Book Review: Gentleman Junkie by Harlan Ellison

Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation - Harlan Ellison

The Basics

A collection of short stories, mainly in a contemporary vein. Each story deals with some transgression or sin and how it impacts the life of the sinner and those around them. From greed to lust to addiction.

My Thoughts

The unfortunate thing here is that these stories don’t entirely hold up for a modern audience. At times, they come off as morality tales, and there’s a preachiness there. They waffled between being simple, honest portrayals of hard lives and waggling a finger at the characters in an attempt to teach the audience something. When they were the former, it was wonderful. When they were the latter, it rankled.

I think, too, that it’s easy to write a contemporary story that teaches something, but harder to do so in science fiction. There is no SF to be found here. It’s all steeped entirely in reality, and I simply prefer seeing Ellison wind his way through a more fantastical setting, molding it to suit what message he wants to impart. Using SF as the package for a message can make it an easier pill to swallow, where these stories felt jagged and force-fed.

I didn’t hate it by any means, but I remember thinking quite clearly that I wish I could figure out what was holding this back from being what his other collections have been to me. The writing was still beautiful. I have enjoyed his contemporary stories, like from No Doors, No Windows, in the past. So what was the problem? They weren’t smooth. Particularly any story that incorporated drug use was judgmental. Regardless about how I felt about these topics, I didn’t enjoy feeling as if I should feel one way or another.

I wouldn’t recommend this for a first time reader, but for completionists, go for it. It’s always worth Ellison’s prose.

Final Rating