Harlan Ellison: Short Story Collections
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream
Reviewed by K.C. Locke
1st Publication: Pyramid, 1967
Reviewed Edition: Ace Paperback, The Berkley Publishing Group, 1983
Copyright 1967, 1979 by Harlan Ellison
Copyright 1983 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation
Cover Art: Barclay Shaw (Back Cover Photo by Suzanne Gibson)
Reviews Description and Spoiler Warning
I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream:
a literary multimedia project
STUART ROBINSON and MARTIN SHAPIRO
never thought they would be between covers together
mutual friendships make strange bedfellows
so you'll have to settle for 10% between you
Contents and Copyright Dates
Echoes of Screams, 1983
Introduction: "The Mover, the Shaker" (Theodore Sturgeon, 1967)
Foreword: "How Science Fiction Saved Me From A Life Of Crime"
(Harlan Ellison, 1966)
I HAVE NO MOUTH, AND I MUST SCREAM (1967)
BIG SAM WAS MY FRIEND (1958)
EYES OF DUST (1959)
WORLD OF THE MYTH (1964)
DELUSION FOR A DRAGON SLAYER (1966)
PRETTY MAGGIE MONEYEYES (1967)
Please Note: This collection precedes the author's practice of providing
a tone-setting quotation of some learned person. If I do not exceed my
duty as reviewer, try these:
These words, of color obscure, saw I written above a
gate; whereat I: "Master, their meaning to me is hard..."
...And placing his hand on mine, with a cheerful countenance that comforted
me, he led me into the secret things.
Commentary: Damnation and Faust
Few things would please me better than to tell you that this book, I HAVE
NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM, is a dark stroll down memory lane, tragically
honest, but now (phew!) thirty years out of date, and thank Heaven for that.
Unfortunately, I am not in the business of feeding people kielbasa and telling
them it's duck l'orange (and I could make a pretty fine living in politics,
if I were).
Not so long ago, in a land not so very far away (Oklahoma City, OK, as a matter
of fact), some people got together and decided that the libraries should have
a closed-shelf policy re-garding some materials. The library officials chuckled
tolerantly, patted them on their flat, little heads and told them to scram.
There followed a series of boondoggles (including threats to "out"
all the "perverts" on the library staff, and attempts to raise a
hew and cry over the availability of pornography as THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF
MEAT to innocent children), culminating in what you might have heard referred
to as "the Tin Drum Affair".
For those who haven't heard, they checked the award-winning foreign film out
of the library, copied certain brief scenes onto video tape, and took it before
a judge who, seeing it out of context, ruled it Child Pornography. At which
point, the authorities seized all copies, not merely from the libraries' shelves
but from all and sundry video rental businesses, starting with Blockbuster.
Finding some tapes "at large," they bullied-out the customers' names
and addresses, and went to their homes to seize those copies. One of those
good people happened to be an ACLU lawyer, wheels began to turn in other directions,
and I don't know whether the situation has been resolved or is still under
investigation. But, if you're able, you might see if the ACLU needs a hand.
If, on the other hand you are a member of OCAF (the offending Religious Right
organization, Oklahomans for Children And Families), you are the dupe of an
evil empire, committed to ignorance and prejudice and censorship, and all
those yucky things, and I don't know what you're doing here, but we'll help
with your de-programming, if you'll let us.
Listen. Exhibit B. I will now magically turn the clock back to 1983 and reproduce
for you the copy on the splash page of the Ace Paperback edition of the collection
at hand, Mr. Ellison's very own words:
In 1967 "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream" was
first published. It won the coveted Hugo award as the best short story of
Over the next nine years it was re- -printed and lauded. hundreds of times.
This book, in which that story appears, became a classroom standard in col-
-leges all over America. The story was translated into sixteen languages.
In 1976, Kathryn Merrick, a high school teacher in Winifred, Montana, gave
"I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream" as an assignment to her students.
