Harlan Ellison has won more awards for imaginative literature than any other living author, but only aficionados of Ellison’s singular work have been aware of another of his passions…he is a great oral interpreter of his stories. His recordings have been difficult to obtain…by his choice. In 1999, for the first time, he was lured into the studio to record this stunning retrospective.
Contents include: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” “Laugh Track,” “Grail,” “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” “The Very Last Day of a Good Woman,” “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” “The Time of the Eye,” “The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke,” and “A Boy and His Dog.”
Copyright on all content as follows:
Introduction by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1999 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1967 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 1995 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “Laugh Track” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1984 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “Grail” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1981 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1965 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 1993 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “The Very Last Day of a Good Woman” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1958 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 1986 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “The Time of the Eye” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1959 by Harlan Ellison. Revised version, copyright © 1971 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 1987 and 1999 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “Paladin of the Lost Hour” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1985, 1986 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1996 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved. “A Boy and His Dog” by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1969 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 1997 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.
©1999 The Kilimanjaro Corporation (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Harlan Ellison is arguably the finest short story writer in science fiction today, and this collection includes some of his best (certainly his most popular) work. His writings are mature, intense, and deeply affecting…Ellison, an Audie winner for narration, skillfully reads all of the stories himself, providing the boundless energy that makes this collection a complete success.” (AudioFile)
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Originally posted at FanLit.
Probably everyone who knows anything about Harlan Ellison knows he’s a jerk (please don’t sue me, Mr. Ellison). I had to consciously put aside my personal opinion of the man while listening to him narrate his audiobook I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1. I was disgusted by some of these stories, but I have to admit that even though I suspect Ellison delights in trying to shock the reader with his various forms of odiousness (mostly having to do with sex), the stories in this collection are all well-crafted, fascinating, and Ellison’s narration just may be the best I’ve ever heard. Here are the stories:
“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” — (1967, IF: Worlds of Science Fiction) Harlan Ellison spends the introduction to I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1, arrogantly expressing his annoyance that this titular story, which he dashed off in one draft during a single evening, has been so well received while “Grail,” his favorite story, which took him many hours of research, is almost unknown. I think “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” is so popular because it’s so gut-wrenchingly horrible in exactly the right way. This is the story of AM, a supercomputer that has become conscious and resents not being able to break free from its programming. To take revenge upon humanity, AM has killed off all but five humans and made them essentially immortal while he constantly tortures them by creating a hellish virtual reality for them to live in. I will never forget some of the imagery in this story. It’s both horrible and wonderful at the same time. I loved it, though I could have done without the occasional loud electronic sound effects in this audio version. “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” won the Hugo Award in 1968.
“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” — (1965, Galaxy Science Fiction) This story, which won both a Hugo and Nebula Award, is a social satire with an interesting premise: what if everyone was charged for the time they were late or caused others to be late? The currency? Minutes off your lifespan. “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” was also written in only a few hours. I thought it was a little silly and the whole thing seemed too obvious to me, but maybe that’s just because I’ve read too much Philip K. Dick.
“The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke” — (1996, Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor Quarterly) A man who was one of the Nazis at Auschwitz is walking in the woods when he’s accosted by a woman with a gun. This very short tale is a revenge story with a supernatural twist.
“Laugh Track” — (1984, Weird Tales) A TV writer tells the story of how he’s been hearing his dead aunt’s distinctive cackling on the laugh tracks of stupid sitcoms for years, and even in live studio audiences. Eventually he solves the mystery. As the story unfolds, Ellison takes the opportunity to rail against insipid Hollywood writing, getting downright nasty in parts. (Harlan Ellison has plenty of experience writing for television.) Those familiar with sitcoms from the 60s and 70s may feel nostalgic about this one. I think I loved the science fiction element best. All of Ellison’s narration has been superb, but this story really highlights what a great storyteller he is. He doesn’t read the text exactly (I checked) but changes it slightly to make it sound better, even adding the occasional groans, chuckles, sighs, snorts, sound effects and such:
"…abruptly, out of nowhere — out of nowhere! — I heard — huh! Ha! — my Aunt Babe clearing her throat, as if she were getting up in the morning. I mean, that.. that phlegmy [hawking sound effects here]… that throat-clearing that sounds like quarts of yogurt being shoveled out of a sink."
