1967 - DANGEROUS VISIONS

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1967 - DANGEROUS VISIONS

Postby Jan » Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:22 pm

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DANGEROUS VISIONS

This book from 1967 is an anthology edited by Harlan that includes 33 original stories of speculative fiction. It is considered one of the cornerstones of the New Wave of science fiction. It was a volume of previously unreleased, personally commissioned stories, like Damon Knight's ORBIT series but all in one book. The main idea, according to the introduction was to provide an outlet for "dangerous", provocative, relevant stories, that is, stories that had been rejected by the market due to their content or that somehow went beyond what is traditionally expected of SF. Although many established talents chimed in, Harlan also used the space to introduce a few newcomers to a wider audience.

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Cover by Leo & Diane Dillon

The book became a commercial and critical success, garnering a Hugo award and a special plaque by the SFWA. Some of the writers also received major awards for their stories, namely Leiber, Farmer and Delany.

One of the great things about the book is Harlan's personal touch in the selection of the writers and the stories and in his generous intruductions to each and every story/writer. I often find myself looking at what Harlan wrote about other writers if I'm not sure whether I should get a book or not. He not only provides basic information about everyone but often talks about his relationship with the writers, thereby revealing something new about them. The volume and quality of introductory material provided by Harlan is very impressive.

As an introduction to speculative fiction, this volume is probably unmatched by any other anthology, not only because of the wealth of information about the writers, but also because of how the writers each provide an afterword about what they've written. This serves to take the reader a little closer to the stories even if their subjects may seem distant. Another argument to use this as an introduction to the field is the fact that in 1967 a lot of the "old guard" writers were still active and willing to participate. It's interesting to see writer of all age groups all on the same playground talking about the same time in history, seeing the same world. I think that the late 60's were a perfect time to do a book like this because the world had gone through a lot of changes, and so had science fiction.

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The stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison and Robert Bloch have already been disussed seperately. A sequel book called AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS will also be discussed seperately.

I will post my comments about the stories in both books slowly over a long period of time and hope that others who have read the book will participate in any way they see fit. I have no intention of over-analysing the book, this is supposed to be a place for anyone to show their appreciation for Harlan's efforts. It's one of the books that I feel privileged to exist on the same planet with, and I doubt I'm the only one left with any feelings about it or the fiction contained therein.

Reviews:
Greg L. Johnson (SF Site): http://www.sfsite.com/03b/dv148.htm (2003)
James Schellenerg: http://www.challengingdestiny.com/reviews/dangerousvisions.htm (2000)
Laura Quilter: http://feministsf.org/reviews/ellison.dv.html (2000)
John (Grasping for the Wind): http://otter.covblogs.com/archives/020597.html (2007)
Eric Rosenfield: http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=node/144 (2007)
Michael Matzer (German): http://www.buchwurm.info/book/anzeigen.php?id_book=4137 (2007)
Der Ubernerd (second from top): http://das-ubernerd.blogspot.com/2008_02_03_archive.html (2008)
Rob Latham: Dangerous Visions and the New Wave Assault on Sex Censorship http://efanzines.com/EK/eI54/index.htm#danger (2011)

Harlan talking about DV and ADV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_Uok5Xu2mk (starting at 2:30 min)
Last edited by Jan on Sun Mar 01, 2009 6:35 pm, edited 16 times in total.

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Postby Tony Rabig » Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:26 pm

All in the space of just a few years...

"Repent, Harlequin!"
"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" (short story and book)
"Demon with a Glass Hand" for Outer Limits
"City on the Edge of Forever" for Star Trek
Dangerous Visions
(not in order of appearance)

I'd read Harlan's work before (Ellison Wonderland) without really taking note of the name, but these were the stories and scripts followed up by the SFBC printing of Dangerous Visions that made Harlan a favorite of mine when I was in high school (Jeez, forty years ago!--and he's been a favorite ever since). Even if DV wasn't as good as it was, I'd have a soft spot for it.

