Harlan Ellison: Essay Collections

An Edge in My Voice


Edge Cover


Reviewed by David Loftus

Reviewed Edition: Donning, 1985
Art Displayed: Cover portrait by Jane MacKenzie


Dedication:
To the Memory of Charles Beaumont
(2 January 1929-21 February 1967)
Prince From a Far Land



The Langerhans review

Reviews Description and Spoiler Warning

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Contents and Copyright Dates

Overall Commentary
Foreword by Tom Snyder
Introduction: Ominous Remarks for Late In The Evening
Installment 1: March 25, 1980 (Future Life #20, August 1980)
Installment 2: May 5, 1980 (Future Life #21, September 1980)
Installment 3: June 9, 1980 (Future Life #22, November 1980)
Installment 4: July 20, 1980 (Future Life #23, December 1980)
Installment 5: Sept. 8, 1980 (Future Life #24, February 1981)
Installment 6: Nov. 13, 1980 (Future Life #25, March 1981)
Installment 7: January 1, 1981 (Future Life #26, May 1981)
Installment 8: February 27, 1981 (Future Life #27, June 1981)
Installment 9: April 25, 1981 (Future Life #23, August 1981)
Installment 10: June 5, 1981 (Future Life #29, September 1981)
Installment 11: June 18, 1981 (Future Life #30, November 1981)
Installment 12: July 2, 1981 (Future Life #31, December 1981)
(republished in expanded form January 15-21, 1982 in L.A. Weekly)
Installment 13: July 2, 1981 (Future Life #31, December 1981)
(republished in expanded form January 22-28, 1982 in L.A. Weekly)
Installment 14: January 25, 1982
Installment 15: February 1, 1982
Interm Memi:  LETTERS (October 1982 Comics Journal)
Installment 16: February 5, 1982
Installment 17: February 16, 1982
Installment 18: February 21, 1982
Installment 19: March 1, 1982
Installment 20: March 4, 1982
Installment 21: March 10, 1982
Installment 22: March 19, 1982
Installment 23: March 29, 1982
Installment 24: April 1, 1982
Installment 25: April 19, 1982
Installment 26: April 26, 1982
Installment 27: May 1, 1982
Installment 28: May 7, 1982
Installment 29: May 29, 1982
Installment 30: June 7, 1982
Installment 31: June 21, 1982
Installment 32: June 24, 1982
Installment 33: July 2, 1982
Installment 34: July 12, 1982
Installment 35: July 19, 1982
Installment 36: July 23, 1982
Installment 37: August 2, 1982
Installment 38: August 8, 1982
Installment 39: August 16, 1982
Installment 40: August 30, 1982
Installment 41: August 31, 1982
Installment 42: September 3, 1982
Installment 43: September 9, 1982
Installment 44: September 20, 1982
Installment 45: September 24, 1982
Installment 46: October 1, 1982
Installment 47: October 18, 1982
Installment 48: October 25, 1982
Installment 49: November 1, 1982
Installment 50: November 7, 1982
Installment 51: November 15, 1982
Installment 52: November 16, 1982
Installment 53: November 29, 1982
Installment 54: December 6, 1982
Installment 55: December 19, 1982
Installment 56: December 22, 1982
Installment 57: January 3, 1983
Installment 58: January 10, 1983
Installment 59: January 25, 1983 (unpublished)
Installment 60: June 23, 1982 (October 1983 issue of The Comics Journal)
Installment 61: August 21, 1984 (September 1984 issue of The Comics Journal)
Afterword

COMMENTARY

Through the ’60s and ’70s, and into the ’80s, Ellison’s national reputation steadily grew as a writer of fiction: short stories, mostly, with the odd novel and novella (and a couple of glass teats) passing through. But all that time, he was selling nonfiction to various publications, from Cinema and Los Angeles magazine to Knight, Cad, and Oui. It was only after the inclusion of four essays in Stalking the Nightmare (1982) that Ellison’s national audience began to realize he was a serious, ongoing (not to mention readable) essayist. The nonfiction in Stalking received so much acclaim that Borgo Press hurried to put out a small, memorable selection of Ellison’s essays in 1984 (Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed) and the following year the Donning Company published the collected An Edge in My Voice columns, originally printed in Future Life, L.A. Weekly, and the Comics Journal in the early 1980s.

After Sleepless Nights came out, I called Ellison at home in an attempt to interview him, and he mentioned that Donning would be publishing the Edge columns in the not-too-distant future. So I was right on it, and eventually purchased #127 of the 1,200-copy signed, limited edition, in its miserable, cheap, unmarked, and disintegrating box. (I am very gentle with all my books -- don’t write in them, don’t bend the backs unnecessarily, never dog-ear pages, often enclose the dust covers in mylar book wrappers -- so no one could accuse me of mistreating it.) Ellison refused to be interviewed because, he said, “I’m as interviewed-out as I care to be,” but he was ever so polite and nevertheless chatted for several minutes so that I was able to cobble up what I called “The Harlan Ellison Non-Interview,” illustrated with a 1981 photo I had taken of him at his Olympia with meerschaum in mouth.

Tom Snyder writes in the foreward to this book that “Ellison delights in cutting through all the smarm,” that he “fights the battles most of haven’t even thought of, much less cared about.” Snyder adds that he was reminded of Ellison while watching a movie about Frances Farmer, the actress who challenged received wisdom and had part of her brain removed for it. Let’s hope Ellison has reached sufficient venerability to avoid that fate!

Unfortunately, Ellison uses a chunk of his 1985 introduction, “Ominous Remarks for Late in the Evening,” to respond to a recent personal attack by a writer in a certain magazine, neither of which deserves elevation by being renamed here. Ellison’s response overdignifies an unmistakable pinhead by deigning to notice his existence -- in print, now and forever -- and is the kind of over-the-top reaction that suggests too thin a skin on the part of the author. It is like repeatedly responding to a troll or flame on the Internet. I’ve done it, and I’m sure everybody who reads this has done it too, if he or she is not an inveterate lurker. But that’s in the shadowy world of cyberspace -- electronic conversation -- not for publication in a hardcover book, which looks foolish. Ellison should have considered cutting that part (or at least erasing all the details and merely recalling that a letter to a magazine once referred to him, ironically yet all too appropriately, as an “enemy of the people” … and what a compliment that truly is) in the 1996 reprint in Edgeworks 1 … instead of giving old what’s-his-face exactly what he wanted: attention and provisional immortality in a collection of far better writing than anything he had achieved or is likely ever to achieve. At least, that would have been my advice to Ellison.

This series of columns began in the August 1980 issue of Future Life magazine (although in the book collections, Ellison dates all the pieces when they were written, which was roughly three months before they appeared in Future Life). The column permanently migrated to L.A. Weekly with installment 14 (installments 12 and 13, originally published in Future Life, were reprinted in expanded form in L.A. Weekly, too), and had a fairly smooth run for just under a year until installment 59, which the publisher refused to run, thus ending the relationship in January 1983. In the book collections, Ellison has designated two pieces that ran in The Comics Journal in 1983 and ’84 as installments 60 and 61. Ellison also promised initially to devote roughly every sixth column to responses to mail, which leads to some pretty lively vituperation and detective work. An added treat with the book versions is that many of the columns have individual introductions, titled “Interim Memos,” for the reader’s additional edification and delight.

Although Ellison’s nonfiction tends by nature to be semi-autobiographical (he cannot help relating anecdotes about himself and the people he knows), the Glass Teat columns tend to relate more strictly to television; The Harlan Ellison Hornbook, whose columns mostly date between October 1972 and December 1973, tends to be more personal; and Harlan Ellison’s Watching is of course grounded more firmly in film criticism and content. The pieces from An Edge In My Voice, though they certainly have references to all the above, tend to include Ellison’s most overtly political writing.



The Essays

INSTALLMENT 1: March 25, 1980 (Future Life #20, August 1980)

Synopsis
Ellison introduces himself to the reader. “From here on in, kiddo, the gloves are off. And so are we. Next time we set fire to the Welcome Wagon.”

Comment
A nice statement of purpose, delivered with Ellison’s usual ringmaster-ish flair. He says he brings “a determination to entertain you,” a sense of ethics, hatred for bad writing and appeals to the lowest common denominator, and his courage and talent. He promises to review some films and call attention to new writers, and reiterates his notion of the “Elitist” and why he is one. This one includes one of the greatest photos ever taken of Ellison: the almost-three-quarter-view-arms-folded-in-a-smoking-jacket-and-shaded-lenses-before-a-geometric-pattern portrait by Michael J. Elderman.

As so often happens, fascinating topics are mentioned in passing, never to be raised again: Here, they include “the arcologies of the visionary architect and dreamer Paolo Soleri,” “the magnificent new PBS series Cosmos created by Carl Sagan,” and “the antic sense of humor of fantasy novelist Stephen King.” Unfortunately, Ellison never got around to these topics, and what each of these men had to say to him, in An Edge In My Voice or (to my knowledge) anywhere else. File them with the truth about how Ellison got his mitts on Donnie Osmond stationery, and hope that Barney Dannelke or someone else will provide the details someday.

INSTALLMENT 2: May 5, 1980 (Future Life #21, September 1980)

Synopsis
Mourning the recent death of director George Pal (The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, The Time Machine, Sinbad) of a heart attack at the age of 72, Ellison savages the ADD-infested film industry. And he offers a gentle mea culpa for not paying more attention -- for not doing something -- when that gentleman came to him less than a year before with the proposal to do a movie together; and for not taking Pal’s congratulatory phone call on the conclusion of Ellison’s successful plagiarism suit with Ben Bova against ABC-TV and Paramount … four days before Pal died.

Comment
The piece speaks for itself. We all have people we admired silently, with insufficient acknowledgment, and friends and mentors we could have supported and assisted, more than we ended up doing. I know the feeling.

