Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ellison's Silent Scream, Amongst Other Ellisonisms.

Discovering Harlan Ellison was a boon to my writing, a revelation, the person and his work often overlapping--that attitude: words with teeth and ready to bite! How could my teenage self not like his tales?

I remember wandering into a book store, looking for something different, somebody new. I needed to shake things up. Lovecraft and Bradbury may have opened my eyes, but Ellison threw shards of glass in them, his impish demeanor and scalpel precise prose slicing deep into my psyche. The book that caught my eye was the 1974 Signet version of The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The World. I devoured those stories over the next few days and immediately went back for more: I was addicted. And, yes, I’m as much a fan of the introductions as many of the stories; Ellison’s got an involving knack for conversation with kick, always amusing, and I’m all too easily drawn into his words in all forms.

There are some writers we read who don’t leave a trace; other writers, well, even if I’m the only one who can notice, I know their fingerprints are all over my words, though now they are my words and less derivative of the influences (we’ll get into ’voice’ at another time). Ellison is one who’s often there. I always feel like my first novel, The Corner of His Mind, feels like a cross between Ellison and a few other writers, but I’m pretty sure Ellison’s got the wheel (or he‘s fighting over it with Lucius Shepard, as the story veers into Magic Realism). I was going through two boxes of handwritten and typed out stories in the back room recently, and ran across a long story I’d attempted from the 80s called, “The Searchers,” which is deeply indebted to “A Boy and His Dog.”

And then there’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” Have you ever gotten a chill when a story works out perfectly and you know it, know the author nailed it? This is one of the rare stories that did that to me the first time…and the 10th time, the 20th… The impact is undeniable, the endlessly malicious predicament of Ted, Gorrister, Benny Nimdok, and Ellen at the hands of the supercomputer, AM--originally: "Allied Mastercomputer," later called "Adaptive Manipulator"; eventually, AM stands for what the supercomputer had become: "Aggressive Menace”--wearing me, the humble reader, out! The finale is one of the most chilling moments in fiction ever and even thinking of it now, my spine’s got scorpions racing up and causing my shoulders to scrunch together. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend the experience--and yes, you will experience it.

Which sounds like a good plan: I think I’ll find that worn out, waterlogged copy of The Beast…and take a break with a true master.

Yes, this is the wonderful artwork that caught my eye and led me to Harlan's speculative fiction world.

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