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Postby Jan » Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:34 pm

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LORD RANDY, MY SON by the late Joe Hensley is the best of the DV stories I've read so far, so in my mind, one of the awards should have gone to him. The story is told mostly from the point of a father (Sam) whose son (Randy) is monstrous and strange. While his life is going down the drain due to his (somewhat understandable) inability to recover from the boy's arrival and a growing tumor that makes his life (or what's left of it) even more painful, he doesn't realize that his son has special powers that no one else has or quite knows about. He can transform things, he can heal people, he can punish people.

Now this is by no means a spoiled, egocentrical brat from Jerome Bixby's famous IT'S A GOOD LIFE. This kid actually has a sort of mission, without even realizing it. While the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Randy is one in a line of people going all the way back to Jesus and beyond. He has "the gift". When I read this, of course I was immedeately reminded of "the spark" in Harlan's own THE DEATHBIRD. I wonder if the two are related. While Hensley does not define the gift in any direct way, he leaves no doubt as to what it is.

But LORD RANDY is more closely related to another one of Harlan's stories. Randy is obviously concerned with justice, taking after his father, who is a lawyer. Due to the unusual social and psychological development owing to the powers he has, Randy is not yet ready to to go out and really do things, but he does react to what happens in his environment. While his anger is aimed at the right targets, he doesn't have a sense of proportion yet when it comes to using his powers. He is young and unfinished.

In a way, that makes him better than most people. There is a definite sense of something being wrong with society, while Randy, when asked if he's all right, responds that "he's young", which is like saying yes. Being young is equated with innocence and an unspoiled sense of rightness, while the world of adults is currupt and full of hate, with the implied need for a leader and a healer.

Hensley's way of looking at childhood was later adopted by Harlan in JEFFTY IS FIVE. In fact, the retarded development of Randy makes his father wonder, if Randy "will be three forever". I'm not sure Harlan is even aware that his story owes a debt to LORD RANDY. It's interesting that both stories are among the writers' best efforts and don't actually overlap.
Last edited by Jan on Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:18 am, edited 7 times in total.

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Postby Jan » Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:51 pm

A propos: The Book Club - I have a book club edition, and I always wondered if it is different from or even inferior to the original edition. If there IS a difference, let me know. Just curious.

FLIES by Robert Silverberg. In this case I was surprised that Harlan's introduction was rather short, given their long history together. I guess that Harlan was pressed for time or wanted to hold back.

I did not find this story very noteworthy with the exception of the developments near the end. Silverberg has a character named Cassiday who survived some sort of violent encounter with aliens in space that killed everybody else on the ship. The aliens patched him together and even outfitted him with a few "improvements", which are at the center of the story. Again, there is some slight similarity to a later story by Harlan, in this case ALL THE BIRDS COME HOME TO ROOST, when Cassiday visits his three ex-wives upon his return to Earth. What he does to them, however, is rather unique, and one scene in particular, you're not likely to see again anywhere, as it borders on the tasteless.

The interesting development is how the bad guys in the story intervene and turn out to be a shade of "bad" that is unusual. As Americans say, I got a kick out of that. I also thought the alien and future environments were nicely done, revealing Silverberg's expertise at that sort of thing. On the whole, this is a flawless, superior story in terms of storytelling and contains clear traces of Silverberg's life and obsessions, but it doesn't add up to very much in terms of the personal conviction and meaning that is affluent in DV. (That's okay.) :| :| :oops:

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Robert Silverberg

Addendum 05/08: In his introduction to "Flies" in his book PHASES OF THE MOON, Silverberg recalled being irritated by Harlan's early-60s attitudes and trying to get him to put together an anthology of his own. Silverberg wrote the story immedeately after Harlan had sold the DV concept, and his first check was for $88, followed by many more.

Addendum: 05/09: Link: The Quasi-Official Robert Silverberg Web Site
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Postby David Loftus » Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:10 am

Jan wrote:A propos: The Book Club - I have a book club edition, and I always wondered if it is different from or even inferior to the original edition. If there IS a difference, let me know. Just curious.


In terms of content, no; I believe book club editions pretty much copy the exact content of the primary publisher's edition, warts and all.

In terms of value, book club editions are regarded by bookstores and collectors as considerably inferior.

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Postby Jan » Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:03 pm

It's a strange world, because why would they be considered inferior if they're just the same? Now I'm glad I have those editions, they're like dogs that nobody wants and I paid very little for them.

