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The Essential Ellison: A 50 Year Retrospective
Harlan Ellison, edited by Terry Dowling with Richard Delap and Gil Lamont
Morpheus, 1250 pages

The Essential Ellison: A 50 Year Retrospective
Harlan Ellison
One of the most acclaimed and prolific writers of the genre, Harlan Ellison has published over 1,300 stories, essays, scripts and reviews. His work has received seven Hugos, three Nebulas and he was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1996.

Harlan Ellison Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dangerous Visions
SF Site Review: Edgeworks 4
SF Site Review: Slippage

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

The Essential Ellison is a review-proof book if ever there was one. Literally. No matter what I say here in my allotted space of a few hundred words, readers roaming the stacks at Barnes & Noble or Borders or their local indy are going to buy it or not based on a wide range of factors -- only a few of which have anything to do with whether or not the book is worth the cover price. On and off the page, Harlan Ellison has been a virtual force of nature in the big tent known as speculative fiction from day one, and while many readers marvel at his power and spectacle as they soak up all they can, others decided somewhere along the way they simply didn't like the weather.

It is a curious phenomenon, being unable to discuss the prose without discussing the author. But such is the unique position of Ellison -- the shadow he casts is a very large one indeed. The influence he has had on modern genre, direct or indirect, is immeasurable. To that extent, the title of this book is a straightforward case of truth-in-packaging: It is essential, essential for aspiring writers, veterans of the field, editors, fans... anyone with a desire for a thorough appreciation and understanding of SF.

Readers wanting a broad sampling of Ellison's career without having to scour secondhand bookshops for tattered copies of Angry Candy and Alone Against Tomorrow need look no further than this massive, 1200-plus page tome. All the Nebula winners are here, as are the Hugo winners and various other award winners, too. Yes, that means you can get your fill of "Jefty is Five," "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and the ever-popular "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman." Even comparatively recent "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus to Shore" is here, named one of the Best American Short Stories for 1993. The cover text isn't joking when it declares this edition to be "A 50 Year Retrospective," as it is significantly expanded from the original 1987 version, which was merely "A 35 Year Retrospective."

Already familiar with a good number of the works included in this book, I quickly found that my reactions to them haven't changed all that much over the years. I still find "Paladin of the Lost Hour" powerfully moving and poignant. "Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans," on the other hand, stubbornly remains as impenetrable and baffling as ever. But those stories aren't what I find so engrossing, so captivating about The Essential Ellison. No, it's all these other pieces shoehorned in between the covers that I've never seen previously that make me truly appreciate Ellison's depth and range as a writer. Stories such as "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie," a callous and tragic story that has the audacity to go with an against-the-grain ending that is as unexpected as it is correct. Or "The Tombs," an excerpt from Memos from Purgatory, one of Ellison's true-life-adventures that is darkly amusing until you remember it's not a brilliant Gilliamesque dystopian riff on Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, but rather New York City circa 1961. Sure, the story is embellished in ways I'm certain I don't have clue one about. Doesn't matter. It gets the point across. Ellison is one of the most instinctive storytellers alive. He excels at sniffing out the heart -- the living, breathing narrative -- in both his life experiences and the intangible seeds of ideas that flourish within his fertile mind.

For all his famous protests to the contrary, Ellison is inarguably a science fiction writer. But he is also a fantasist -- having written significantly more of that genre than its SFnal cousin -- not to mention a journalist, an essayist, a screenwriter and mainstream author. The Essential Ellison makes it very, very clear that in a society obsessed with labels and pigeonholes, Ellison has never fit comfortably in any category. Instead, he's tackled them all (or so it seems) and more often than not has come out on top. Considering the often insular tastes of genre readers, that alone is reason enough to place this book at the top of every recommended reading list. Or not, as the case may be. I've said my piece, and now leave you, the reader, to do as you will.

Copyright © 2006 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction. A collection of his interviews, Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, is now available from the University of Nebraska Press. He is the former fiction editor for His web log can be found at

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