INSTALLMENT 3: June 9, 1980 (Future Life #22, November 1980)

Synopsis
The plight of screenwriters, the auteur theory of film direction, and the recent fortunes of Ellison’s I, Robot screenplay. Mentions “the six real directors in the world.”

Comment
The specific story here is about how Ellison managed to cozy up to Irving Kershner as the prospective director of his beloved Asimov screenplay. Ridley Scott had shown some interest for a time; Ellison wanted Carroll Ballard but that director turned the project down. Kershner’s work had impressed Ellison initially, and then he directed a string of stupid movies (Up the Sandbox, S.P.Y.S., The Return of a Man Called Horse, and “the despicable” Eyes of Laura Mars) that prompted Ellison to write him off. So he was appalled when word came down that Kershner was very interested in I, Robot. Friends got Ellison to a screening of The Empire Strikes Back, which he says he really liked, despite the fact that he “hatedStar Wars (his word and emphasis) and thought it had “all the smarts of a matzoh ball.” In this column, he celebrates the fact that Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have just had page-one announcements that Kershner and Ellison would be working on the film under Warner Brothers, because Kershner had insisted he would not direct if Ellison weren’t included. Oh, yes: the six real directors in the world are Akira Kurosawa, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Alain Resnais, Luis Buñuel, Stanley Kubrick, and Federico Fellini. (Ellison apologizes that the number is in fact not six.)

INSTALLMENT 4: July 20, 1980 (Future Life #23, December 1980)

Synopsis
Ellison describes his many “weird” readers, and lists etiquette tips on how to talk to a writer, to wit:  1) never inform the writer you can’t find his or her books;  2) don’t share your personal needs and problems;  3) take care of personal hygiene, please; and  4) don’t read the writer’s personal life into the stories.

Comment
Engaging discussion of some of the lighter cares of the professional writer. The main topic is preceded by a lengthy parenthetical that the I, Robot project is off again. The attitude of Warner Brothers was, “We’ll close down the studio before we rehire Ellison,” so they dropped Kershner and the project. Ellison offers a little background to explain this.

INSTALLMENT 5: Sept. 8, 1980 (Future Life #24, February 1981)

Synopsis
A discussion of all the crazy things people believe. Ellison cites an Associated Press wire story about how the Detroit Free Press offered 120 families $500 if they would turn off their television for a month, and 93 refused to do so. Among the five families selected to try it, two people immediately started chain smoking, several children got cranky and demanded to have the set turned back on, but most of the participants reported they grew closer and got a lot more reading done. Ellison reminds the reader of Pasteur’s “Chance favors the prepared mind,” and says “there is a lot less roll-of-the-dice in what happens to us than we care to admit.” He highly recommends Astrology Disproved by Lawrence E. Jerome, Asimov’s new book Extraterrestrial Civilizations, and an Asimov op-ed piece in the Jan. 21, 1980 issue of Newsweek about the “cult of ignorance” and “anti-intellectualism” in the U.S.

Comment
A fairly standard Ellisonian rant, topped off with a swipe at the “liberal” racists who were currently fighting integrationist school busing in L.A.

INSTALLMENT 6: Nov. 13, 1980 (Future Life #25, March 1981)

Synopsis
A report from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena during the Voyager I flyby of Saturn.

Comment
This piece first appeared in book form as one of the “guest essays” in Stalking the Nightmare. In the Interim Memo, Ellison said he had originally intended to leave it out of this collection because it was already in print, but various advisors urged him to include it. This is Ellison in his rare, starry-eyed-wonder mode. He marvels at the information coming in, the technology, at the general wonderfulness of his species.

In retrospect, he probably overdramatizes, calling this one of those “timeless moments” when “something important is happening” and the world holds its breath, as with the Kennedy assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the end of the Vietnam War, the Manson family murders, the 1956 Hungarian uprising (how many of yew young ’uns know about that one?), Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Personally, I’d substitute the moon landing, and even the Apollo 8 Christmas moon orbit for Hungary or Manson; I think together they helped spawn Earth Day and much of the Green movement.)

He sighs with disappointment when Angie Dickinson appears on the scene and draws more attention from the gallery than Clyde Tombaugh (the discoverer of Pluto), and when the flyby only makes the bottom of the broadcast news, which puts the Iran-Iraq war at the top. And advising you to break your wedding engagement if your intended doesn’t grasp the significance of Voyager’s ability to photograph the surface of Rhea to nearly one-mile resolution? Come on.

Still, it is pretty cool that an impact crater on Minas is 80 miles across (about a quarter of the size of the entire moon!), that components of Saturn’s F ring are braided, that the wind on Saturn’s surface blows at 1100 mph, and that spokes in Saturn’s rings seem to connect to electrical discharges tens of thousands of kilometers in length … the theory being that collisions and chipping of the icebergs in the rings create smaller chips which, charged by solar ultraviolet radiation, line up in the spokes that stretch toward the planet’s surface and create the Solar System’s largest radio antenna as well as a gigantic natural linear particle accelerator!

INSTALLMENT 7: January 1, 1981 (Future Life #26, May 1981)

Synopsis
Ellison answers his mail, describing what music he listens to when he writes (with particular encomia to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone), praising Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, accepting correction from Alma Jo Williams on the subject of entropy, quoting filmmaker Peter Watkins on the nature of artistic “pessimism,” and explaining why Ms. Lisa Baker’s caviling over something he wrote about the Star Trek movie makes her come across as “a zombie.”

Comment
Basic chatty fun and games.  Best passage comes when someone helpfully provides him with Biblical authority for discounting astrology: “Which is keen, having God on my side … except it seems a bit self-serving on God’s part. I mean, if I were running for Supreme Deity, I’d say the same thing. Now if God had said don’t believe in them and don’t believe in me, believe in yourself, then I’d feel a lot easier about aligning myself with Him. Or Her. Or It. Or Them. Or None of the Above.”

INSTALLMENT 8: February 27, 1981 (Future Life #27, June 1981)

Synopsis
Ellison declares war on the Moral Majority, and specifically on the pseudo-science known as Creationism.

Comment
There’s actually very little Ellison in this installment. Most of it is devoted to an intellectual fist fight that was tripped off by a January 10, 1981 news story in the San Diego Union which quoted, pretty much without comment, the remarks of one Duane T. Gish, director of the Institute for Creation Research in El Cajon. George Olshevsky of San Diego, a member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, wrote a lengthy objection to Mr. Gish’s remarks which, somewhat to his surprise, the Union printed in full. However, the newspaper later printed a rebutting letter from “Dr. Gary E. Parker, Professor of Biology/Paleontology, Christian Heritage College, El Cajon.” As Olshevsky wrote in a cover letter to Ellison, Parker “suavely and rather articulately” tries to put down the points in Olshevsky’s printed letter, and “his writing is just good enough that the average reader could be swayed into believing that creationism is actually a defendable hypothesis….” The Union refused to run Olshevsky’s response to Parker, because, an editor explained, the controversy “is not likely to be settled in our lifetimes, certainly not in the letters column of this newspaper,” and “Each side would desire the last word.” Since Olshevsky saw the newspaper as leaving the score at Creationists 2, Olshevsky 1, he appealed to Ellison and asked what he would do. Ellison reprints the news story and all the letters, including the Olshevsky rebuttal of Parker the Union wouldn’t run.

Ellison offers no further comment on the exchange, which is interesting for any number of reasons. Having worked for a daily newspaper, I would like to address the issue of the Union’s role in this. The editor has a point -- the controversy could go on and on --- but on the other hand newspapers too often bend over backwards to maintain the guise of “fairness” and “objectivity.” Some controversies are worthy of a “balanced view,” but others are not, and there comes a point where a newspaper has to draw the line. For instance, at this point few newspapers would print the ravings of a White Supremacist verbatim, without comment. (Actually, perhaps some might, since the atmosphere is such that whatever he had to say would be enough to hang him, politically, in most quarters, but you get my point.) What the newspaper should have done was to assign an independent reporter or team to investigate the status of the evolution-vs.-creationism controversy, and collect input from various quarters, rather than acting as if Gish, Parker, and Olshevsky were evenly matched antagonists, equally worthy of attention. (Or as Ellison says in his next installment, the San Diego paper “chose not to serve the ends of rationality and exhaustive discussion; but merely the commercial end of ‘let’s you two fight’ until they felt the audience was growing bored.”) Really, since the initial Gish piece was an interview, the reporter should have asked him harder questions or dug up competing theories and remarks for his story. But too many reporters are young, underpaid, and lacking in sufficient imagination. I should know; I made many of the usual mistakes when I was one.

INSTALLMENT 9: April 25, 1981 (Future Life #23, August 1981)

Synopsis
Ellison verbally braces for the expected rash of kooky letters his previous column would inspire, and mentions he has already been receiving a flood of “sick” letters in response to his anti-gun screed inspired by the assassination of John Lennon, which ran in the March 1981 issue of Heavy Metal (“Fear Not Your Enemies,” reprinted in Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed). He also introduces the concept of “The Harlan Ellison Record Collection.”

Comment
Ellison theorizes that the rise of lunatic violence and pro-gun fanaticism is not a separate phenomenon from that of religious fundamentalism. David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz had been involved with cults and the Jesus Movement; Charles Manson had been raised deeply and rigidly religious; John Hinckley was a longtime reader of science fiction and adventure fantasy. He believes all of this is linked to the rise of knife-kill splatter flicks and white supremacist military training camps. One of the letters that responded to his gun control column arrived on embossed Nazi swastika stationery from a man in the U.S. Navy, at the Groton, Connecticut submarine base. “I hope he was trying to be funny,” Ellison remarks, because if he received another letter like that, he’d forward it to the man’s base commander, “who may have been in WWII and who may remember what that crippling cross stands for.”

