, Asimov.
The title story, "The Beast That Etcetera", was intended as an experiment. [...] It is not a sequential story. It is written in a circular form, as though a number of events were taking place around the rim of a wheel, simultaneously. The simultaneity of events around that wheel-rim, however, occur across the artificial barriers of time, space dimension, and thought. Everything comes together, finally, in the center, at the hub of the wheel. (Ellison)
My rating: (out of four)
Link: Review by Susanne Luesse.