Wednesday, 30 December 2015

I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Harlan Ellison I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream (1967)
For most of my life I've been only vaguely aware of Harlan Ellison as some bloke who penned an episode of Star Trek and edited an apparently amazing collection of short stories called Dangerous Visions. Beyond that I've had only the impression of an argumentative fucker who makes people angry; so not really a lot to go on, and not really enough to inspire a frenzied hunt for his novels or written material on my part; but then I now have a new Simak collection waiting to be read, specifically one including something called I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air which was written for an as yet unpublished volume of Dangerous Visions edited by Ellison and is accordingly a riff on his I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream; and I just happened across this collection so it seemed like I should probably buy it and read it before I get to the Simak.

...and woah!

He writes nothing like I anticipated. This is unlike anything I would have expected of someone who also turned in scripts for The Outer Limits and The Man from UNCLE. It's like being trapped inside William Shatner's acting. He writes in a sort of bebop middle ground between pulp and beatnik, something which would foreshadow Will Self if it made a bit more sense; and it isn't that it doesn't make sense so much as that the imagery is so dense and unrelenting that it's difficult to keep a handle on things. The ideas are often great, or at least suggestive of greatness whilst forever balanced precariously on the edge of a hallucinogenic precipice affording the occasional glimpse of details which may potentially leave a bit of an unpleasant taste. Scraping away the layers of Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes, for one example, we find a beautiful woman transformed into a Las Vegas slot machine, thus combining two of the four things which men like - the other two being golf and cars - and by beautiful I think Harlan probably means great ass and a decent pair of knockers, someone with whom any self-respecting red blooded male would really like to have it off etc. etc. It's a decent story, but I hope Harlan's analyst hadn't made any plans that weekend; plus whilst the assumption of an exclusively male readership is probably forgiveable given at least a few of these stories having been commissioned by wanking periodicals, the fact of the female characters tending to be of the kind who get raped and either deserve it or secretly enjoy it makes it a bit of an intermittently uncomfortable read if you're not something of a tosser.

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