In the second half of this installment, Ellison switches gears into the mistily nostalgic, and recalls the days when, as a kid, he rode with his parents in the car to a certain ice cream parlor in Mentor, Ohio which also carried comic books he couldn’t find in Painesville. He recalls a number of radio shows that used to play on the air, and that undoubtedly fostered his visual imagination. (There’s a promise of a short story, inspired by Wyllis Cooper’s “Five Miles Down,” dramatized on Quiet, Please, to be entitled “Down Deep” -- did Ellison ever end up publishing this?)

INSTALLMENT 10: June 5, 1981 (Future Life #29, September 1981)

Synopsis
Ellison recalls his moment on April 21 when, sitting in the studios of radio station WMCA in New York opposite Conservative Coalition bigwig Richard Viguerie, on the Candy Jones show, Ellison cut in on Viguerie’s self-puffery with the remark: “I beg to differ. The New Right isn’t original; we’ve had its like at least once before. Except that time they called it The Spanish Inquisition.” Host Jones reported that after the show, WMCA’s computerized phone system logged more than 8,000 calls waiting to be heard -- a stupendous new record. All this as preface to his final shots at the Moral Majority and a hymn of praise to Norman Lear and People for the American Way. Recommends A Field Guide to the Atmosphere (Houghton Mifflin) for a photo of a cloud formation that is a dead ringer for the flying saucer in Forbidden Planet, and George Romero’s film Knightriders. Says Outland was fun while it lasted, but as soon as it was over he realized how stupid it was. Savages the writer-director Peter Hyams and throws in a dumb Irishman joke at the end.

Comment
The Inquisition line is a cheap and inaccurate shot (despite its bucks, radio stations, and many friends in high places, the New Right doesn’t really have the kind of government authority the Inquisition did), but emotionally satisfying nonetheless. Another war story noted but untold: “how Leonard Nimoy and Carl Sagan and naturalist Arnold Newman and some dedicated men and women and even I saved an entire ridge of paleontological goodies just last week here in Los Angeles.” Good quote from Emerson: “The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide.” Typographical follies: the original Donning left an “n” out of “Bernal Díaz del Castillo”; White Wolf got that part right in Edgeworks but did not accent the first “i”. (Díaz del Castillo was a foot soldier in the army of Cortés during the campaign against the Aztecs in 1519-21, and is known today for the remarkable detail and honesty of his book, A True History of the Conquest of New Spain, begun 40 years later and completed in the mid-1570s when he was 72.) You win some, you lose some.

INSTALLMENT 11: June 18, 1981 (Future Life #30, November 1981)

Synopsis
Ellison presents his credentials as a film critic. He says he sees about 200 films a year, keeps a collection of about 200 Beta-cassettes which he views over and over to analyze techniques of screen writing and to study specific scenes that stick in his mind. He lists 23 recent films he liked and 17 he disliked. Ellison says Raiders of the Lost Ark is “sensible,” “magical” and a “dear … film,” and notes that he admires film critic John Simon with very few reservations. Then he proceeds with the evisceration of Outland begun in the previous installment.

Comment
Not much to say about this one, except that there is a brief anecdote among the debris about a fellow writer who happily told Ellison he had sold a Star Trek episode that consisted of “Flight of the Phoenix in space,” with Spock substituted for the Jimmy Stewart character. Ellison was disgusted by this cheap ploy. And I love the characterization of Outland writer and director Peter Hyams as having “the plotting sensitivity of a kamikaze pilot with eighteen missions to his credit.” [Note: I have nothing against Hyams or Outland, which I have not seen; it’s just a hilarious simile, salvaged from an old joke, even if it might be unfair.]

INSTALLMENT 12: July 2, 1981 (Future Life #31, December 1981; republished in expanded form January 15-21, 1982 in L.A. Weekly)

Synopsis
The waning months of 1976 were a hard and terrible stretch for our hero. He sent away a woman to whom he had been married for less than a year (after an additional year of living together) on November 20, only five weeks after his mother died from a long and debilitating illness. In his estimation, his ex-wife was burdened with thanatopsis -- a deep and abiding world-weariness, an inability to see anything significant in life except that it ends. Ellison never shared this feeling with her, but a month after the marriage ended, on December 22, 1976, he attained “the absolutely lowest point I’ve ever reached in loathing of my species.” It was in a movie theater -- correction, a multiplex of coffins -- in which he saw The Omen, and Ellison, who fears almost nothing, was frightened. “I wanted to hide,” he recalls. And a major part of what made the experience of seeing that “textbook example … of gratuitous violence” so horrifying was the young couple in the seats beside him. For they, like much of the rest of the audience, were applauding madly and happily during the endless scene in which the character played by David Warner is decapitated by a sheet of glass.

Comment
This is the transitional column. Ellison had written it for Future Life, which was closed down by the publisher. It lay dormant for five months, and the columnist decided to recycle and expand it when the column was picked up by L.A. Weekly. It speaks pretty much for itself, except that at the conclusion Ellison asks hypocrite lecteur, “How many knife-kills have you sat through?” and adds, “Are you still deluding yourself that you’re sane?” Of the 22 examples of the genre he cites (including The Omen), I can proudly say I have seen not a one.

INSTALLMENT 13: July 2, 1981 (Future Life #31, December 1981; republished in expanded form January 22-28, 1982 in L.A. Weekly)

Synopsis
The Trouble with Knife-Kill Flicks, part two. For one thing, the vast majority of victims are women. Ellison identifies himself as a man who hit a woman once in his life and swore never to do it again. He cannot watch splatter films; he gets physically ill. He contrasts skillful scenes of terror (such as one he describes in detail from the 1943 Val Lewton film The Leopard Man, based on Cornell Woolrich’s thriller, Black Alibi), with the kind of explicit meatgrinder movies of today which Ellison characterizes as “blatant reactionary responses to the feminist movement in America.”

Comment
In the Interim Memo, Ellison refers to a study by Neil Malamuth and James Check, published in the Journal of Research in Personality and cited in the January 15-21 issue of L.A. Weekly, which suggested that movies significantly increase male acceptance of violence against women. Malamuth and Check have done work over the years to implicate pornography in violence against women, and like other researchers have made questionable assumptions that, for instance, conflate highly violent R-rated mainstream movies with X-rated pornography that has no violence. Although I haven’t seen the specific study in question, it apparently gauged the attitudes of men and women after viewing various films by way of a questionnaire, which has questionable value in identifying what a person truly believes over time or would be likely to do or not do in real-life situations. Most likely these men and women were all of college age, as well, when one’s attitudes tend to be unformed, fluid, malleable, and more easily influenced than later in life. (Not that I am eager to dispute Ellison’s main gripe against knife-kill flicks, which are certainly not my cup of tea either.)

INSTALLMENT 14: January 25, 1982

Synopsis
Knife-kills, episode three. Ellison remarks that he is not sufficiently acceptable or respectable to merit the title “gadfly”; rather, he remains “your basic, garden-variety pain in the ass.” He writes to startle, not to shock. With that as preamble, Ellison prints a letter submitted to the Writers Guild Film Society as apology for his raving, screaming fit at a screening of Brian DePalma’s Blow Out the preceding week.

Comment
I assume the above indicates the date of writing. With less than a week of lead time for L.A. Weekly, rather than the two and a half to three months for the eight-times-a-year Future Life, this and most subsequent columns appeared in print very shortly after being written. Again, the contents speak for themselves. Ellison attempts to walk the thin line between discriminating selectivity and censorship, certainly with his heart in the right place.

INSTALLMENT 15: February 1, 1982

Synopsis
Knife-kill, part four. Ellison said after the letter reprinted in the last installment, he requested a meeting of the Film Society Committee to discuss an adjustment in their process for selecting films to screen, and if they did not, he would quit. Everyone agreed. Film critic Arthur Knight, another member of the committee, wrote about the issue in his Hollywood Reporter column. Public and media reaction initially were positive: the Herald Examiner picked up the story and it went out over the AP wire. Everybody felt great. Then a staff writer at the L.A. Times put a spin on a story that made it appear that Ellison, Knight, Ray Bradbury and others on the committee were censors. The ultimate absurdity for Ellison was when he happily signed a petition offered by a signature collector at a moviehouse entrance, who thought it was a blow against Ellison and his colleagues. The Board of Directors of the Writers Guild issued a vote of confidence for the committee, however. Ellison thereupon explains how his actions did not constitute censorship.

Comment
Again, I can add nothing to this column. Three moronic letters from the same issue of the Weekly are included (although the brief one urging the paper “edge Mr. Ellison’s voice out” is feebly cute). In the Interim Memo, Ellison explains that the many letters which foamed and attacked him are in the public domain by virtue of having been published by the Weekly. Idly, he suggests someday he’ll write a volume of reminiscences “about my weird life” to be titled Working Without a Net.

INTERIM MEMO:  LETTERS (October 1982 Comics Journal)

Synopsis
The Comics Journal had reprinted the knife-kill columns. Here, Ellison reprints four letters to that publication -- two con, two pro -- in reaction to his writings, and his response.

Comment
A lot of hooting and hollering. I wish Ellison would not have included this waste material. Again, it gives the jamooks attention and provisional immortality. Ellison is pleased to be able to report, however, that in the year since his knife-kill essays were published, more than 130 splatter projects have been shelved.

INSTALLMENT 16: February 5, 1982

Synopsis
Entitled “Why Everything Is Fucked Up, Since You Asked,” this piece relates the history of Ellison’s 1967 Chevy Camaro, purchased new for cash and now sporting something like 165,000 miles on the odometer. Problem is, nobody seems to value dependable old items like the Camaro and the Blaupunkt radio inside (which Ellison purchased for his old Austin-Healy in 1965 and then had moved to the Camaro), let alone service them. Americans expect things to fall apart quickly; they are not surprised, let alone insulted, by planned obsolescence. This system kills craftsmanship and retires craftsmen. It separates the worker from pride in his or her work. And that’s why everything is fucked up.