The Winifred School Board fired her. Kathy Merrick was forced to leave town.
Buy a copy of this book and send it to a needy child in Winifred, Montana.
And find out what raised the demon of censorship in that cold, far place where
certain dreams and ideas are not permitted. A place where no screams are heard.
Not too very long ago, I was afoot, and caught in a downpour. As I trudged through
the rain to my destination, a number of cars took the trouble to pull a little
closer to the curb, thereby sheeting me with cockscomb-waves of cold, dirty,
gutter water. When I finally arrived at my destination, soaked through and chilled
to the bone, I related my experience, trembling with rage, to a friend who replied
that he was only surprised that there weren't more people who would go out of
their way for a person, like that. No screams. No comfort or consolation, except
for a hot cup of coffee and a soggy smack on the shoulder.
Now, here are these stories - seven of them. The author does not make a formal
declaration of theme, cites no common theme or thread for the collection. But
it is there, sharp and relevant today as it was in 1968, when this collection
appeared, or the original publication dates of the individual stories. It is
bold and hot, for anyone with ears to hear, or eyes to see. Or mouths to scream.
We supply the theme. We produced it ages ago, and still it runs as thick, dark
and pervasive as mold through a slab of Stilton. Not censorship, or persecution,
or bigotry - symptoms, those things.
I refer to our recipe for damnation, the destruction of spirit, hope, future;
the thousand killing hurts we visit upon each other every day. Betrayal, disappointment
- you call it "corn," we call it "maize." I call it damnation.
Consider, please, the title story, wherein we are exterminated by a technology
meant to save us, the sentient, Earthbound, literary predecessor of the HAL
"Big Sam Was My Friend," in which friendship is weighed-up in dollar
amounts, and delivered to heartache and the hangman.
The society of "Eyes of Dust," in which beauty is only skin deep and
allowed no deeper, and so ceases to be beauty at all.
"World of the Myth," giving us Medusa's perspective on the mirror.
The "Lonelyache," the sore that can never heal because we keep picking
at it, the tender, inner void that must be filled with something.
"Delusion For a Dragon Slayer," a tale that taunts us with the knowledge
that we possess the coin that will pay our way into Heaven, if only that coin
has not been rendered counterfeit by our hypocrisy, if we do not allow our dreams
to be soured by the differences between theory and practice.
And, finally, there's Maggie - "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," and its
crushing reminder that, truly, nobody knows you when you down an' out, and the
biggest chip in the joint doesn't always bring the biggest pay-off.
In almost every other collection of stories I have read from Mr. Ellison, the
reader can find some relief, some respite, some balm in Gilead - a warm chuckle
written for warm-chuckle's sake. Not here. Some important message, made more
palatable by liberal lacings of wacky wit.
In another, later collection, DEATHBIRD STORIES, Mr. Ellison gives us a caveat
lector at the outset, attempting to dissuade his audience from taking the entire
collection at a single sitting - rightly so, for it is an emotionally exhausting
collection. I wonder, though, whether such an advisory might not be in order
for I HAVE NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM.
I was going to tell you that there are no happy endings, here. True endings,
yes, honest and necessary endings, yes - each sustains the integrity of the
story. And, as I've said elsewhere, Harlan Ellison writes of the world he sees,
not the world as we would have it, or would like it, or the world as we desperately
pretend it must be, a world in which Ward and the Beaver have everything sorted
out at the end. The works here are exquisite. One cannot discount the author's
creativity, but their success, I believe, is in large measure due to the honesty
of the story-telling.
Are they happy endings, though? Well, I'm afraid that argues a matter of perspective.
Because the survivors ( and only one "hero" among them) suffer a gamut
running from the simple disappearance of their zest for living, to actual, torturous
disfigurement. For the protagonist of the title story (the afore-mentioned "hero"),
death would be the happy ending.
