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Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
As much as I dislike the man personally, I have to say that Harlan Ellison writes great stories. Even the stories that I don’t like — because they’re violent, gory, gross, or full of others varieties of ugliness — are good stories. And if there’s anything that Harlan Ellison does better than write great stories, it’s narrate them. He’s a superb story teller. That’s why I’ve picked up all of his Voice From The Edge recordings at Audible.com. Each is a collection of Ellison’s stories which he narrates himself. This second volume, Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral, contains these stories:
“In Lonely Lands” — (first published in 1959 in Fantastic Universe) This very short story is about loneliness, companionship, and dying. It’s touching and thought provoking.
“S.R.O” — (1957, Amazing Stories) A down-and-out producer wants dibs on the exploitation of an alien spaceship that has landed in Times Square. I saw where this was going, but it was still entertaining. Perhaps most entertaining his how Harlan Ellison narrates it with New York City accents.
“Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral” — (1995, Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy) A man whose father died in an industrial accident before he was born meets him again in the Bermuda Triangle. Atmospheric and creepy.
“The End of the Time of Leinard” — (1958, Westeryear anthology) This story was written for a Western themed anthology, so it’s not speculative fiction. It’s a thoughtful piece in which a town decides that it no longer likes the frontier style of the sheriff they hired years ago. They don’t like him because they think he’s uncivilized, yet he’s the reason the rest of them are civilized.
"Pennies, Off a Dead Man’s Eyes — (1969, Galaxy Magazine) When a white man goes to the funeral of his black friend, he sees a white woman steal the pennies off the dead man’s eyes. The friend of the dead man wants to know why.
“Rat Hater” — (1956, The Deadly Streets) After 18 years of waiting for revenge for the murder of his sister, a mob boss tortures a man with a rat phobia. This story is extremely unpleasant. It’s hard to imagine why Harlan Ellison would think this was fun to write or entertaining for the reader. Yuck. I wish I could wipe it from my mind.
“Go Toward the Light” — (1996, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) Physicists have learned how to use light to travel through time. After an argument with a fellow Jewish scientist about believing in miracles and what it means to be a “good Jew,” a man goes back to ancient Jerusalem to witness a miracle. I like this story.
“Soft Monkey” — (1987, The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction) A homeless black woman carries around a doll who she thinks is her baby who died years ago. When she witnesses a gruesome murder on the streets, she finds the extraordinary strength required to protect her “baby” from the white men who want to make sure she can’t talk. This story is named after Harry Harlow’s “Soft Monkey” experiments which Ellison explains at the beginning of the story. Ellison has the science backwards, though — it’s the baby who needs the soft mother, not the mother who needs the soft baby. That error doesn’t at all affect the story, but I’m a psychologist, so I just couldn’t let it go by…
“Jeffty is Five” — (1977, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) The narrator grows up while Jeffty, his childhood friend, remains intellectually five years old which is devastating for Jeffty’s parents. This story is so heartbreaking, but it’s also a gleeful nostalgic stroll through the mid 20th century (especially for geeks). This was my favorite story in the collection. I loved it. (If it wasn’t so cliché, I’d say “I laughed, I cried” because I did.) I wasn’t surprised to find out that “Jeffty is Five” won the Hugo, Nebula, British Fantasy, and Locus Poll Awards. You really don’t want to miss this one.
“Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish” — (1982, Shayol) In the introduction, Harlan Ellison tells us that “Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish” is meant to be listened to, not read. In this frantically-paced run-on-filled story about hotdogs and Dostoyevsky, the narrator (probably Harlan Ellison himself) is arguing with a hotdog vendor about the characters in the cannon of “the fabulous Fyodor” when a man in an ice cream cone suit walks up to tell them the story of how all his girlfriends have died tragically. It’s pretty amusing.
“The Function of Dream Sleep” — (1988, Midnight Grafitti) Most psychologists would say that the function of R.E.M. (dream) sleep is to help us consolidate memories, but in 1983 Mitchison and Crick proposed that it also functions to remove certain (probably weak or unnecessary) memories from the brain. This story about a man who believes he has a sharp-toothed mouth in his side that opens when he’s asleep, addresses this idea. In the author’s note at the end of “The Function of Dream Sleep,” Ellison explains that this story is autobiographical. The narration gave me chills.
The Voice From the Edge, Vol 2: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral is definitely worth a look — or should I say listen? (If you’re going to read Harlan Ellison’s stories, which you should, you must, I insist, try the audio versions.) Be warned that his stories are visceral and there is a lot of ugliness here — a gruesomely described industrial accident, torture, murder, violent acts, repulsive language. Most of these stories won’t make you think pleasant thoughts, but they will make you think. Most won’t make you feel good, but they will make you feel.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
The REM Group is one of his greatest stories and the way he voiced his stories is topnotch.