Comment
There’s nothing to add to this one. The irony, as Ellison points out in the Interim Memo, is that three months later his beloved Camaro bit it, and so -- almost -- did its owner. Best line: “An overhead-cam outfit is no substitute in a rational universe for a mistress, despite all the sociological tomes equating one with the other in the minds of macho American males.”

INSTALLMENT 17: February 16, 1982

Synopsis
“How To Make Life Interesting.” Ellison tells of a conversation overheard at Mort’s Deli, which he took it upon himself to crash with a succinct interjection that threw the participants into an absolute (but deserved) panic.

Comment
A cute story which makes us wish we all had the chutzpah to swoop in on other people’s sins and missteps, and adjust the universe -- just a little -- in the manner Ellison occasionally has.

INSTALLMENT 18: February 21, 1982

Synopsis
Ellison defends Ed Asner’s right, and rightness, to question U.S. involvement in El Salvador when he is a “mere actor” (and incidentally President of the Screen Actors Guild). This despite efforts by President Reagan and Heston to shut Asner up.

Comment
A fine, eloquent, unhysterical restatement of the virtues of free expression and the use of celebrity clout for political and moral purposes. The Interim Memo says this was one of the most widely-circulated of all the Edge columns: some newspapers picked it up, and other columnists mentioned it. The Comics Journal reprinted it as “Night of the Long Knives” in May/June 1984. Installment 30, which also mentions Asner, was reprinted in The Comics Journal sooner, and a reader’s letter in response to both pieces arrived at that publication’s offices much later, in August 1984. It, and Ellison’s response, would constitute Installment 61.

INSTALLMENT 19: March 1, 1982

Synopsis
In a paean to the English language, Ellison inveighs against such abominations as “Is he speakable?” and “What’s this character’s franchise?”

Comment
Another heart-in-the-right-place column that doesn’t have a lot to say or wear well. The Interim Memo notes that by this time a number of publications were picking up and reprinting the column, without compensation, including The Comics Journal, published by Ellison’s codefendant in the “the improbable Fleisher Lawsuit (about which nothing will be said in this book)….” Don’t ask me, I don’t know nuthin’ about it.

INSTALLMENT 20: March 4, 1982

Synopsis
A delectable restaurant review of Shain’s, 14016 Ventura Boulevard, disguised as the report of a violent gangster rub-out and FBI sting on the premises of same.

Comment
Amongst the name dropping of actual employees of the joint, Ellison bandies a wild tale about Don Buday, an individual I have never heard of save in Installment 16, when he is said to have left ELLISON WASH THIS DISGRACE finger-drawn in the dirt on Ellison’s Camaro. A 1996 note in the Edgeworks reprint bemoans the fact that Shain’s is now history, and the location has been taken over by the Café Bizou, reportedly one of the top ten dining spots in LA but still not Shain’s.

INSTALLMENT 21: March 10, 1982

Synopsis
Response to letters time. Ellison relates an anonymous insult whose author he was able to track down and throw an insulting scare into by calling her at work.

Comment
I’m not certain I approve of the effort to locate or the response to his anonymous heckler. One personal insult, which Ellison judges “one of the last conversational bastions of the intellectually deprived,” hardly deserves another. This is a pretty thin column, although the author notes at the end that he is writing from a hotel in Florida, where he is preparing to go a few rounds on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, which has apparently four months to crawl across the finish line to law-of-the-land-om. The Edgeworks version of this includes a decent profile photo of Ellison with pipe and pen which does not appear in the Donning edition.

INSTALLMENT 22: March 19, 1982

Synopsis
“Why the ERA Won’t Go Away.” Ellison explains that six years before, when the National Organization for Women slapped a boycott on the eleven states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, he instituted his own policy of not accepting speaking engagements in those states unless the sponsor arranged for a matching pro-ERA fundraiser or seminar or similar event. Since the amendment’s chance for ratification was scheduled to die in less than four months, many seemed despondent. Ellison talks about who the opponents are and what is at stake.

Comment
One of the more calmly eloquent Edge columns. Whatever happened to the ERA?

INSTALLMENT 23: March 29, 1982

Synopsis
Despite his unbounded respect for Norman Lear, Ellison was disappointed by the People for the American Way’s television special I Love Liberty. Ellison found it watered-down, flag-waving pabulum, rather than a hard look at what needs to be done to take the country back from reactionary forces. The column describes, in detail, the smear literature Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority has been putting out about Lear.

Comment
Although these sorts of battles are unending, and undoubtedly go on today, this column still reads as dated as many of the Glass Teat columns a decade before it. After giving Lear’s TV special a drubbing, Ellison has the grace to write: “…Norman Lear is a far better, and a far more significant, Force for Good in our time than your columnist. Somehow, miraculously, he has not grown bitter in the face of battlefront opposition to the demon legions.” Thank the gods Falwell and his ilk are not quite as powerful today as they were in 1982.

INSTALLMENT 24: April 1, 1982

Synopsis
“The Saga of Bill Starr, Part 1.” After 27 years as a writer, Ellison dispels the notion that all writers live in grandeur and freedom, but mostly “eke out a barely subsistence living.” Perhaps 200 paperbacks are published nationwide every month, and their average shelf life is somewhere between 5 days and 2 weeks. Most publishers sink most or all of their publicity budget into the one or two blockbusters they paid an arm and a leg to get, and the rest of their titles sink or swim in a desperate, solitary dog paddle. One of the ironies of the system is that most book contracts up to this time included the boilerplate phrase “Publisher will expend best efforts in marketing the title.” This of course was hyperbole in the case of most books. So what’s an author to do if he sees his book stripped and pulped without ever getting a shot at its potential audience?

Comment
Save for the details, the above is about all there is to Installment 24 -- basically a preamble to the tale of how one author named Bill Starr took on an errant publisher and won the good fight on behalf of his novel, Chance Fortune. The Interim Memo notes that a long-lost son of Starr’s came up to Ellison after one of his lectures much later and explained that he got reconnected with his father after reading Ellison’s column.

INSTALLMENT 25: April 19, 1982

Synopsis
“The Saga of Bill Starr, Part 2.” A brief bio of Mr. Starr is offered. Chance Fortune, his fifth novel, sold to Pinnacle Books in December 1979 and was published in September 1981. Nothing much happened. The initial print run of 65,000 copies didn’t come near to selling out, and Starr bid fair not to make a penny beyond his middling $5,500 advance (which, Ellison notes, was not much different from an advance for a novel back in 1955). But Starr sent a copy of his book to Ronald Reagan, because it was about the early days of Los Angeles, and Reagan responded with a detailed thank-you and endorsement of the book. Pinnacle chose to do nothing about this golden egg. And by that time, only three months after its publication, Chance Fortune was not to be found in any bookstore. And so sweet, naïve (Ellison’s words) Bill Starr took Pinnacle to Small Claims Court.

Comment
As Ellison notes, Starr snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Although he won his case against Pinnacle on principle, he did not provide verification of royalties that books earn, testimony from knowledgeable authors and agents, or anything else the judge could have used to justify damages. (The judge told Ellison he was prepared to do so.) Ellison mentions another incident, involving writer Marc Savin and his book, A Man Called Coyote, and Pinnacle but the story never gets told. Ringing Ellisonian dismissal: “Most publishers … don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.” Great Ellisonian neologism: “Darrowinian,” to describe the declamations of high-paid attorneys in court. (Darrowinian describes the Theory of Evil-Locution, I suppose.) This Installment includes a letter from Bill Starr thanking L.A. Weekly for running Ellison’s “ballsy” exposé of the paperback publishing industry, and affirming that as far as he could tell, Ellison got the facts straight. One wonders if any copies of Chance Fortune did a brisk resale business as a result of An Edge In My Voice.

INSTALLMENT 26: April 26, 1982

Synopsis
“Women Without Men.” Ellison poses the perennial question: Why do so many women above the age of 30 (never mind below) seem to think they are nothing without a man in their life? And why do so many of them bemoan the lack of a “decent man”? A longtime female friend of his offered as evidence of the “bad” situation the fact that she had seen four extremely attractive women dining together on a -- gasp -- Saturday night! Another woman remarked that people stare at her in pity when she goes to the movies alone, and if she dines alone the wait staff ignore her in favor of all the couples.

Comment
A fairly short column that speaks for itself and mostly poses a question: How far have we really come since Kansas City, circa 1911?

INSTALLMENT 27: May 1, 1982

Synopsis
Another leap into the mailbag.

Comment
Thin gruel, this one. The brickbats from readers are clichéd and weak, so Ellison’s responses are correspondingly soft. He does apologize for repeating erroneous “facts” about “Spock,” the young woman he threw a scare into (related in Installment 21), and handily responds to an ignorant dismissal from film reviewer Linda Gross of the L.A. Times by sending her several of his books, to which she apparently never responded. He also refers in passing to L.Q. Jones’s film version of “A Boy and His Dog” as “splendid work.”

INSTALLMENT 28: May 7, 1982

Synopsis
Ellison urges his readers to join a picket of CBS Television City, cosponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Democratic Action, for canceling Ed Asner’s Lou Grant show, probably due to his political activities off screen. (Sponsor Kimberly-Clark withdrew its advertising from the show after Jerry Falwell and Donald Wildmon criticized Asner and threatened a boycott.) He also tells his God-frees-the-statues-of-Adam-and-Eve-in-Central-Park-for-an-hour joke.

Comment
The Edgeworks edition includes a photo of Ellison at the rally with his baseball cap and bat, which was printed in smaller form in the Donning edition with Installment 29. In the Interim Memo, Ellison relates that after this column appeared, he was astonished to see 2,000 readers and ACLU members show up for the picket. Being “the first touch of actual naked power I ever experienced,” this “scared the crap outta me,” and he insists that he felt “an utter abhorrence for such power.” It also inspired him to be a little more careful and responsible about what he chose to say thereafter. (Yeah, sure….)