For anyone with a soul softer than granite, it is actually painful to read I
HAVE NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM from cover to cover, without a break. These
stories will entertain you, engross you, even enrich you. But they are fables
of their times, fables of ourselves, and so, sadly, become timeless. Because
we are still those people - as Pogo used to say, "We has met the enemy,
and he is us." They are necessary, they are relevant. And they are still
kinder to us than the evening news, which perusal will assure you that we are
still committing such hatefulness.
I feel rather like that archetypal scene in jungle adventure movies, where the
guy in the pith-helmet squints out past the edge of the firelight, muttering,
"It's quiet; too quiet." Because we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
We have mouths.
Why is there so little screaming?
San Francisco, CA
I HAVE NO MOUTH, AND I MUST SCREAM
A narrative of our species' five finalists in the
Cosmic Crap-Shoot, in their 109th year of AM's torment, as recounted by the
grand prize winner.
Collectively, volumes have been written about this
story, by everyone from adoring fans to the most learned scholars. I, therefore,
am naturally dubious regarding the freshness and insight of any of my observations
on the subject. So - stop me if you've heard this. Of all the words that describe
Harlan Ellison's works, "static," if it is on the list at all, is
so far down the line and in such fine print that even lawyers wouldn't think
to look for it. This story is a prime example - thirty years old, and still
alive and squirming. And, like its author, it refuses to be pigeon-holed. Ever
see "Lust For Life?" Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh. At the end, he's trying
to paint these black birds in a wheatfield. Remember? "It keeps changing!
It keeps changing!" Alive and squirming. Every time I go back to this story,
opening my rheumy, jaded critical eye, it's a little different. Shadowy elements
trade places with those that had been in the foreground. It's like watching
the ocean, or a slow-motion film of a lake's rippling surface. It keeps changing,
with a nightmarish, swirling ebb and flow. I'm afraid that all I can do is tell
you what I saw, but I can't be too sure of any conclusions - it keeps me too
on-edge and off-balance.
The premise initially reminds me of a movie called "Five," produced
by Arch Oboler (who also gave us "Lights Out!" on radio) in the late
nineteen-fifties. It concerns the trials and tribulations of the last five people
on post-WWIII Earth. Little more than a handy starting point for Mr. Ellison's
And there are other elements that hit me like machine-gun slugs: Dante's INFERNO;
Milton's PARADISE LOST; a smattering of Sartre's "No Exit;" Poe's
"The Pit and the Pendulum," and, to a lesser degree, "The Tell-Tale
Heart;" the free-ranging paranoia present in much of Philip K. Dick's work;
Are any or all of those things really present and intentional? I don't know
- I calls 'em as I sees 'em. They might be nothing more than handles for my
brain to hang onto, during thisroller-coaster ride through the Spook House.
Perhaps the most helpful and constant of those handles is that I find this story
somehow reminiscent of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. No? Submitted for your approval:
a sentient, artificial life-form - a powerful, inescapable, unstoppable, soul-less
thing (here, without conscience or remorse) - devoted to vengeance on its creators,
albeit by proxy in this instance. Even a climactic scene in the ice caverns.
If I may cite Mr. Ellison's remarks from his introduction to this story:
John Brunner tells me it is allegorical as hell. Virginia Kidd
says it is a story of religious experience. James Blish says it is a good
They are each quite correct. One almost need apply Heisenberg's Principle of
Uncertainty to this story - it changes with observation. Indeed, it changes
with each observer, keying on individual perception, and working splendidly
on each level.
It is a case against Humanity's dependence on (and ultimate victimization by)
our own technology. It neatly and subversively blurs the distinction between
creator and creation, pointing up our helplessness in the face of God/Life/Universe.
It terrorizes us with an end-game look at what we might expect, should we continue
to choose to hand over our choices, our say-so, our rights, responsibilities,
privileges and individuality, our control, to the enormous, pitiless, semi-sentient
machine of government. Such a warning is as valid today as it was when this
story first appeared, back when the suspicion that perhaps our country's forces
oughtn't be in Vietnam finally began to spread on a mass scale.