I got interested in what the ultimate fate of some of the stories were, given how "dangerous" the material was. The Silverberg one became a part of one of his own books and was even used as the opener for his Ballantine "best of" collection. The Hensley story was used in Leo P. Kelley's Fantasy: The Literature of the Marvelous, where it enjoyed the distinguished company of REPENT, HARLEQUIN, among other great ones.

Next up: EVENSONG by del Rey, which was not so lucky. (Monday, or so.)

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Postby Earl Wells » Thu Oct 25, 2007 2:36 pm

Jan wrote:It's a strange world, because why would they be considered inferior if they're just the same?


The books are physically different. The Science Fiction Book Club edition of the original Dangerous Visions is smaller and more cheaply made than the Doubleday edition. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking it, I have an SFBC edition of DV and I like it fine.)

Here's some info about SFBC editions.

Here's some info about book club editions in general.

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Postby Jan » Mon Oct 29, 2007 3:19 am

Thanks. Does anyone have the "newly restored and introduced" 35th Anniversary Edition? If so, what was restored?

EVENSONG by Lester del Rey (1915-1993). Del Rey (a SF Grand Master) is not a person Harlan talks about a great deal, it seems, so I was surprised to find that in the introduction Harlan credits him with having turned him into a professional writer in New York when Harlan arrived there in 1955. His story was therefore among the first solicited and consequently chosen as the opening story. After reading EVENSONG for the second time, I feel like obtaining more of his work. I think the famous story HELEN O’LOY (“If you want an ideal mate, build her!”) is the only del Rey story I’ve ever read apart from this, and I enjoyed both.

EVENSONG is a story with a twist ending that is surprising yet an organic part of the story. In fact, in this case I can’t talk much about it without giving the ending away, which is against my normal policy. So if you haven’t read it, go ahead and read it now, it’s short and you won’t regret it. *BEWARE OF SPOILERS BELOW*

The story is about a supernatural creature that’s desperately looking for a place in the universe to hide. It’s being hunted by the “Usurpers” who have webs of detection anywhere and can not accept rivals in their galaxy. Apparently, the ambitions of the creature are such that there is no space for it to do what it wants. Reading about the creature from its own point of view, we are immediately on its side. Nobody should be persecuted, there should be space for everyone. By the time the planet it arrives on is described, we realize that the story is about what humanity has become in a distant future. Earth is described as a paradise, while the creature is revealed to be God. The story then ends so quickly with the creature’s capture that you don’t know what hit you. You have to actually go back and look at the thing again to determine whether or not you have rooted for the right guy, after the ending hinted that you didn’t.

It turns out that God, the narrator, has given us the wrong idea here when he spoke of his natural rights and prior freedom. It’s clear that he considers the universe a place to use for his own purposes, his own enjoyment. If you read between the lines, it looks like humanity has been occupied with cleaning up after him, undoing the damage God has done on various worlds.

This is, then, a story about human autonomy and the harmful aspects of the God concept. Del Rey seems to have based his God on the information in the Bible. In fact, he uses the concept of Garden Eden, only reversing the roles! He calls the story an allegory in the afterword, and the basic message seems to be what Harlan also talks about in THE DEATHBIRD. Why this is a “dangerous vision” seems obvious. Why it’s not a classic, like the more traditional HELEN O’LOY, is less clear. I looked at the contents of THE BEST OF L.D.R. and it’s not there, nor was it ever a part of any del Rey book.

This only goes to show why everyone should have DV. I tell you, if the rest of stories are as good as the ones we’ve talked about so far, I will surely have a heart attack.

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Postby Jan » Sat Nov 03, 2007 3:23 pm

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Pohl and Del Rey

Earlier I neglected to mention that Frederik Pohl had put out his line of SF anthologies called STAR SCIENCE FICTION beginning in 1954, I believe. Pohl certainly published some Ellison material prior to Harlan having a chance to return the favor.

POHL's "The Day After The Day The Martians Came" takes place in a hotel lobby near Cape Caneveral two days after astronauts have brought back Martians from Mars. The lobby is filled with journalists all waiting to see the creatures, while the tv is running, showing repeats of previously aired footage. The manager is annoyed at the presence of so many noisy people and could care less about the Martians.

