Staring at my books the other day, I pulled Harlan Ellison’s Slippage collection off the shelf and sat down to read my favorite Harlan Ellison story: “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore.” This story is one of a handful that I consider perfect stories. I’ve read the story five or six times and it gets better each time–an attribute that all perfect stories have. I’ve written elsewhere about Harlan Ellison. But today, I got to thinking about the Ellison books I’ve managed to collect over the years.
It’s not possible for me to read just one Ellison story, so I pulled my fairly battered copy of Deathbird Stories off the shelf and read “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” which is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read.
Holding that copy of Deathbird Stories, I realized it was the first Harlan Ellison book I ever bought. I bought sometime during my junior year in college–call it 1992. I’d heard of Ellison, but I’d never read anything by him. I was spurred to do so by the early issues of Science Fiction Age, which introduced me to so many writers I would come to enjoy.
Money was not easy to come by in those years, and forking out $9 for the Colliers trade edition of Deathbird Stories was a big financial commitment for me. But it was also one of those investments that I can never put a price on because it introduced me to Ellison’s writing and paid me back more than I could have imagined. Finding a great writer is like finding a rare gem. Ellison was one of those gems.
The next book I managed to get was Angry Candy, which I read over and over again because it and Deathbird Stories were the only Ellison books I had. In my senior year, I located used hardcover copies of Dangerous Visions and Again, Danergous Visions. I remember reading those books while visiting my girlfriend at the time at UC Santa Cruz.
Once I graduated and started my career, I began to buy more Ellison books. I built my collection gradually. I lived in Studio City, not far from Dangerous Visions bookshop, which I frequented regularly. I met Harlan there on several occasions when he signed books, and so quite a few of the books that I bought there are signed. I bought all of the new books and collections that came out, and located more used editions. They were all wonderful, but some were truly amazing. The special edition of Mephisto in Onyx was one amazing one. Another was Mind Fields, containing the incredible art work of Jacek Yerka, for which Harlan provided a story for each piece of art.
In used bookstores I located worn (but wonderful) paperback copies of older Ellison books like Web of the City, The Deadly Streets, and Memos From Purgatory. I found a well-worn copy of Gentleman Junkie which I’ve read over and over again. I located a copy of Harlan’s rock-n-roll novel, Spider Kiss. The smells that still cling to these books remind me of those days when I was still discovering his work.
I collected Harlan’s essays as well. I located copies of The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, Harlan Ellison’s Watching and An Edge In My Voice. Harlan signed many books for me over the years, including my copy of The City on the Edge of Forever and his screenplay for I. Robot. He signed that one for me in 1994, and I was sad because Isaac Asimov had been dead for two years, and I imagined how amazing it would have been to have both their autographs in the book.
It is fun to skim through the books on my shelves and pull one off, as I pulled Slippage off the shelf a few days ago. It brings back fond memories and reading those stories and essays again, I often find new aspects. A book or story is never the same with each reading. It ages along with you, and gains new perspectives and connections as you gain new perspecties and experiences.
Written on January 28, 2022.
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