In keeping with the surreal, film noir flavor of the piece, there is a diminishing
spiral of information about the characters and there background. We're told
quite a bit about Benny, less about Gorrister, dwindling through Ellen, then
Nimdok, until we reach Ted, the narrator, about whom we know little more than
a name, until the end. The information does, however, seem to be in proportion
to the characters' importance, and I don't think that it was random choice that
Benny pounces on Gorrister - intellect-made-animal seizes and feeds on compassion
turned to apathy.
And of course, there is AM - one of the niftier components of the story, I think.
Echoes of the Doomsday Device in "Dr. Strangelove," but sentient,
with personality. AM also reminds me of the HAL 9000 of "2001: a Space
Odyssey," and the massive, menacing namesake of "Colossus: the Forbin
Project." In retrospect, I should say that they remind me of AM - "I
Have No Mouth, ..." predates both of those films, which hit theater screens
in 1968 and 1969, respectively.
Is AM God or Devil, to this story? The Official Line, roughly speaking, is that
a civilization is measured by its ability to "successfully" commit
war. AM, sentient psychotic, is the last word in civilization, then. Why does
he hate his captives? It's what he lives for. He was made that way. Wars are
not waged through anyone's capacity to love. AM hates - it is his purpose. And,
having achieved sentience, knowing that he is only capable of hate, must only
intensify that hatred. Hatred craves vengeance: AM keeps his charges alive to
fulfill his purpose - because, properly exacted, revenge is the gift that keeps
Benny makes the perfect recipient of AM's "gifts," too. His very ipsiety
mocks AM, reminds AM of their similarities and differences. Driven, I think,
by a combination of jealousy and self-loathing, he acts against Benny and himself.
So Benny becomes a reverse image of the brilliant, handsome homosexual he was
before AM claimed him - an idiot missing-link, driven by brute instinct, with
little interest in anything other than eating or screwing, robbed of intellect
and identity (social and sexual), whatever freedom remains to Benny is effectively
useless. AM might be locked in his form, trapped deep in the bowels of the Earth,
but he has the freedom of himself - something he denies Benny - even if he is
limited in his scope by his programmed hatred.
See what I mean? It keeps changing, growing. "Programmed hatred."
What else could we call bigotry, prejudice or racism?
And please - don't ask me where I got this, but I suspect that, somewhere, locked
in some remote, lucid, cognitive region of his brain, AM has allowed Benny to
remain aware: aware of what he had been, aware of what he had become. Aware
of what all the other brilliant theorists had accomplished in AM, what they
had ultimately done to him through AM. Aware that there is a bit of AM in each
human being, that AM is the sum of us, and that this computer is a tool for
Man's destruction, or deconstruction, of Self. Like Gort in "The Day the
Earth Stood Still," AM is the watcher, the punisher. The purgative that
can't stop, or he'll be out of a job.
"I Have No Mouth,..." also toys, not-too-playfully, with the reader's
sense of reality. Told, as it is, in the first-person, we have only Ted's word
to rely on. His occasional, lively protestations, however, that AM has not messed
his mind give rise, for me, to doubt. Is Ted's information reliable, or are
we all merely victims of his perceptions? Are there four other people and a
mean, omnipotent computer? Or is Ted the Jungian "self," and AM the
"persona," Benny the "shadow," Ellen the "anima,"
Gorrister the "earth mother" and Nimdok the "wise, old man?"
Is Ted's final form the punishment for his destruction of the others, the result
of his lost battle with AM, the persona? Is Batman a transvestite? Who can say?
There's something about the characterization, the presentation of the players
in this drama, that can mislead the reader to a certain feeling of antipathy
for the people. Yet, somehow, we are drawn into giving a damn. We feel their
ongoing state of misery, and the ending is truly a horrific image. And, in the
end, we are rewarded with the knowledge that (if we choose to view it that way)
Ted does care about these kindred souls, whether they are part of him or not.