The story is mainly about how everybody is behaving in the aftermath of the big news. The journalists are making jokes about the Martians, using old punchlines from jokes about Jews and Catholics.

On the one hand, Pohl illustrates how news becomes old news very quickly. More importantly, however, he recognizes a permanent trait in human attitudes that may be somewhat dormant in times of political correctness, but which will be back as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Most of the story takes place between the lines, and the most strinking image is the crying Martian. It's also striking how badly the manager treats his inferiors, one of whom is black. The presence of beings of lesser superficial value than even the lowest human makes everybody feel like they rose to a higher level.

Interestingly, Pohl later used the story as the penultimate chapter in his fix-up novel "The Day the Martians Came" (1988).

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Addendum: Pohl renamed the story itself "The Day the Martians Came" for his own books. He had in mind to write a series of stories showing selected casts of main characters dealing with the appearance of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. This was the first one, followed by "Sad Solarian Screenwriter Sam" (1972).

Addendum #2: Harlan had retitled Pohl's story. Pohl later got his revenge when he published a Harlan story.
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Postby Jan » Wed Nov 14, 2007 9:14 am

I was disappointed by Henry Slesar's "Ersatz", a brief story set in an America devasted by bombs. The story has an anti-war message. I much prefer Harlan's introduction.

I'm also disappointed by Brian Aldiss' entry "The Night That All Time Broke Out". In this one, time gas has become available to every household, like water, gas and electricity. They can mentally go back in time within their four walls to re-live past moments. We see a married couple do just that until something goes awry at the local time gas plant. Large amounts of the substance are leaking out, with amusing/devastating effects on the population. Even though Aldiss has figured out some of the technoglogy and procedure, none of all this is remotely believable. There's an ending which is the only part of the story that I found interesting. The point seems to be that people are too eager to adopt new technologies and don't find out about the real risks until something goes wrong. I think Aldiss must have been influenced by those nuclear accidents, though the worst hadn't happened yet. Fair enough, but I don't think the book gained anything from having this story included.

I read a number of stories by Aldiss (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64wHtXt5UDw) from two of his older Best Of collections. His style is always flawless and he knows how to use the language. But a lot of the stories seem to be idea-oriented and slightly technical, while few of his characters are memorable. He did write a few rare ones that are easily on the same level as the best of Ellison. His history of SF called THE BILLION YEAR SPREE is useful for any reader.

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Postby Jan » Wed Nov 21, 2007 2:48 pm

By the way, Aldiss' story never did appear in one of his own books.

The humorous "What Happened to Auguste Clarot?" by Larry Eisenberg seems out of place, as it is neither a genre story nor dangerous. Harlan liked the humor, but it didn't make me laugh, pleasant as it may be.

R.A. Lafferty's "Land of the Great Horses" has a very funny 22nd century encyclopedia entry about Los Angeles, which is destroyed in the course of the (present-day) story. If I hadn't read other Lafferty stories before this, I probably would have complained about how the story doesn't seem to have strong focus. With Lafferty, you never know how his ideas unfold or how it's all going to end. I would suppose that he didn't either. The story opens with two geologists in the desert, coming upon a major mirage that is as implausible as it is real. One of them takes it for granted, while the other wonders what's going on. Lafferty provides an explanation later on. He was definitely one of the most unique an creative writers in SF, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

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Postby Jan » Tue Nov 27, 2007 9:31 pm

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Delany's collected stories

"Aye, and Gomorrah..." by Samuel R. Delany is the last story in DV and was one of the two entries that won a Nebula Award, and it was also nominated for the Hugo. Although it's not necessarily better than some of the stories already discussed, it is a prime example of the New Wave, as defined by Bova as a group of young writers who brought vigor, color, and strength of characterization to the science fiction field in the 1960s.

The story concerns the a couple of young spacemen and women who have come back to Earth for a weekend or so to have a good time. They are called spacers, and they're exactly what an Earth subculture called frelks are desperately looking for to presumably sleep with. However, the spacers are like children - they're biology has been tampered with for them to be able to work in outer space. As a result, the spacers have no interest in getting it on with the frelks at all. The main portion of the story details an encounter between a spacer and a frelk girl.

