Thursday, January 21, 2010

No more Visions?

Back when I was a teenager & knew I wanted 2 B SOME kind of writer when I grew up, science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison was 1 of my heroes.
He was fearless. He Cmd Ndlessly Nrgetic & productive. & he wrote some of the wildest, most adventurous, most involving, most outrageous SF short-stories of the late '60s & early '70s, & in2 the '80s -- "The Deathbird," "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," "'Repent, Harlequin!,' Said the Ticktockman," "A Boy and His Dog," "From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet," "Eidolons," "With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole," pick yr faverite....
In his TV criticism & commentary of the time (most collected in the brilliant THE GLASS TEAT & THE OTHER GLASS TEAT, & later stuff in the slightly-mellower WATCHING), Harlan Cmd 2 have his hand on the pulse of the times. It was a turbulent period, but the diffrences Btween Right & Wrong Cmd a lot simpler then, & Harlan Cmd 2 make the right choice every time. & the things he got gloriously, righteously angry about Cmd WORTH getting angry about, every time.
He also thot a LOT of himself & his talent. But if U really R that brilliant, is self-confidence a flaw?
The Ghods were apparently waiting 4 Harlan 2 mess up. & in the mid-'70s Harlan apparently messed-up Big Time.
Starting in the mid-'60s, Harlan edited a series of massive original SF short-story anthologies under the banner title DANGEROUS VISIONS. The 1st book, in 1967, along w/ the effects of the British New Wave, helped lead SF in2 a more realistic outlook, where it Bgan 2 Xplore more deeply the clash Btween normal people & advances in technology & society. SF Bgan 2 focus more on real people & real problems, perhaps Bgan 2 move its focus more toward the present or near-future problems rather than the distant future.
Some SF fans & writers applauded this. Some thot it was gonna lead 2 the Nd of SF. The change in approach & the Xperimental way summa the stories were written drove some folks up the wall. 4 awhile in the '60s, SF had its own sorta "generation gap."
Harlan kept the ball rolling. A 2nd, even bigger book, AGAIN DANGEROUS VISIONS, appeared in 1972. Not all the stories in the 2 volumes were brilliant or trail-blazing efforts, Ghod knows. Some were pointless Xperiments, some were 1st-stories that showed a little promise, some were pieces by writers (J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Thomas M. Disch, Roger Zelazny, Theodore Sturgeon) who were doing revolutionary things elsewhere, or had already done mosta their best work.
But the series was very popular, & sevral of the stories in the books won SF awards: Philip Jose Farmer's outrageous "Riders of the Purple Wage," Samuel R. Delany's "Aye, and Gomorrah...," Joanna Russ's "When it Changed," Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Word for World is Forest" (which some SF folks think is echoed in James Cameron's recent blockbuster SF movie AVATAR).
Harlan kept going. He announced in the intro 2 AGAIN that the final volume in the series, THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS, was projected 4 publication sometime in '73. The book was supposed 2 B even bigger than AGAIN. LAST didn't appear as scheduled, & Dspite announcements every few yrs since, the book has never appeared....
LAST is now about 27 yrs overdue. It's sorta Bcome SF's equivalent 2 the Beach Boys' SMILE album. The project has changed publishers at least 3 times. At last report, the book was planned as a massive 3-volume set, 2 B packaged in a box, w/ possibly as many as 150 stories included. The book was estimated at possibly 3/4's of a million words, a short-story collection longer than WAR AND PEACE.... Needless 2 say, its never officially bn scheduled 4 publication.
Christopher Priest's THE LAST DEADLOSS VISIONS is a 35-pg pamphlet/fanzine (which later Bcame a short book, THE BOOK ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER) that Xamines what happened 2 LAST, why it never appeared, why Ellison won't give it up, & what has happened over the yrs 2 the 100 or so writers who contributed stories 2 the book.
Perhaps the most painful part of the mess is that possibly up 2 1/3rd of the writers who were sposta appear in the book have DIED while waiting 4 it 2 B published. Among them R: Octavia Butler, Avram Davidson, Frank Herbert, Mack Reynolds, Clifford D. Simak, Richard Wilson, Alfred Bester, Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton, Ward Moore, Edgar Pangborn, Algis Budrys, Tom Reamy, & Manley Wade Wellman. (Cordwainer Smith died in 1966, Anthony Boucher in 1968 -- including stories by them was sposta B a coup, of sorts....)
(There R a few other writers whose status I'm unsure about; Priest's writeup was all over the Internet a decade ago, when I 1st read it -- at that time he included a list of LAST contributors who'd died, which added a certain poignancy 2 the whole thing -- but Priest admitted then that he'd also lost track of the deaths....)
The other writers have mostly bn hanging on since, some of them were apparently paid as little as 2 cents per word 4 their stories (well below the field's avg payment), some of them paid as long ago as 1969 4 a book that's never bn completed. Ellison's productivity went way down around the mid-'80s or so -- he has reportedly suffered from depression & writer's block 4 yrs. 1 commenter in DEADLOSS claims that 1 of the reasons the book has never bn finished is Bcos Ellison wasn't physically able 2 write the wordy, vivid, funny/outrageous author-introductions that have helped make the books & Ellison famous.
Over the yrs various writers have pulled their stories from the book, reportedly 1 sure way 2 make Ellison furious. John Varley's "The Bellman" (published a few yrs back & subsequently reprinted in a coupla Best-SF-of-the-Year collections) & Michael Bishop's "Dog's Lives" R among the stories that have bn pulled from the book & published elsewhere. Cordwainer Smith's widow sold his story "Himself in Anarchon" elsewhere & Ellison threatened 2 sue, but it was settled out-of-court.
Priest suggests Ellison should either publish the huge book or let the massive project go. It matters little at this late date, & the book is YEARS past the point where it woulda had its greatest impact. Ellison apparently wanted a book that would blow all other possible competitors completely away -- a book 2 outdo all others -- & the project got away from him.
I think there's another option -- how about a SERIES of reasonably-sized books including all the stories that were scheduled 4 the project? That should B enuf short-story collections 4 the next dozen yrs or so.... Ellison could get the project done in bite-sized pieces, something more EZily manageable -- & he could have fun w/ the titles. Like all those old SF original-anthology series' in the '70s, he could call them LAST 1, LAST 2, LAST 3, etc. He's used assistant-editorial help B4 on the project, according 2 Priest. It Cms sad that we may C none of this massive project until after Harlan has joined the list of his deceased contributors....
Priest's Xpose was all over the Internet a decade ago, which is when I 1st read it. Since then, Priest has asked that the Internet version B dropped -- tho whether that's Bcos he felt his little book had done its work or 2 shield people from what he thot might B Ellison's overreaction is unknown. Priest himself has gone on 2 considerable success, writing sevral more novels & winning a coupla awards, tho 4 awhile he thot he'd written himself outta the SF field.
Since then, DEADLOSS has Bcome a rather Xpensive limited-edition book, & is still available in a slightly-more-reasonably-priced pamphlet edition w/ updates -- my copy goes up thru 1988. Ellison's fans tend 2 hate this book, thinking Priest is taking unfair shots at their hero. Contributors 2 LAST Cmd shocked in2 action by it, judging by the comments Priest received. It's a pretty intresting story if yr an SF fan. & it's (still) not over yet....