After all, he frees them, doesn't he? Leaving himself alone, to face the music
of AM's retribution.
So there is a happy ending here, of sorts - he makes the sacrifice and lives,
while they go free to their final rest. And it has been said that, "There
is no greater love than to give up one's life for a friend." Not end it;
just give it up. If you believe in that sort of thing.
BIG SAM WAS MY FRIEND
Traveling with an interplanetary, psychic circus,
Big Sam searches for a lost love. While he learns that not all good girls go
to Heaven, his, chum Billy Lee discovers that sometimes friendship means working
without a net - lessons that only one of them will get to live with.
In the course of his career, Mr. Ellison has spent
no small amount of verbiage examining the nature and needs, of friendship. In
his remarks in a later collection (SHATTERDAY), introducing his novella, "All
the Lies That Are My Life," he sums it up quite succinctly: "It is
a quality that defines itself in terms of love and loyalty as the readiness
to inconvenience oneself at risk of something valuable. And that seldom means
money. It means the skin goes on the line."
Of course, that observation came in 1980. This story goes even further back
- 1958. I don't think any opinions have changed regarding the views expressed.
In fact, I would hazard a guess that time has only strengthened Mr. Ellison's
conviction. In his introduction to this story, he makes quite a case for action
in the service of one's beliefs.
They don't lock you up for thinking crazy, they lock you up for acting crazy.
To my certain knowledge, nary a soul has been jailed for fantasizing about murder,
or contemplating a liquor store hold-up. We are held accountable for our deeds.
So it is (or should be) on the opposite end of that spectrum. My father, for
instance, might love me as the precious son I am, and cry himself to sleep in
his little bed every night, over the lost years and opportunities of our relationship
- what with the lack of birthday cards, fishing trips and tossing of the ol'
cowhide around the backyard, there's very little to recommend my belief that
he holds such an attitude.
Which is all by way of saying that commitment without demon-stration is fantasy
- nothing more; and probably less. Whether the issue at hand is Equal Rights
for all, HIV research and care for its sufferers, or friendship, glad-handing
assurances just don't feed the bulldog, kids. A pledge to your local Public
Television station, a kind word and a pat on the back - something.
Some investment - that is the only thing, for my part, that seems to be missing
from this story. Big Sam is a likeable fellow and a star attraction; but what
else is there by which Billy Lee - or any of them - might claim friendship,
other than big numbers at the ticket office? Fritz Bravery owes Sam his life
- but the rest?
And that's where I become uncomfortable: the question of motivation in friendship.
If Sam had been a jerk, if that single aspect of characterization had been different,
how would I feel? Would Billy Lee then, seem somehow noble for wanting to speak
out, and save Sam's wretched life? It has been said that, "Friendship is
the thief of time;" but where and on what would you rather spend it? Indeed,
what else is worth it? Just something for the reader to ponder. Because I don't
have an answer for that one.
EYES OF DUST
On Topaz, perfection seems to be a one-way street,
until one unfortunate Person provides them with a lesson in the difference between
beauty and aesthetics.
Every day and every night, Some are born to Sweet Delight.
Some are born to Sweet Delight, Some are born to Endless Night.
At least, I think that's how it goes. I also can't be sure, but I believe I'm
mis-remembering one of William Blake's sonnets. It's lovely, don't you think?
Something about it connects with this story, in my head.
There are some to whom genetics have been appallingly kind and generous. Such
people are, seemingly, made to be seen. Not just running around Hollyweird,
either. Walk down the street and make mental notes of who catches your eye.
Somehow, our society has become possessed, obsessed with youth and sensual aesthetics:
"beauty" caught in the act. Declining to look further, deeper, most
of us are oblivious to those in whom beauty has left its mark, though it might
have long ago departed. I assure you, though, that those of discrimin-ating
taste and perseverance can gaze upon an elderly lady and see the echoes of a
six-year-old moppet, in a cotton dress, dancing in the fading, Autumn sunlight,
lifting blossoms up to the spirits of the air. Joy, acceptance and compassion
shining out through thick-lensed spectacles and twisted, decaying, buck teeth.