I think the story symbolizes the difficulties of both sexes to find a partner, be it for one night or for life. It is, by extension, a story about loneliness and a kind of despair. The main problem Delany deals with is the inequality of needs that is almost inevitable. Harlan wrote about it in his own story "The Very Last Day of A Good Woman" (1958). Inequality exists both on a level of individual relationships and on a societal level, either way implying a certain amount of power of one person over the other. It is the latter that leads to fixed methods and institutions that deal with with this inequality, prostitution being an example. Delany creates a coherent future world in the space of a few pages that isn't as distant from ours as it first appears. It is also colorful and well-written. There is not a word too many, and the characters make it all come alive.

---

By the way, my ratings up to now:
The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World :| :| :| If All Men Were Brothers... :| :| :| Lord Randy, My Son :| :| :| :| Flies :| :| :oops: Evensong :| :| :| :| The Day After the Day the Martians Came :| :| :| Ersatz :| The Night That All Time Broke Out :| :| What Happened to Auguste Clarot? :| :| Land of the Great Horses :| :| :| Aye, and Gomorrah... :| :| :| :|
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Postby Jan » Tue Dec 11, 2007 2:57 pm

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"Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip José Farmer didn't look much like something I'd like, so I gave up. Whatever force rules this universe, it has decided that I am not worthy of this story. Apparently it's about a future without work, seen from an artist's point of view. There are many things I prefer doing over fighting myself through a hundred pages of this complicated prose, wondering if there will be a point to it. A quick survey of internet commentary reveals that some consider this one of Farmer's best stories, while others have problems with it. Maybe someone else can weigh in.

Addendum 7/2008: "If you are wondering how it is possible to write more about less and less, Farmer can pile it higher and higher." (Algis Budrys)
Addendum 4/2009: See below for a review by Duane.

"Go, Go, Go, Said the Bird" by Sonya Dorman is less ambitious but more engaging. She surprises with a full-on assault of a story. It's about a woman on the run, quite literally, in what is presumably a post-apocalyptic future where those who survive have turned to cannibalism. Dorman focuses on the woman's thoughts and her flash-like memories of turning points in her life.

Why exactly she's on the run is never explained, though at least it's easy to understand why she has to keep on running. Dorman manages to paint a vivid picture of the future world within a small number of pages, due to her particular structure. When it comes to honesty and realism, she pulls no punches. Harlan may have been somewhat influenced by Dorman's story as it is not dissimilar to "A Boy and His Dog" both in content and approach.

What keeps the story from being a complete winner is that below the surface this is another story about violent degenerate humans in a bleak future. There are no contrasts here, it's all bleakness. Dorman also fails to justify the title, and we are not given an explanation for the woman's delusions, which have no clear dramatic purpose. She has clearly gone through a lot, but why would she forget that her ex-husband is dead, or that her son has several kids? Normally flashbacks are for the readers' sake, not for the character's sake, unless the writer makes it all up as she goes. When the ending takes place, Dorman makes it look like the flashbacks didn't actually happen when they appeared in the text, but the woman had already reacted to one. Not saying all of this is completely wrong, but towards the end the writing could have benefited from editorial intervention. :| :| :|
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Postby Jan » Thu May 01, 2008 2:01 am

"The Man Who Went to the Moon - Twice" by Howard Rodman (1920-1985). A boy named Marshall briefly becomes the center of attention after his accidental visit to the moon with a baloon that broke loose at the county fair.

This is one of the shorter stories in the volume, it's a fairy tale that kids should enjoy. It says something about technological and societal change that became very much an aspect of Harlan's writing in the 80's. Harlan did much more with the theme, though. Like the Eisenberg story, this is really not "dangerous", nor is the message ground-breaking. :| :|

Rodman was not a writer of speculative fiction. As Harlan points out in the introduction, he was known mostly for his television work on Naked City and Route 66. Harlan recently said he was rediscovering Naked City on DVD. Rodman went on to work on a few films for Don Siegel. Rodman's credits: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0734911/

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Postby David Loftus » Thu May 01, 2008 10:26 am

Jan wrote:Dorman also fails to justify the title

You are aware that it comes from T.S. Eliot, aren't you? "Four Quartets," if memory serves.

The line that immediately follows it is: "Humankind cannot bear much reality."


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