Pugs Malone said...

The Last Dangerous Visions isn't the only Ellison project that's been in limbo for decades. In the version of "A Boy and His Dog" that appears in The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, Ellison claimed that he had nearly completed a full-length novel version. "Beast" was released in the 80's, and that novel still has yet to be released.
When something takes that long to come out, there's usually some enormous jerk involved- just look at Chinese Democracy and Axl Rose- it took a Dr. Pepper promotion for him to get his ass in gear and release the damn thing. Of course, the stories about Ellison being an asshole are numerous (my personal favorite is a tie between when he sent a dead gopher to a publishing executive and the time when he was caught on camera groping a female author at an awards show).

tad said...

Pugs: Thanx 4 droppin in!
Yeah, Harlan's had some real "delay" issues. His "Boy and His Dog"-based novel was sposta come out in the late '70s or early '80s under the title BLOOD'S A ROVER -- a title that was used on a novel a yr ago by mystery writer James Ellroy. & when Ellroy announced the book was coming out, in his press release he sorta sounded like late-'60s Ellison on speed....
Priest also notes that Harlan has a history of "projecting" titles 2 books that never appear (or only after much delay), like BLOOD'S A ROVER, THE PRINCE OF SLEEP (scheduled 4 mid-'70s release), DIAL 9 TO GET OUT, etc.
No question Harlan has Bcome a bit of an A-hole as he's grown older. As 4 his groping of award-winning SF writer Connie Willis at an SF convention, I'm still not sure what 2 make of that. He said Connie knew it was a joke, but....
I should also have noted in the review that Priest himself submitted a story 4 LAST after Ellison hit him up 4 1. Apparently Ellison took "forever" 2 acknowledge receipt of the story, & Priest eventually pulled it & went on 2 sell it elsewhere. The story, "An Infinite Summer," was re-printed in 1 Best-of-the-Year collection & is 1 of Priest's most popular short pieces.... -- TAD.