Bare-foot boys with cheeks of tan, etc. etc.
Somehow, we have become so engrossed with how external loveliness drapes on
us, touching the hearts and souls of others, that we forget that there must
be some sort of beauty shining from within - of course, I must admit, that sort
of beauty is sometimes harder to cultivate. The physical exertions of the gym
and tanning salons are less demanding than spiritual growth. So we celebrate
the bottles and forget about the wine.
And here's this charming couple, Ordak and Broomhall. She has a physical disfigurement
(a mole), but is tolerated because she can at least cover it up. For all we
know, Broomhall might look like Brad Pitt - but he is a greater source of fear
and disgust, for he is blind. Not only is he unsusceptible to their loveliness,
he is unable to tell them how swell they all look; perhaps that is what they
find most offensive.
Finally, there is Person, child of endless night. He sees what cannot be seen,
on that beautiful world, and loves it anyway. But those eyes - eyes that are
the mirror of our soul; the reflections from the Abyss. "Even the bravest
of us rarely has the courage for what he really knows." Nietzsche, I believe.
No wonder they killed that tragic Person - once you know a thing, there's no
So the Topazoids are beautiful to see - but would you let one marry your sister?
WORLD OF THE MYTH
Marooned and awaiting rescue, an isosceles love-triangle
(with Cornfeld getting the short side) encounters a group mind, with whom it
is terribly important to make a good impression. As the Mountain may come to
Mohammed, so it seems the Abyss might also come to Nietzsche.
I'm reminded heavily, here, of Goethe's response
to Socrates's direction to "Know thyself" - "'Know thyself?'
If I knew myself, I'd run away!"
Which brings us, Dear Friends, to another examination of perspective. How we
see ourselves, how others see us - in fact, this is almost the flip side of
"Eyes of Dust." But wait - we're dealing with a "mirror mind,"
here, aren't we? Mirrors have no opinion, they merely tell you what you already
know but don't necessarily see; so, is that vision objective or subjective?
Is it truth, or is that truth dependent on the seer's perception? This is starting
to go into that old Danny Kaye routine, where the Dragon With the Flagon Has
the Palace by the Pestle,...
Unless you care to pursue it amongst yourselves, I will spare the audience any
sort of lengthy, dry, philosophical treatise on the Nature of Truth - whether
truth is subjective, or confined to factuality, whether truth is contingent
upon belief, yadda-yadda, and so on.
However, I submit this notion for your consideration: Cornfeld, indirectly,
murdered Rennert. Early in their association with the ant-creatures, Cornfeld
and Rennert are provided with images to go along with their ideas, and emotions:
the wailing woman, the madman, the devils. Is it not possible that, later, when
Cornfeld dares Rennert to ask the creatures for a vision of who and what he
really is, the "bug-a-boos" show them Cornfeld's vision of Rennert?
Rennert is described and portrayed as an amoral thug - though he is perhaps
not utterly incapable of remorse, I don't quite believe that a man like Wayne
Rennert would see "evil incarnate" in any sort of mirror. Cornfeld,
on the other hand, would see just such a monster in Rennert.
Is Cornfeld concerned that Iris will trot out and discover that she is the Devil's
willing consort? Or will she ask them what happened, what really happened? Maybe
it happened exactly as Cornfeld said - but will the "truth" Iris sees
be colored by her perception, portraying Cornfeld as a murderer? Is that why
Cornfeld himself fears to ask the question - that he feels a certain degree
of responsibility for Rennert's fate? Perception. All in how you look at it.
Perhaps that is what makes this a "World of the Myth."
A man in retreat. Paul Reed, unable to decipher the
warning of his dreams, murders himself trying to fill a spiritual hole with
physical gratification - a dressing too small for the wound.