INSTALLMENT 29: May 29, 1982

Synopsis
A close dance with the Scythed One: Ellison relates the story of the destruction of his beloved 1967 Camaro, exactly a week before his 48th birthday, and a close shave for the author and his assistant, Marty Clark, who was riding shotgun. He also thanks the hordes of just plain folks who turned out for the CBS picket. In observance of his birthday, he renders a short list of gifts he would appreciate, were anyone to offer, including a “spiffy, clean, well-running Packard circa 1951.”

Comment
He got a 1950 Packard, although it would take some time to refurbish. This column celebrates life. The Interim Memo notes that the day after it appeared, Installments 18, 28 and 29 beat out entries from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post to win the Silver Pen award of the international journalism society, P.E.N., for “protecting freedom of expression and opposing censorship, dishonesty, discrimination, or any other threat to a free and responsible press.” Ellison actually admits he is not A.J. Liebling, E.B. White, or Jimmy Cannon, and if you’ve never read them (especially Liebling), well, get on it!

INSTALLMENT 30: June 7, 1982

Synopsis
“The Spawn of Annenberg, Part 1.” Ellison recalls his visit to San Quentin in September 1970 (see The Harlan Ellison Hornbook, installments 35 and 36), when a man who was on Death Row for beating a 5-year-old boy to death responded to a simple question with an answer that seemed absurd or beside the point but did relate to it in an approximate way. This illustrates a rare condition known as Ganser’s Syndrome, also termed paralogia, which comes to Ellison’s mind while reading the June 5-11 1982 issue of TV Guide. The “As We See It” editorial pillories Ed Asner, claiming his show was dropped because it was only 45th place out of 108 programs in the Nielsen ratings, but an article on the next page cheers the fact that NBC renewed Taxi after it had been dumped by ABC for being 53rd!

Comment
The illustration might seem fairly slight, but this column serves primarily as a windup for the bigger picture described in the next.

INSTALLMENT 31: June 21, 1982

Synopsis
“The Spawn of Annenberg, Part 2.” Ellison goes after the big cheese -- Walter Annenberg, former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, president of various foundations, and publisher of TV Guide -- himself. He places the magazine, with its weekly circulation of 17 million, at “the forefront of anti-intellectualism.” Ellison takes particular umbrage at the fact that in a recent issue, John Leonard of the New York Times, whom Ellison had admired in the past, ridiculed intellectuals who say they don’t watch television in a piece “rife with paralogical thinking and as self-hating as a Jewish anti-Semite talking about kikes….”

Comment
Ellison notes in the Interim Memo that a piece by Eric Nadler in the April 1984 Mother Jones confirmed just about everything our hero said here. Of TV Guide he concludes, “If the damned magazine didn’t run photos of Morgan Fairchild’s naked body as frequently as they do, I swear I’d cancel my subscription.” A parenthetical 1996 update in Edgeworks reports that Annenberg sold the magazine to Rupert Murdoch, prompting an even stronger Ellison objection, to “how far up Newt Gingrich’s butt the editorial nose can be jammed so that when the axe falls, it won’t sever Rupert’s umbilical checkbook.”

INSTALLMENT 32: June 24, 1982

Synopsis
A requiem for the Equal Rights Amendment, whose shot at becoming the law of the land died that week. Ellison provides a little under-the-table history for how this worthy constitutional proposal was killed by 15 states -- “all either Deep South states where the oxygen runs thin to the brain, or Mormon-controlled Southwestern duchies,” save for Illinois. There, popular support appeared to be overwhelming, but conservative moneyed interests kept it out. Paragons of human decency and exemplars of human ugliness squared off as seven women fasted while others jeered and feasted around them. In North Carolina, the governor who ostensibly supported the ERA agreed in a secret meeting with his counterparts from Illinois, Florida, and Oklahoma not to press the issue and force a vote in his own legislature. There’s also a cute story about a North Carolina senator, a Democrat, who tried to hide from his constituents under a church pew after being discovered in a secret meeting to discuss killing the amendment.

Comment
“We draw a sad, weary breath … and we start again.” But did we? Whatever happened to the ERA?

INSTALLMENT 33: July 2, 1982

Synopsis
Perhaps, as he announces at the start, it is his shitty mood that prompts the writer to complain (winsomely) that nobody bought him any of the gifts he suggested for his birthday several columns back. For those intrigued by the travails of Bill Starr and wondering how to succeed as a scrivener within the system, he recommends The Business of Being a Writer by Stephen Goldin and Kathleen Sky. Other books that get the nod are Keep Watching the Skies! by Bill Warren; Dinosaurs, Mammoths and Cavemen: the art of Charles R. Knight, by Sylvia Massey Czerkas and Donald F. Glut (Ms. Czerkas being, in Ellison’s estimation, the world’s finest sculptor of dinosaurs and Mr. Glut the author of The Dinosaur Dictionary and The Dinosaur Scrapbook); and The Dinosaurs by William Stout and William Service, edited by Byron Preiss. He notes the recent passing of Philip K. Dick, from whom he had regrettably been estranged for many years, and wishes ill upon those who selfishly used and abused that fine writer. There’s also another swipe at Annenberg.

Comment
Despite how awful he says he feels up front, this is not a particularly grouchy column. He closes promising to “strip the hide off Paul Schrader and John Carpenter,” which he does in the next installment, and to “say a few loving words about E.T.,” which apparently gets lost in the shuffle and is never heard about again, save for its listing in Installment 34 with Casablanca and Singing in the Rain as a movie classic. The photo situation gets more complicated. Different photos adorn this installment in the Donning and Edgeworks editions. Both are credited to Richard Todd, but the former has Ellison in profile with straight-stemmed pipe and a dark background (a bookstore or at home?), while the latter shows him gesturing nearly full on to the camera, with a film projector and white screen behind him. Following this installment is the first letter from “Jon Douglas West,” about whom much more will be heard in the future. The letter pretends to be chummy with Ellison, actually condescends to him, and falsely claims that its author is locatable in the Burbank phone directory. Our hero’s antennae perk up….

INSTALLMENT 34: July 12, 1982

Synopsis
The perils of movie sequels. Ellison thrashes Paul Schrader, Dino DeLaurentiis, and (with regret) John Carpenter for remaking Cat People, King Kong, and The Thing, respectively.

Comment
Ellison too often tends to slide into criticizing persons as opposed to their work. To say that Schrader “has drained out the gentleness, the caring, the characterization, the magic and the mystery and pumped it full of the currently fashionable formaldehyde of special effects brutality, gratuitous carnage, embarrassing nudity, moronic storyline” from the original Cat People is one thing. It goes too far, however, to assert “Mr. Schrader is a deeply disturbed person,” and “He does not, I think, like himself very much.” How would we know this? Ellison sure doesn’t like it when people try to guess at his character and values based on readings of “A Boy and His Dog,” “Croatoan,” or “The Prowler In the City at the Edge of the World,” and yet he turns around and does the same thing to these men. If the work is crap, then say so; leave the persons behind it to their own devils. (And I would just like to say that I enjoy Carpenter’s The Thing; I think it’s a hoot. I haven’t particularly liked, or even bothered to see, much of anything else he’s made, apart from Halloween and Dark Star.)

INSTALLMENT 35: July 19, 1982

Synopsis
Ellison repeats his truism (uncredited here to Flaubert) that no one is merely “entitled to his opinion,” but rather to an informed opinion. Thus, to a reader’s question about Israel and Lebanon, he responds that he simply doesn’t know enough about the matter to offer a position (although after noting and pinioning Jon Douglas West for several paragraphs, he proceeds to pillory Begin and Sharon, as well as the PLO). In other words, Ellison remains (largely) silent because he doesn’t know enough, sees both sides, and despises both sides. And a flippant remark won’t do.

Comment
A fairly strong and self-explanatory piece. Attached is a spirited riposte to West’s first letter from none other than J. Michael Straczynski, at the time a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest Magazine (also a host for the L.A. radio sci fi show “Hour 25”), but later a writer-director who would put Ellison on the idiot box briefly in his Babylon 5 series. Ellison regained his good humor by the time he wrote the Interim Memo for this installment; he says West’s manner was “easily as offensive as my own,” and refers to himself as “the steak tartare or sushi of Letters, it takes a while to acquire the ability to keep me down once I’ve been swallowed.” (Perhaps it is instructive that I’ve never had any difficulty with sushi -- or more accurately, sashimi, which I adore -- and the one time I was served tartare I loved it. Thus it has been for me with Ellison.)

INSTALLMENT 36: July 23, 1982

Synopsis
An appreciation of singer Susan Rabin. In 1960, when he was living and working in Chicago, Harlan Ellison heard Rabin sing in a club called The Hut. He thought she sang like an angel. Tried to help her out with finding backup musicians and putting together a demo tape. It went nowhere, Ellison moved on to New York, and Rabin got married. Now, the marriage ended, she is trying to restart her singing career (in the middle of law school), and Ellison invites his readers to hear her sing on Sunday at a joint called At My Place in Santa Monica.

Comment
A sweet attempt to pay off on a promise to a lovely and talented woman. The Interim Memo notes that Rabin graduated from law school in April 1984 and began studying for the California bar. The Donning edition has a glamorous headshot of Rabin credited to Loni Spector; the Edgeworks has a wider angle copy of the same shot which includes her upper torso and both arms.

INSTALLMENT 37: August 2, 1982

Synopsis
Back to the mailbag. Thanks to some 200 folks who showed up for Susie Rabin’s gig. Announcement of the publication of Stalking the Nightmare. Thanks to the reader who connected Ellison up with Greg Busenkell, who sold him the sought-after Packard. In response to the reader who promised a $300 Radice pipe in exchange for two signed limericks, the limp results are offered. Ellison gently chides the many letter writers who did not quite get the point of either his Israel-Lebanon column or the Women-without-men column. Intriguingly, he promises to investigate six or seven “decent men” to offer to female readers in need. (Apparently, he never delivered on this one.) In response to people who objected to his praise of Gloria Allred and John Simon, he promises a portrait of the former and repeats that his admiration for the latter is unbounded.