“The Time of the Eye” — (1959, The Saint Detective Magazine) Two lonely people in an insane asylum befriend each other. At first this seems like a sweet story, perhaps a romance. At first….
“The Very Last Day of a Good Woman” — (1958, Rogue) A 40 year old man realizes that the world is about to end and decides he doesn’t want to die a virgin. While reading this story I thought to myself “I bet this was published in Playboy because it has no value other than titillation.” (Not that I have ever read an issue of Playboy, but I have read some stories originally published there.) It turns out I was wrong. It wasn’t Playboy, but its competitor Rogue which was once edited by Harlan Ellison.
“Paladin of the Lost Hour” — (1985, Universe 15) After Billy Kinetta saves Gaspar, an old man who’s being mugged, Gaspar insinuates himself into Billy’s life. Both of them are alone in the world and both have their secrets, regrets, and a lot of emotional pain. Billy finds himself opening up to Gaspar and eventually learns that Gaspar is more than he seems. This sweet story made me cry. It won a Hugo Award and is the basis for an episode of The New Twilight Zone.
“A Boy and His Dog” — (1969, New Worlds) I was disgusted, yet fascinated, by this story. Reading it was sort of like gawking at a car wreck or a mangled animal in the road. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a boy named Vic and his dog Blood who share a telepathic bond. They live above ground on the ruined Earth, always hunting for food to eat and girls to rape, murdering whoever gets in the way. When they find and follow a girl who’s come up from the civilized bunker below ground, a lot of trouble ensues and Vic and Blood’s bond is tested. I loved the setting and the telepathic dog, but Vic is one of the most horrid people I’ve ever met in a book. Ellison’s characterization of the girl and the way she reacts to being raped by Vic is totally off. In some ways, it feels like this story was written by a hyped up 14 year old. I was repulsed by “A Boy and His Dog” and I’m pretty sure my lip was curled in disgust the entire time I listened, but the story and the narration is brilliant. “A Boy and His Dog” won the Nebula Award in 1970. Ellison wrote more stories about Vic and Blood and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll probably take a look at those someday.
“Grail” — (1981, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine) This is the story that Ellison is so enamored of. It tells the tale of Christopher Caperton who is searching for True Love. As she was dying, Christopher’s most recent girlfriend told him that True Love is an object, like the Holy Grail, and that she’s been searching for it for years, so she gives her knowledge to Christopher and he continues the search. This involves magic and demon summonings, lots of money, and many years of travel, but eventually Christopher discovers where it is. There’s an ironic lesson at the end of this story. It’s at once depressing and hopeful. I liked it.
Summarizing my feelings about I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1 is difficult. There’s an awful lot to like in this story collection. Some of these stories were unforgettable and there were one or two I loved, or almost loved. Most, if not all of them, were also crude, nasty, and disgusting in parts. All of them were wonderfully narrated. If you’re a fan of Harlan Ellison’s stories, you absolutely must hear him read them himself. If you haven’t tried Ellison, this is the perfect starter collection.
Interesting note: As I was writing this review, the mailman delivered advanced review copies of two new Harlan Ellison story collections that will be published by Subterranean Press later this year. When I opened the package, my stomach kind of turned. I was both excited and revolted at the same time. I’ve never had such mixed feelings about books before. I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll read them.
I generally enjoy Harlan Ellison's work, and this one has some great stories in it. And some not-so-great ones.
"i have no mouth and i must scream" is excellent sci-fi writing, as is "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman." I think "A Boy and His Dog" made a better movie than a prose story, but I loved "Laugh Track" and "Paladin of the Lost Hour" is excellent if heart-rending. Some of the others, not so much.
The problem I had was Harlan Ellison as the narrator of his own stories. Ellison does a lot of radio and TV and he does have a great voice. But he overacts some of the stories and so at TIMES he is SHOUTING THE DIALOGUE with the next section of narraton getting softer and softer until it is TIME...TO SHOUT AGAIN. I really felt my eardrums were in danger.