Harlan Ellison counts this as among his favorite
stories. "This is, I think, one of the best stories I've ever written,"
he says, "It is certainly one of the most personally important to me."
I can't help but agree - I think it is one of those unique stories that is personally
important to whomever might need it.
It's still important, still relevant, because it addresses what is still a common
problem - and, as the ending rolls out, it encourages the reader's contemplation
of alternate solutions. Because, to defend the story's integrity, it might need
to end that way, but our own stories can be resolved more happily.
Our own lonelyaches.
Paul Reed makes an error that still runs through our society like shit through
a goose: he mistakes sex for intimacy. I am not without this sin, myself, and
I doubt that very many people reading this now can claim truthfully that they
are, or ever were, free of the impurity. I can remember names and faces, most
of the particulars if documentation is required; and I also remember that feeling,
the emptiness and loss of having given away small pieces of myself, that crushing
dissatisfaction of having tried to make myself real and valid through an act
that, ideally, should succeed those feelings - the Lonelyache.
There's a part of Paul that sees very clearly what he's doing to himself and
how he's dismantling not only his relationships with the people around him,
but his ability to create and support those relationships. That part of him
really does try to put a stop to the deconstruction - hence that series of assassins,
converging on him like brooms on Mickey Mouse. They aren't out-siders, as Paul
supposes, they are Paul's "better nature" attempting to oust this
drive to self-destruct. The trouble is Paul's utter refusal to examine the matter
more closely - otherwise, he might see why his sister calls him a "chaser,"
and find a way to stop doing that.
But Paul won't take the tour, and certainly won't hire a guide to show him a
safe route. So his betrayal of his better nature births an opportunity. Each
infidelity - to himself and his soon--to-be-ex-wife - only gives greater form
and reality to that sad, staring, karmic beast in his bedroom corner, a creature
composed of Paul's hope and integrity, all the small decencies that have begun
to disappear from him like fleas leaving a sinking rat.
Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum, whether in outer space or the inner mind.
As the components of the "real" Paul flee, they are replaced by the
demon horde, one of whom he is in the process of becoming. Paul could have gone
either way, perhaps, had he come to such a realization earlier; but, as it is,
there is only the prospect of his becoming a conscienceless user of people -
so, rather than join that despicable mob, he chooses nothing at all, leaving
the best parts of himself behind.
More I cannot say, except to suggest that, if you are ever confronted by a soft-brown
staring thing that is nothing like a Kodiak bear - perhaps you should embrace
DELUSION FOR A DRAGON SLAYER
Warren Glazer Griffin, thrust between this life and
the next, armed only with his ethics and a suitable vehicle, learns too late
that the one thing he can take for granted is opportunity - all else is dependent
on whether he does the footwork.
Here, Mr. Ellison gives us a neat, passionate parable,
exploring what might happen if one were granted the opportunity to play the
game by one's own rules - the results of being called upon to walk the walk
after talking the talk.
Griffin (a name I will forever associate with H.G. Wells's THE INVISIBLE MAN)
is physically out-fitted for the tasks ahead, and now need only call up the
courage of his convictions. We are, I think, all-too-well-acquainted with such
recommendations: put the well-being of those in your care ahead of your own;
fair-play is important - there is no such thing as a victory, if it is won through
dishonorable or petty means; think with the organ that was made for thinking.
Pretty simple stuff. Not always easy, by any stretch, but simple. Griffin doesn't
even think to try - forewarned that this is a test contributing heavily to his
final grade, he is readily side-tracked by the pretty colors, and full of the
gloriousness of his shiny, new bod, singing his own praises while those in his
charge go do a late lunch with Davy Jones (I do not refer to The Monkees); even
when the Mist-Devil evens the odds, he cannot conquer his fear sufficiently
to go through with a fair fight; as for winning the lady's heart, well, there
are plenty of gorgeous assholes running around, these days, who wonder why they
can't keep a steady girlfriend (many of whom, oddly enough, seem to belong to
fraternities and are up on date-rape charges).
