Firebrand, Touchstone, Trailblazer, Risk-Taker!
“Only connect,” E.M. Forster famously said, and Harlan Ellison was canny enough to make that the lifeblood of his achievement from the get-go.
New, fresh and different is tricky in the storytelling business, as rare as diamonds, but, as a born storyteller, Harlan made story brave, daring, surprising again, brought an edge of the gritty and the strange, the erudite and the street-smart, found ways to make words truly come alive again in an over-worded world.
From the watershed of the ’50s and ’60s when the world found its dynamic new identity, to a self-imitating, sadly all too derivative present, he has kept storytelling cool and hip, exhilarating, unexpected yet always vital, able to get under your skin and change your life.
And now we have it. The Top of the Volcano is the collection we hoped would come along eventually, twenty-three of Harlan’s very best stories, award-winners every one, brought together in a single volume at last. There’s the unforgettable power of “'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman,” “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” and “Mefisto in Onyx,” the heart-rending pathos of “Jeffty Is Five” and “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, the chilling terror of “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” the ingenuity and startling intimacy of “Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans…”
These stories are full of the light and life of someone with things worth saying and the skills to do it, presented in the book we had to have—not just a Best-of (though given what’s on offer it may just fall out that way) but in one easy-to-grab volume perfect for newbies, long-time fans and seasoned professionals alike to remind them just how it can be done.
Ellison (Slippage) has won so many awards over his six-decade career that this hefty collection only includes the short stories that have won the most prestigious prizes. His greatest hits include "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (1967), with its viciously omnipotent computer, and "The Deathbird" (1973), a riff on the book of Genesis in sympathy with the snake. His iconoclastic early period is represented by experimental pieces such as "The Region Between" (1969), which includes abstract graphics with its text. But the pleasant surprises are later, more obscure works, such as "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore" (1991), in which a higher intelligence arbitrarily meddles with the world. The mature wit of late Ellison may surprise those familiar with his earlier nihilism. Ellison's themes can be repetitive, and his portrayals of women are consistently two-dimensional. The book is, however, up to date, and its most recent story, "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" (2010), has not been collected elsewhere.