Comment
Basic chattiness. Two letters are appended: one smarmy one attacking his evaluation of Carpenter’s The Thing, the other lauding the sensitivity of his Israel-Lebanon comments. I share Ellison’s admiration for John Simon (a fellow Harvard graduate, and a native of the former Yugoslavia) but remain unconvinced about Allred. She strikes me as the female equivalent of Alan Dershowitz: fighting the good fight but with an inglorious and grating style. Although he lists her as one of the two “Best Attorneys” in Los Angeles in Installment 42, Ellison acknowledges in the Afterward that the Allred piece was unfinished business. (Incidentally, the Afterword reference is erroneously indexed in both editions: listed as page 507 in the Donning when it’s on 505, page 392 in the index of my first edition Edgeworks when it’s on 391). There’s also a cool photo in both the Donning and Edgeworks editions of Ellison at an Olympia in what is probably a bookstore, credited to Mark Shepard and captioned “Portrait of the columnist as ‘old fogey.’ ”


INSTALLMENT 38: August 8, 1982

Synopsis
As promised at the end of Installment 37, The Great Hydrox/Oreo Cookie Conspiracy.

Comment
One of Ellison’s cutest pieces: a melodramatic, paranoid fantasy about how Sunshine Hydroces, they of the enriched flour chocolate cookies, are being shoved aside by the Nabisco Oreo, trumpeting its “bird doo-doo … corpse-white adhesive … diabetes-inducing spackling compound” filling. (He also decries the “glucose glop that looks like elephant cum and tastes like mucilage” inside Hostess Cupcakes.) The they-don’t-make-’em-like-they-used-to-and-American-consumer-culture-is-taking-us-to-hell theme is a familiar one in Ellison’s essays, but it’s done with a refreshingly farcical touch here.  Best lines: After trying an Oreo, “I spat it out, washed my mouth with 20 Mule Team Borax, dropped to my knees before the altar of Sunshine Hydrox and swore that lips that touch Oreo would never touch mine. (Okay, okay, no one’s perfect. I’ve made a few exceptions. A guy can’t be entirely celibate.)”

Meanwhile, carping letters come in from “Lucy McNulty” and Jon Douglas West, although it’s evident they were typed on the same machine. The private investigator Ellison hired to locate West is stymied. West’s letter features its own idiosyncratic spelling of Khmer Rouge, correctly if oddly identified in the indexes of both book collections as “Khmer Rouge of Cambodia” (how many others are there?).

INSTALLMENT 39: August 16, 1982

Synopsis
The columnist urges his readers to catch the airing of an episode of “Dry Smoke and Whispers,” a home-made radio drama featuring the sleuth Emille Song and his sidekick Professor Henchard on the planet Quaymet. The brainchild and work of 24-year-old Floridians Robert Cannon and Marc Rose, the science fiction detective series broadcasts over WMNF-FM in St. Petersburg, where Ellison met the creators and cajoled them into letting him borrow a couple episodes to broadcast over Mike Hodel’s Hour 25 show on KPFK, on August 20, 1982.

Comment
A self-explanatory good deed by a veteran fan of radio dramas from the mid century. Unfortunately, other than the fact that Hodel agreed to broadcast other episodes, I know nothing else about “Dry Smoke and Whispers” or what eventually happened to its creators. No Interim Memo follows up.

INSTALLMENT 40: August 30, 1982

Synopsis
Some of the further cares of fame. Ellison retails a few stories of the crazies that have disturbed his days and nights.

Comment
A slight effort. Right about this time his private eye threw in the towel, the Interim Memo notes, but soon after Ellison received a mysterious but very helpful phone call from a woman about the elusive Jon Douglas West. Details must wait until the Afterword.

INSTALLMENT 41: August 31, 1982

Synopsis
A little more on how lonely it ain’t at the top. Ellison recalls how, as his career progressed, companions at dinner increasingly assumed he would pick up the check. In a similar manner, this column has steadily become the target of inquiries and campaigns to rally the troops for this cause or trumpet that artist.

Comment
A more substantial piece than the previous one. It contains good advice for anyone, famous or unknown. To wit, “We can only do so much…. Yeah, we want you to stay awake, stay alert, and give a shit about the rest of the human race; but you’re entitled to a good night’s sleep and some lighthearted moments too.” Best passage, in the context of all the burning, desperate social and political causes we could be supporting every minute of the day: “One can never do enough, not even if we devote our waking hours in toto. As for Toto, he regrets ever having returned from Oz, where the biggest problem is an occasional Wicked Witch.”

INSTALLMENT 42: September 3, 1982

Synopsis
Loose ends. Corrects a crucial typo from Installment 29 re: Pasteur’s “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Takes a shot at a letter writer who disparaged Ellison’s professional status as a writer. Notes that the person who promised a $300 Radice pipe in exchange for two signed limericks (proffered in Installment 37) never got back. (It is not clear whether the product did not meet the person’s specifications or the offer was insincere to begin with.) Hodel will begin regular broadcasts of “Dry Smoke and Whispers” in October, thanks for packing Susie Rabin’s  gig, please don’t send any more Sunshine Hydrox, and why do Chinese restaurants always list the dishes on your bill in Chinese?

Comment
Miscellania. Cute framing device in which Ellison kvetches about the awful shape in which the reader has showed up. References to “The Woman With Whom I’m Goofily, Desperately In Love” and “The Woman For Whom I Would Crawl Through Monkey Vomit On Hands and Knees Clutching a Rose Between My Teeth” make me wonder who the fair one might have been: Was Jane MacKenzie still with him at that point…?

INSTALLMENT 43: September 9, 1982

Synopsis
A listing of Ellison’s “Best” People and Places in Los Angeles.

Comment
Of limited interest to those outside Los Angeles. It would be interesting to know how many of the listed businesses are still in operation today, never mind whether they would still get Ellison’s vote. He slips in Jon Douglas West (along with Lucy McNulty and Mike Kingsley) as “Most Interesting Mystery Personality,” just to keep the tension up.

INSTALLMENT 44: September 20, 1982

Synopsis
A serious political plea for activism and contributions in support of California Proposition 15, the Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

Comment
Ellison reprints his Heavy Metal piece in support of gun control, written just after the killing of John Lennon, which “brought more mail to the magazine than anything they had ever published,” including “a vomitous spewing of madness and violence from members of the Klan, from neo-Nazis, from babies with popguns whose verbal insanity was more shocking than the essay….” Such reaction turned many other readers away from the gun lobby, and he hoped this reprinting would do the same. Apparently it did not; the Interim Memo to Installment 48, which also deals with gun control, reports that the measure failed.

INSTALLMENT 45: September 24, 1982

Synopsis
“The Road to Hell, Part 1.” That’s as in: “…is paved with good intentions.” Active reader and writer of letters and postcards Joanne Gutreimen tells how she and a handful of others got a CasaBlanca ceiling fan ad campaign killed by charging sexism, racism, and stupidity. The offending ad, depicting the characters “Rick and Sam” from the movie “Casablanca,” is reproduced (“Rick” is shown saying “You know, a dame will let you down every time, but a CasaBlanca fan will always hang true” while Sam hovers in the background). The text of Ms. Gutreiman’s explanation and the apology from a vice president of the sponsor when they pulled the ad is included.

Comment
This is pretty much background, the setup for part two in the next installment, which delineates Ellison’s reaction.

INSTALLMENT 46: October 1, 1982

Synopsis
“The Road to Hell, Part 2.” Ellison states that he disagrees with Ms. Gutreiman’s judgment that the ad was sexist, racist, or stupid. He thought it was “a clever conceit, elegantly and tastefully put together.” Tacked on is an invitation for readers to participate in and contribute to a “Day of the Imprisoned Writer” sponsored by P.E.N. Los Angeles.

Comment
Though a negligible matter in itself, this situation illustrates the dangers of what has more recently come to be known as “political correctness.” Though Ellison is careful to assure Ms. Gutreiman that she is bright and sensible, and “I’ve grown to admire you and the social conscience you demonstrate,” he also says “what you did is no better than what the Moral Majority does.” She is “dead wrong,” he goes on, “And you’ve contributed to the unnecessary shaming of a company that has committed no offense.” She and the other complainers acted out of “simple reverse-logic and overreaction.” He sends CasaBlanca a copy of his letter to her “so they can take some small solace” that they were not in fact the “insensitive assholes” Ms. Gutreiman and others made them out to be. One of the things that contributes to excessive PC-ness is a lack of a sense of history, especially cultural history. As Ellison points out from his research of this incident, fully half of the people who complained to CasaBlanca about the ad had never seen the movie it parodied, and some added insult to ignorance by stating they would never choose to see a picture with Humphrey Bogart in it. Though I tend to agree with his reading of the ad, and am equally impressed with the sensitivity and directness of the company’s response (in the form of Vice President of Marketing and Sales Edward F. Hart’s letter to Ms. Gutreiman, reprinted in Installment 45), I also feel Ellison was a little hard on the woman and goes a bit overboard in calling the ad “inspired Art.” I wonder how well she took her medicine from him.

