Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: 'Dangerous Visions No. 1', edited by Harlan Ellison

1/5 Stars

‘Dangerous Visions’ (Doubleday, 1967) was the first major, and much-ballyhooed, anthology to showcase what would soon become known as ‘New Wave’ SF. With the passage of time is has become abundantly clear that the majority of the stories featured in the book were underwhelming.

The main impact of Dangerous Visions was in its message to the SF publishing industry: it was a financially and critically successful anthology of all-original tales. This was in contrast to the traditional industry approach to collections, in which previously published stories from the SF magazines were recycled in hardbound and paperbound anthologies. In a very real sense ‘Visions’ paved the way for the prominent role original anthologies now occupy in SF publishing, and, I would argue, the entire professional career of Martin H. Greenberg.

‘Dangerous Visions 1’ (Berkley, 1969, 220 pp.) was the first of a three-volume paperback reprinting of the original anthology. The cover illustration is uncredited, but appears to be by Don Ivan Punchatz. The interior illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon, that appeared in the hardcover edition of Dangerous Visions, are faithfully reproduced here.

There are lengthy self-serving and back-patting introductions by Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison, and then Ellison issues a gushing introduction to each individual story. And then each story has a brief afterward by the author.

The lineup:

‘Evensong’ by Lester del Rey: a seemingly omnipotent being gets a harsh comeuppance. One of the better stories in the anthology, and one of the better stories del Rey ever wrote, probably because it’s very short, and didn’t give him too much text in which to commit his usual sin of bad writing.

‘Flies’ by Robert Silverberg: a crewman is rescued from a badly damaged craft and revived by gifted aliens, who, in order to learn more about the Human Condition, send him back to Earth. Not one of Silverberg’s best.

‘The Day After the Day the Martians Came’ by Frederik Pohl: the discovery of sentient life on Mars serves to illuminate race relations on Earth.

‘Riders of the Purple Wage’ by Philip Jose Farmer: a hopelessly self-indulgent and artsy attempt to rewrite ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ as a SF novelette. No other story in the anthology- and indeed from the SF literature of the entire 60’s – has aged as badly.

‘The Malley System’ by Miriam Allen DeFord: criminals in a near-future prison get too much of a good thing.

‘A Toy for Juliette’ by Robert Bloch: for amusement, a far-future murderess disposes of victims kidnapped, and brought forward in time, from past eras; but her latest plaything comes from Victorian England’s Whitechapel district… this tale has aged reasonably well, and serves as an example of a good short story by Bloch (who tended to falter in his efforts at producing successful novels).

‘The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World’, by Harlan Ellison: Ellison takes Bloch’s plot and continues it, albeit with groovy prose stylings mixed with rather graphic descriptions of violence. Another story that, while considered shocking and provocative at the time of its appearance, has aged reasonably well.

‘The Night That All Time Broke Out’ by Brian Aldiss: an accidental release of ‘time gas’ turns a northern English suburb into chaos. Yet another effort by Aldiss to emulate J. G. Ballard, but too diffuse and clumsy to be impressive.

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