Now this is one of those articles where I know a lot of you will never have heard of the author. But I do wonder…have you ever heard of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream? Or perhaps The City On The Edge Of Forever? Harlan Ellison is one of those famously complicated figures in science fiction – a term he personally hated, he clung to the more general speculative fiction – and horror. He wrote prolifically from the mid 1950s all the way to the mid 2000s and was very much a love him or hate him figure.
He is well known mainly for writing the Star Trek The Original Series masterpiece The City On The Edge Of Forever – always in the top 10 Trek stories of all time…that isn’t even up for debate. Although there were some notable changes to Ellison’s original – and also for writing the short stories I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream and Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman both of which are according to sci-fi legend on the list for most reprinted short stories of all time across several languages. He also had a history of messing with the stories that were in collections whenever collections were republished so you didn’t get five billion copies of the same stories. Usually!
But what about the audio side of things? The Voice From The Edge is a collection of some of Harlan’s most famous stories as well as one or two personal favourites of Harlan’s choosing narrated by Harlan himself. And boy are you in for a ride. How do I describe Ellison’s stories? The kind of thing you have to hear to believe! Some stories are nightmare fuel incarnate while others are strangely comedic and one or two make you want to cry by the end. And that’s just volume 1! There are five volumes overall with the first three narrated by Harlan himself and volumes 4 and 5 co-narrated between Harlan and a selection of other voices.
I’m not claiming these stories are for everyone. Some of them can be frankly twisted – such as A Boy And His Dog (Volume 1) or The Discarded (Volume 3) – and even some of my personal favourites feel raw. Like he kept picking at his neuroses until the result was channeled onto the page. Case in point being Paladin Of The Lost Hour from Volume 1. But if I’m honest? I think that’s what makes Harlan special. He didn’t hold back. He cut his teeth on the pulps of the 1950s and kept those sensibilities. His stories made you think even about things you didn’t want to admit. He said things that no one else would say. He let the story go where it would take him. His stories can be wonderful or frankly…wrong. But they are the kind of thing I genuinely believe people SHOULD read or listen to.
Harlan’s narration is rather good as well. When the characters need to display emotion during the stories he manages to expertly convey what is required. Be it desperation, joy, terror, horror or anything else you can name he does it in such a way that I can easily close my eyes and imagine them in those moments. I truly hope I can persuade some readers to hunt the audio down or at the very least get physical copies of the stories. Be it a five minute short story, an hour long novelette or a full length master work his narration and storytelling are worthy of a man who won the Hugo Award – one of the science fiction equivalents of the Oscars for writing (with less self-righteousness) – eight times.
I know I’m being somewhat over the top in praising Mr Ellison but all I can say is give his stories a chance. As twisted as they can be they are considered science fiction masterpieces for a reason. Ellison rightfully earned a reputation for being the grumpiest old man in science-fiction at one point but I do miss him.
For those of you who want to hear a sample of the Voice From The Edge audio collections – sadly no longer legally for sale as far as I can ascertain – Volumes 1 and 4 are on YouTube in their entirety. I will not feel bad about bringing this up as it appears there is no legal way to obtain the audio anymore. I own volumes 1 to 3 as I bought them years ago when they were still on sale and I have heard parts of Volume 4.
As you can probably guess from a writer that goes back to the 1950s he will use phrases in some of his stories that just aren’t the done thing anymore but the stories are still very entertaining if you are willing to challenge yourself. I will now name a selection of my personal favourites from across all the volumes.
- I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream – TVFTE Volume 1
- Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman – TVFTE Volume 1
- Paladin Of The Lost Hour (My personal favourite Ellison story ever) – TVFTE Volume 1
- Grail – TVFTE Volume 1
- The End Of The Time of Leinard. – TVFTE Volume 2
- Jeffty Is Five – TVFTE Volume 2
- The entirety of Volume 3 (My personal favourite Volume.)
- Count The Clock That Tells The Time– TVFTE Volume 4
- How Interesting: A Tiny Man – TVFTE Volume 4
I’m not going to claim Ellison was perfect – he had several controversies in his life – but you could think of this article as half review half interest piece. The man had among others Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Robin Williams as fans and I hope I can persuade some of you to check out his work.
The Lost Hour has to find its new Paladin
P.S Do NOT listen to these late at night. You will not be able to sleep. I speak from experience! The interlinking music and sound effects between each of the stories can be rather disturbing.