INSTALLMENT 47: October 18, 1982

Synopsis
The story of Kathy Merrick and the forces of evil ignorance. Merrick was a high school teacher in Winifred, Montana who lost her job because she taught Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” in her junior and senior English classes. Her contract was not renewed because, she was told, she taught godless pornography. The event stirred up the Billings press, the state education association and ACLU got involved, and Ellison offered to fly up to speak on Merrick’s behalf, but the school board would admit no outside testimony. “For six years a woman who wanted to open doors for children had to wait tables to support herself.” And that is one reason Ellison hopes his readers will spring for the $744 it would take to buy air time in her area for a half-hour television documentary produced by Norman Lear’s People for the American Way called “Life and Liberty … For All Who Believe.” Ellison calls it a terrifying portrait of the Moral Majority and its methods. Various businessmen and actors had purchased air time for the show in bigger markets from New York and LA to Medford, Oregon and Lansing, Michigan. Ellison volunteered the $1,500 necessary to air it in Billings, but then found out Merrick’s home in Winifred is in the Missoula-Butte market, so he pleads with his readers to spring for that one,  so that “Kathy Merrick can turn on her set one night very soon and know that someone out here gave a damn that her life was fucked up by the alien things walking the streets of God-fearing America.” (Billings certainly needed Ellison’s mistake because someone once took a shot at him when he lectured there.)

Comment
A cautionary tale that speaks for itself. More power to Kathy Merrick, wherever she may be today. (Two letters to the editor attacking Ellison’s anti-gun columns are appended; Ellison responds to them the following week.) Editor’s Note: In this installment, reference is incorrectly made to Giordano Bruno, the 16th century freethinker and heretic who lectured and published on theological and scientific matters not only in his native Italy but Frankfurt, Paris, and London as well. Betrayed to the Inquisition by a nobleman who had invited him to Venice in 1592, he suffered a lengthy imprisonment and trial for heresy, and was burned at the stake on Feb. 17, 1600. It is most unfortunate that Ellison and his editors allowed this great man to be identified as “Giovanni Bruno” in both the body text and the index of the Donning Press edition and the first printing of Edgeworks Vol. 1. I hope this error is fixed someday.

INSTALLMENT 48: October 25, 1982

Synopsis
Ellison mounts one last call for gun control and Proposition 15 before the election. He reminds readers that criminals are not really the point; most gun-related injuries and fatalities involve accidents and flareups among decent, law-abiding citizens. Most criminals get their guns from the homes of decent, law-abiding citizens. And a lot of non-California gun companies are pouring money into the state not because they love the Constitution.

Comment
Basic stuff, though necessary to keep rehearsing in this mixed-up land of ours.

INSTALLMENT 49: November 1, 1982

Synopsis
A plug for LA’s Maryland Crab House and The Cloth Tattoo in the form of a breezy narrative involving Ellison’s acquaintance Tom Nolan, the restaurant critic for Los Angeles magazine.

Comment
As explained in the Interim Memo, this piece was a method of making peace with Nolan, who had snubbed Ellison in his October column because of a perceived slight on a previous social occasion. Dated and forgettable.

INSTALLMENT 50: November 7, 1982

Synopsis
The mailbag. Most of the content is fallout from the CasaBlanca ad columns. Ellison reports female response has been about 50-50 (half understood and agreed, half understood and disagreed, and “I can live with that”). He takes considerable issue with the remarks of one Robin Podolsky, who took him to task for chiding feminists who protest the screening of Gone With the Wind for reasons of perceived sexism and racism. And there’s a hilarious postcard from one Terri Mitchell about Oreo versus Hydrox.

Comment
Again I’m tempted to say Ellison overreacts to Podolsky’s criticism, although she does use strong language (i.e., unnecessary profanity) in her note. However, he does grant her point that one may not simply rest on one’s credentials. “What went down with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. was yesterday’s payment on my right to sleep peacefully,” and what’s to be done today and tomorrow remain his business, although there’s something to be said for the way he sticks his neck out every week in this column. Best part is his form response to rabid and annoying letters: “Enclosed please find a dismaying item I received in the mail today. I felt you would want to see it. Clearly, some certifiably brain-damaged idiot is writing crazy letters and signing your name to them. I thought you might want to have this so you could contact the appropriate postal authorities -- in an effort to stop this clown before your good name is further devalued. All best wishes, Harlan Ellison.” If I read the Interim Memo right, the credit for this gem goes to André Gide. It reminds me of H.L. Mencken’s much more succinct and oblique form response to similar attacks: “Dear ______: You might be right.”


INSTALLMENT 51: November 15, 1982

Synopsis
A nice holiday column. Instead of his usual “F**k Xmas” column (see the Hornbook), Ellison offers two swell gift ideas: the Barry Moser-illustrated Alice in Wonderland published by University of California Press, and any of more than 150 recordings of modern classical works issued by the Louisville Orchestra.

Comment
Sweet and useful. I should hunt these down myself. The final paragraph features one of those occasional missteps that provide a frisson of uncoolness: as a gift, Ellison classes “the new Bruce Springsteen album” (which at that point would have been Nebraska) with “a McDonald’s gift certificate for a Toadburger and Fries” and “all those swell Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon paperbacks….” I don’t own any Springsteen albums and never did, but there is much to admire about the man and to like in his catalog, so I would never have committed such a faux pas to print. A letter is appended from Michael Lawler to complain about having been singled out for Ellisonian abuse (Installment 48) because he dared to speak up against gun control (letters appended to Installment 47).

INSTALLMENT 52: November 16, 1982

Synopsis
A column for Thanksgiving. Although the columnist is depressed about the demise of the Equal Rights Amendment, and because the mailbag has lately been filled with nitpickers, he chooses to flee into the past and a story to remind everyone of all for which they should be thankful. He recalls an encounter with a street person -- a woman, he thinks -- in Manhattan at half past midnight on a snowy evening some eight or ten years before. Briefly, he never saw one sign of life in the heap of clothing on the street, save for the wary alertness in the eyes. After passing that living statue, he retraced his steps, tried in vain to make a little conversation, and laid a twenty dollar bill on her knee. When he came by again two hours later, the figure had not budged, and had not touched the bill. He sensed it never would and concluded, “there are those without hope, without limbs, without beginnings and endings that matter,” and it had been his privilege to look down upon the world as if from a great height for a moment, and say “Thank God.”

Comment
There is nothing to add to this.

INSTALLMENT 53: November 29, 1982

Synopsis
A highly sarcastic column purporting to agree with President Reagan’s brilliant assessment of the Nuclear Freeze Movement as being made up of Bolsheviks and Commie dupes. Appended is a letter from William Keys which argues that Ellison’s support of gun control Proposition 15 seeks “the destruction of five [Constitutional] amendments.”

Comment
Self-explanatory and only somewhat dated; after all, in July of 2000 Clinton and Co. were busily demonstrating the anti-missile defense system was just what we thought it was when it was known as the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” under Reagan: costly, ineffective, and stupid. And like the ERA, I am prompted to ask: Whatever happened to the Nuclear Freeze Movement?

INSTALLMENT 54: December 6, 1982

Synopsis
Our hero reports on his adventures as a judge for the 1983 Miss Tush of the Year Lingerie Beauty Pageant. The contest was the four-year-old masterstroke of Pauline Barilla to publicize her Tushery lingerie shops in Hermosa Beach and San Pedro, and had become “a proletarian South Bay social event that generates not only vast expenditures of money, but vast enthusiasm,” because it is “an unqualified crowd-pleaser.” Chuck Norris was among the judges, as was Mary O’Connor, Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Board of Playboy Enterprises (that Hefner fellow).

Comment
This piece lightly treats a delicate subject with loving tongue in cheek (it helps dat duh guy uses big woids: “aniplastist,” “fasciculi” and “popliteal” are among the ones I don’t remember seeing anywhere else, although they’re medical and anatomical terms, so I can’t help thinking Ellison himself might just have had to look them up) ... until it’s over. Then Ellison admits he was not able to finish the account in time for last week’s issue of L.A. Weekly.  And he acknowledges all the questions the event and his participation it inevitably raise. Interestingly, he mentions in passing that despite his love of rollercoasters, he refused to ride the Colossus at Magic Mountain with Michael Moorcock shortly after that ride opened; yet the next night he went back dressed in black with soot-darkened face (after the park had closed), scaled the fence, avoided the guards, and walked and crawled “every inch” of the Colossus. Basically for the same reason he judged Miss Tush: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” A photo of a woman in a black teddie and panties, the winner Shallon Ross, accompanies the column.

INSTALLMENT 55: December 19, 1982

Synopsis
A tribute to the memory of Norman Mayer, “a nobody and a loser” who died trying to do one brave and loving thing for his species and the planet. Mayer was the 66-year-old man who pretended to have a truck full of dynamite with which he would destroy the Washington Monument unless a “national dialogue” on the threat of nuclear weapons commenced. After ten hours, during which he immediately dismissed all the civilians on site who could have been used as hostages, he realized the terrible spot in which he had put himself, tried to flee … and the authorities responded with a hail of bullets.

Comment
In the Interim Memo, Ellison writes that this column is his favorite of all. He has read it occasionally on the lecture circuit (a performance is included on the Harlan Ellison Recording Collection album “On the Road With Ellison, Vol. 1”) and he never fails to break down in tears. There’s a photo of Ellison with a mike in the Edgeworks edition, although it doesn’t look like he’s actually reading this piece at that instant. I have cried too, listening to him read it. Just reading it silently now, once more, I choke up. This essay is almost worth the price of the entire collection by itself; it definitely ranks among the ten best things Ellison’s ever written. He distills his rage and compassion skillfully and beautifully, on behalf of a man and an incident that will not merit even a footnote in history, sad to say. I did not watch television, let alone TV news, at the time (I’m sure I had never even seen a CNN broadcast at that point), and the event made only the vaguest impression on me from the newspaper stories. Repeated readings of this essay have made certain, however, that I will never forget the name of Norman Mayer, or what he did. The piece makes you wonder how many other harmless and good Americans were heedlessly crushed by the powers-that-be in this great, free, and open land of ours, simply because they were doing the right thing but at the wrong place or time. (Oddly enough, Mayer was killed two years to the day after John Lennon.)