I realize it's generally a good thing to have a narrator who really gets into his work, and these are some of Ellison's favorite offspring, but I think this is a case where it got overdone. Also, something funny was done with the recording of "'Repent, Harlequin!'", as if it got recorded at one speed and then played back a few percent faster---you can still hear everything, but it sounds like Ellison was breathing in a partial-helium atmosphere while he was reading it.
I'd rate the writing as 4-to-5 stars (some stories are 5-star stories, others are 4-ish). Call it 4.5 for the writing, but I'm dropping it to 4 because of the narration. A more professional narrator might have raised it up.
Ellison is the greatest short story writer ever and there is no one out there that reads a story like he does. He will make you a believer as soon as you here him narrate. He makes any story better. In particular, 'Jeffty is Five' from this volume is one of my all time favorite stories and will become one of yours as well. This volume contains many of his best and most loved stories and they are all worth a listen.
I am a big Harlan Ellison fan, and I have always loved reading his stories. So it's great that I can now listen to them too. I love the way Mr. Ellison gets so involved in his narration that he sometimes "over emotes" (a nice way of saying that he sometimes shouts, wails, etc.). I can see where it might really irritate other people, but I find that it really makes the stories come alive for me. And listening to my favorite stories, "Laugh Track" and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", made me remember the pleasure I had in reading them. I'm really looking forward to the other volumes of this series!
I've never read Ellison before, only heard of his works. After listening to the author read his own material, I don't think that I would have gotten nearly as much out of the stories by simply reading them. Harlan has an animated, Shel Silverstein quality to his reading, and it made the stories a thousand times better than having read the printed words. I am so happy to have found this as an introduction to his works and that he was willing to read so much of his own work for this multi-volume set on Audible. The only annoying thing about the entire production was the weird sound effects that often weren't equalized in volume to reading and therefore were often jarring (particularly in I Have No Mouth...) Thoroughly enjoyable!!
Harlan Ellison is one of the best writers of his day. His stories reach across a broad depth of emotion the rings true to the reader. He is a master storyteller and wordsmith. This audio book of some of his short stories is an extra treat because Ellison reads them himself, interpreting them the way he thought they should read.
If you love well crafted stories, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening, always provocative, then I highly recommend this and other Ellison collections.
What a great collection of Ellison! His stories never fail to make you think. I've been a H.E. fan for years, and decided to go back to re-read his works. I'm SO glad I did. After about 30 years, one tends to forget the subtleties of short stories. And, for the most part, the stories in this compilation DO stand up to the test of time - being mostly about universal human foibles. (Okay - sure, there are some dated references, but they are minor, and easily allowed!) So it is no wonder that so much of his work has been made into television shows or movies - OR, that he has written so much specifically for visual media. And, as an extra treat, I especially loved that this audiobook is read by Harlan Ellison himself. (NOTE: The following is with regard to all of the reviewers who have said that Ellison reading Ellison is off-putting!) There was a brief intro to put a few of the stories into perspective - then BAM - full-on Harlan! What better way to get yourself into the (twisted? complex! disturbed?) mind of Harlan Ellison than by having him read the stories they way they bump around inside his head! Yes - he DOES read at a frantic and frenetic pace. Yes - his voice is unevenly modulated, and you DO have to keep a hand near your volume control. Yes - his vocal style is sometimes haphazard and difficult to follow. BUT, this is how these stories were meant to be read! This is how these stories were written! And, this is exactly how these pieces of manic "disturbia" were conceived! Besides, Ellison is actually a pretty decent reader - once you dial into his pace and tone. I especially like his casual and off-hand intonations. There is a real sense of the IMPACT of these stories as he narrates them. I very much look forward to listening to the other volumes in this series ("The Voice from the Edge"). Great stuff!
I wish I hadn't wasted my credit on this reading. I forgot how irritating and grating Harlen Ellison's voice is. He may be one of SF's greatest writers, but he should let someone else read his stories. I barely lasted 10 minutes before his vocal gurning forced me to give up.
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