Most galling, as mentioned, is that Griffin doesn't even really try. I suspect
that, had he at least struggled in his attempts, it would have come off rather
well for him: get the men to safety; fight the good fight even though out-gunned;
ask the damsel's name, is she okay, is she hungry, how's her bridge game, anything
but a forced shtupping because he is the mighty hero and how could she not love
him after such a romp in Cupid's Grove? Being worthy of one's dreams means risk
- and, to take a risk, means you have to be willing to lose. I forget the name
of the man who originally said it, but it's like this: "I admire Christopher
Columbus, not because he found a new world, but because he went to look for
it on the strength of an idea."
Warren Glazer Griffin, now a truly Invisible Man, sadly, had no ideas. No strength.
And no conviction. The delusion is that he ever did. Not only is his worthiness
tested, but so is that of his dreams.
Mr. Ellison is proud of this one, and justifiably so. In what he calls an experimental
style, he strives for mysticism through the Baroque and rococo. I'm afraid I
can't comment on that. I can say that his attempt at density of image and layering
of narrative succeed splendidly, coming fast and furious, and rarely giving
the reader more than a moment to catch his or her breath. What hits me hardest
though is The Message - nobility is in the struggle, and success in the attempt.
PRETTY MAGGIE MONEYEYES
Kostner, down and out in Las Vegas, turns his last
cartwheel and lets it ride on the Oldest Established Profession, getting a lot
of nothing for his little bit of something on the biggest sucker bet since Nathan
Detroit put Sky Masterson onto Sgt. Sarah Brown.
Another of Mr. Ellison's favorites, and no wonder
- thirty-one years later, and it still wins in a walk against much of what passes
today for "brilliance." This tough, brassy, little bon-bon is flashy
hard-shell and soft, bittersweet nougat, with a crisp little worm at the center.
It doesn't happen often, but I, too, have a special place in my heart for those
stories of mine that roll out of my fingers while the movie flickers past my
eyes. That doesn't guarantee excellence, but the stories are easy and fun to
write. And when you look at it, after the smoke clears, and there is evidence
that The Writer who lives in your head has really earned his rent on the space
between your ears - wow; just, wow! You kiss your typewriter that much harder
(no, that's not how I chipped that tooth).
So it's a great story. I mean, it fucking struts, Jack.
But not a happy story. No. Stories of people trapped and damned by their own
need, such stories are never really happy. This is one of those stories.
Kostner, though he begins as something of an enigma, isn't so different from
any of the rest of us. He's in Vegas because, well, he ended up in Vegas, and,
among that whole something-for--nothing crowd, he doesn't really want anything
that we don't want - he just wants it to be a little bit better and a little
less lonely. Traveling the rocky footpath (or sliding down the razor-blade of
Life into that icy pool of chilled vinegar, as I sometimes refer to it), don't
we all want some companionship? Some other soul who tries to make it by the
same rules we employ? Someone we can trust?
And Maggie; bright as a button, cold and soft as a first winter frost, sharp
and deadly and hypnotic as a cobra. Not a nice lady; but it's hard to hold it
against her. Anyone who's ever known need, who's had to choose between groceries
and a new pair of shoes, who's ever had to try to get a few winks behind a parking-lot
dumpster and been a little too hungry for a little too long, ... Well, we understand
where that head can take a person, don't we? That doesn't make it right, but
we can understand.
Las Vegas - is it evil? Hmm. I think that might be a matter for some debate.
No souls are stolen, there, not really. Given away, yes - handed over in fury,
Desperation. Need. If there is evil in Vegas, it is because we have put it there.
By the emptiness we allow to fester in each other and ourselves.
By our need.
Story Reviews by K.C. Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org)
harlanellison.com is maintained by Rick Wyatt - email@example.com
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