As most of Harlan Ellison’s books are, this is a collection of short stories. While he’s known for writing a lot of science-fiction and speculative fiction (see, Harlan!? I didn’t say ‘sci-fi.’ Oh, damn.), this collection centers around his suspense stories with maybe a couple of fantasy/horror things thrown into the mix.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this until I simply dove in headfirst. I’ve read some of his science-fiction forays, but I wasn’t even entirely sure if I understood what was meant by “suspense.” Really it’s what we’d today call crime fiction or thrillers (using that last term more loosely), but in the 1950s, the genre was called suspense. Well, Ellison called it that, and that’s all I have to go on here, so bear with me. What I’m trying to say is I don’t read these kinds of stories generally. I just don’t seek them out. I can’t say if they’re all like this, but I wish it were so, because this collection is just fantastic.
First off, the introduction is probably the longest I’ve ever read in a book. That sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. Harlan Ellison is known for his rants and his tangents and rabbit trails, and really it’s not about bombasity. It’s about the fact that when Ellison goes off and just talks, it’s entertaining. Because he’s a knowledgeable, well-read guy. Therefore, it’s also probably the best introduction I’ve ever read.
Seeing as this is a collection, it’s hard to go over every story, and I don’t intend to. It’s a strong set that keeps you reading, keeps you delighted with twists and different takes on the genre, even throwing in some “fantasy” curve balls a couple of times.
My one criticism might be that Ellison admits some of the stories have a chauvinistic slant. He even says he tried to edit the worst offenders for the collection. I’m not sure he achieved what he wanted entirely, which was to censor those worse moments. But I also can’t say I wasn’t entertained. Tawdry and bawdy and old-fashioned? Sure. Good fun? That, too.
I’ll point out my top three stories that I feel this collection must be bought for: “Nedra at f:5.6”, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”, and “Eddie, You’re My Friend.” And that was some difficult choosing there. I won’t spoil them. I’ll just say, “seek them out.”