INSTALLMENT 56: December 22, 1982

Synopsis
Odds and ends. Ellison quotes several carping letters about his Miss Tush column, apologizes for referring to conductor Eugene Ormandy as “the late,” highly recommends a booklet on how to avoid registering for the draft, notes the comparative figures of payments for magazine articles between the 1960s and 1980s (most of them dropped in real dollars), and acknowledges the fact that his recording of Jeffty Is Five has been nominated on the preliminary ballot for the Spoken Word Grammy.

Comment
Nothing of substance here … except that the Interim Memo notes that while readers were attacking his role in the Miss Tush contest (among the choice lines are “There are no questions in my mind on any of these things” and “Women’s rights are serious business and you clearly aren’t up to it”), Ellison was receiving a medal from the National Organization for Women for eight years of active service in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Also, near the end of this piece, he casually bitches about the flood of form letters and cards one receives from the publishers of magazines urging one to renew one’s subscription … which bagatelle would lead to a firestorm of controversy that would ultimately kill An Edge In My Voice.

INSTALLMENT 57: January 3, 1983

Synopsis
The columnist invites his readers to a dramatic reading -- designed to re-enact the live radio broadcasts of the 30s and 40s -- of Carol Stevenson’s immortal “Leiningen Versus the Ants,” offered by the Variety Arts Radio Theater and starring Da Man.

Comment
A long-gone event of yore. The Interim Memo records that the place was packed, and video cameras had to be set up in other rooms for the overflow. “It was one of the best evenings of my life. You shoulda been there.” Does anyone know whether the 1926-era Variety Arts Center on South Figueroa, with its roof garden restaurant, W.C. Fields bar, and Earl Carroll lounge, is still in existence?

INSTALLMENT 58: January 10, 1983

Synopsis
Astonished by the strong reader response to his casual gripe about magazine subscription renewal letters and cards, Ellison investigates the matter further. An acquaintance who works as subscription manager of a national magazine explains the process, and notes that “Renewals are where we get fat; they’re the best and easiest way to make money.” Many readers don’t look at the renewal notices close enough to realize that they’re nowhere near the end of their subscription. Some are paid up for 20 years. In the manager’s bracing language: “We love people who do that. We think they’re jerks, but we love them…. It absolutely convulses me; we probably won’t even be here then….” Ellison then explains how his gentle readers can spare themselves this flood of commercial importuning, and suggests the group move on to the next annoyance: “those ugly glued mailing labels that deface the magazines you want to keep for reference or rereading later.”

Comment
I’ve never found these renewal notices a bother. To be perfectly honest, I often need several reminders to get on the stick, and still I let subscriptions lapse to publications I really do want and need. But for more alert persons, it might behoove us all to follow Ellison’s advice to scotch the flow, if only for paper conservation’s sake. This was Ellison’s last published column in L.A. Weekly. With the next one he submitted to the publisher, “the Addressee’s Crusade,” the shit hit the fan.

INSTALLMENT 59: January 25, 1983  (unpublished)

Synopsis
Ellison recalls the time he was looking through a stack of Science News back issues for an errant fact he needed for something he was writing, couldn’t find it, and later got nailed when he got the reference wrong. Going back through the stack, he found that the cover of the source issue had stuck to the back of another because of the sticky address label. This leads to the question: Why do magazines put that ugly label on the cover, where it covers up article titles and mars original artwork and photography? Why not on the back? And why is the adhesive so damnably strong and messy that it is impossible to remove the label cleanly so as to appreciate the cover art and photography? Various publishers assure him the printing process and U.S. Postal Service won’t allow it, but printers and spokespersons for snail mail say there’s no problem. And some magazines, such as Alaska, care enough about their cover art and their readers to put the address labels on the back cover. It’s the advertising space on the back cover most publishers are trying to protect, Ellison concludes. So in an attempt to discover whether magazines care more about their readers or their ad revenue, Ellison proposes a crusade: His readers will choose a fairly local magazine to bombard with an appeal to change their ways.

Comment
The publisher of L.A. Weekly would not run this column. According to Ellison, publisher Jay Levin asserted that no one wanted to read 2500 words on such a stupid subject (never mind radio plays, restaurant reviews, the supposed sexism of a single ad, or the Miss Tush Contest). Instead, a note in the magazine said “Harlan Ellison is on vacation this week” and the following week readers were told Ellison had decided to discontinue the column. Which was technically correct, I suppose, except that the writer had quit because the publisher had not lived up to a commitment to print everything he wrote, as he wrote it. And the publisher’s mendacious response to this piece shows just how “stupid” it was. As the column prophetically puts it in its final words: “Let’s see who owns whose soul.”

LETTERS
Three incidental letters which appeared after Ellison’s departure from L.A. Weekly are included: a carping one from Alex Cox about the “cult of personality reporting” of Ellison and other columnists, and two defenses of Ellison, by Straczynski and Michael Kerwin.

INSTALLMENT 60: June 23, 1982 (October 1983 issue of The Comics Journal)

Synopsis
“Rolling Dat Ole Debbil Stone”: a novice video gamer’s review of the new Parker Brothers video game cartridge Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Commissioned by Video Review magazine to study a representative new video game, Ellison notes that it is impossible to win -- the player keeps getting killed and the opposition keeps getting more clever and numerous – and recalls the Greek myth of Sisyphus, doomed to roll a huge boulder repeatedly up a mountain only to see it roll to the bottom again, and wonders about the lesson taught the gamer, as well as the sheer waste of time and money. Various video magazine and industry responses to this ringing rebuke are noted.

Comment
The official reactions to this piece, and Ellison’s ripostes, are most amusing. (At the same time, it is interesting that both the chief scientist and president of Atari had or requested framed copies of the piece for their office walls.) Ellison seems to take too much credit for either forecasting or maybe even helping to cause the subsequent sizable collapse of Atari and other segments of the video game industry, but then, he exaggerates all around. Computer games are still big business, civilization was never particularly threatened from that quarter, and there are games which you can win in various ways (I’m fond of “Hellcats Over the Pacific” and “Nanosaur,” myself). The original Video Review piece was first reprinted in Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed.


INSTALLMENT 61: August 21, 1984 (September 1984 issue of The Comics Journal)

Synopsis
One Brian Smith of Marshalltown, Iowa, in response to the Comics Journal reprints of Installments 18 and 30, wrote a letter ridiculing Ed Asner’s efforts to obtain government files on himself through the Freedom of Information Act. Smith says he recently worked as “administrative support to the command staff of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA),” and that Asner’s request was passed around that office to much hilarity. Mr. Asner is, Smith concludes, “a paranoid, ego-crazed yahoo.” Ellison responds at length.

Comment
Simply put, Ellison demolishes Smith point for point. Not only are his claims misleading and “paralogical,” but Ellison theorizes that in passing a citizen’s lawful request around the office for fun, Smith may have violated a signed covenant governing his employment by the DIA. An excellent profile photo by Peter Cathro of Ellison in a leather jacket, contemplative with an index finger pressed to his eye and the rest of his hand splayed out before his jaw, accompanies both the Donning and Edgeworks editions.


AFTERWORD

Synopsis
Our columnist relates the history of “An Edge In My Voice,” with particular attention to his ambivalent relations with the publisher and his warm relations with line editor Phil Tracy; expresses regret about not getting around to discussing Ridley Scott’s aspirations to be the “John Ford of science fiction films” or the virtues of Gloria Allred and the world’s most indecently delicious hot fudge (made by Narsai’s of Kensington, California); and wraps up the infamous “Jon Douglas West Mystery.” Several more West letters are reproduced, his less than sterling background is sketched, a former female friend attests to his undistinguished character in a somewhat vague but instructive manner, and all is well that ends well.

Comment
A satisfying finish. One is left, nearly two decades later, only with questions about where all these people might be now, from the sublime (Kathie Merrick, Robert Cannon and Marc Rose, Susie Rabin) to the ridiculous (Dr. Gary Parker, “Jon Douglas West,” and all the other clowns who wrote in to complain about Ellison).

Reviewer’s editing note: It’s a unfortunate that, among the list of highly laudatory acts of troublemaking Ellison attributes to himself in the introduction to this collection, he says he is an enemy “to those who say bad grammar is okay as long as you understand (however vaguely) what’s being said.” Ellison is a fabulous storyteller, and a darn good essayist, but I have not found him the most dependable author for accurate detail, whether we speak of quotations, spelling, or (I have to say it) grammar. If you’re going to stand “foursquare and forever till the moment I go under” for perfect grammar, then you’d better be ready to back up that claim, and I’m afraid Ellison has lacked the skill or the editors to do that.

To cite a couple quick examples just in the immediate neighborhood of the line about grammar: I have no problem with the many sentence fragments, because they were clearly intended for dramatic effect. However, six sentences after the declaration about the importance of grammar, we find this: “And here, in these sixty-one personal essays that need no introduction because they are, themselves, introductions I pass along what I saw and wrote about for three years….” You may need to read that sentence more than once to figure it out, because a critical comma is missing after the word “introductions,” to separate the entire subordinate clause from the main sentence, which is “I pass along what I saw….” This was actually corrected in Edgeworks I, the first printing of which was otherwise a typographical disaster, but two sentences later, the final paragraph of the introduction says that when you read this book, “you are in no other hands than that of an enemy of the people….” Since hands is plural, “that” should be “those.”

(Tom Snyder doesn’t do any better in his foreward; the second sentence begins, “the one thing none of us have to be afraid of,” which commits a very common grammatical error: linking a plural verb to “none,” which is singular, as in “not one.” Though “us” suggests a plural, the true subject of the sentence is “none of us,” so it should have read “the one thing none of us has to be afraid of….”)

All that being said, this collection stands up well against Ellison’s other nonfiction. Not as compact or consistent as the best work of other, better-known essayists, An Edge In My Voice nevertheless preserves Ellison’s distinct style with a laudable appeal for younger, less academically-minded readers.

David Loftus
July 2000

Stories Review by David Loftus

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