Harlan Ellison: Short Story Collections

I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Reviewed by K.C. Locke

1st Publication: Pyramid, 1967

Reviewed Edition: Ace Paperback, The Berkley Publishing Group, 1983
Copyright 1967, 1979 by Harlan Ellison
Copyright 1983 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation

Cover Art: Barclay Shaw (Back Cover Photo by Suzanne Gibson)

The Langerhans review

Reviews Description and Spoiler Warning

I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream: a literary multimedia project

never thought they would be between covers together
mutual friendships make strange bedfellows
so you'll have to settle for 10% between you



Contents and Copyright Dates

Echoes of Screams, 1983
Introduction: "The Mover, the Shaker" (Theodore Sturgeon, 1967)
Foreword: "How Science Fiction Saved Me From A Life Of Crime" (Harlan Ellison, 1966)

Introductory Quote

Please Note: This collection precedes the author's practice of providing a tone-setting quotation of some learned person. If I do not exceed my duty as reviewer, try these:
These words, of color obscure, saw I written above a gate; whereat I: "Master, their meaning to me is hard..."
...And placing his hand on mine, with a cheerful countenance that comforted me, he led me into the secret things.
Dante Alighieri,INFERNO

Commentary: Damnation and Faust

Few things would please me better than to tell you that this book, I HAVE NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM, is a dark stroll down memory lane, tragically honest, but now (phew!) thirty years out of date, and thank Heaven for that. Unfortunately, I am not in the business of feeding people kielbasa and telling them it's duck l'orange (and I could make a pretty fine living in politics, if I were).


Not so long ago, in a land not so very far away (Oklahoma City, OK, as a matter of fact), some people got together and decided that the libraries should have a closed-shelf policy re-garding some materials. The library officials chuckled tolerantly, patted them on their flat, little heads and told them to scram. There followed a series of boondoggles (including threats to "out" all the "perverts" on the library staff, and attempts to raise a hew and cry over the availability of pornography as THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF MEAT to innocent children), culminating in what you might have heard referred to as "the Tin Drum Affair".

For those who haven't heard, they checked the award-winning foreign film out of the library, copied certain brief scenes onto video tape, and took it before a judge who, seeing it out of context, ruled it Child Pornography. At which point, the authorities seized all copies, not merely from the libraries' shelves but from all and sundry video rental businesses, starting with Blockbuster. Finding some tapes "at large," they bullied-out the customers' names and addresses, and went to their homes to seize those copies. One of those good people happened to be an ACLU lawyer, wheels began to turn in other directions, and I don't know whether the situation has been resolved or is still under investigation. But, if you're able, you might see if the ACLU needs a hand. If, on the other hand you are a member of OCAF (the offending Religious Right organization, Oklahomans for Children And Families), you are the dupe of an evil empire, committed to ignorance and prejudice and censorship, and all those yucky things, and I don't know what you're doing here, but we'll help with your de-programming, if you'll let us.

Listen. Exhibit B. I will now magically turn the clock back to 1983 and reproduce for you the copy on the splash page of the Ace Paperback edition of the collection at hand, Mr. Ellison's very own words:

In 1967 "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream" was first published. It won the coveted Hugo award as the best short story of the, year.

Over the next nine years it was re- -printed and lauded. hundreds of times. This book, in which that story appears, became a classroom standard in col- -leges all over America. The story was translated into sixteen languages.

In 1976, Kathryn Merrick, a high school teacher in Winifred, Montana, gave "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream" as an assignment to her students. The Winifred School Board fired her. Kathy Merrick was forced to leave town.

Buy a copy of this book and send it to a needy child in Winifred, Montana. And find out what raised the demon of censorship in that cold, far place where certain dreams and ideas are not permitted. A place where no screams are heard.
Not too very long ago, I was afoot, and caught in a downpour. As I trudged through the rain to my destination, a number of cars took the trouble to pull a little closer to the curb, thereby sheeting me with cockscomb-waves of cold, dirty, gutter water. When I finally arrived at my destination, soaked through and chilled to the bone, I related my experience, trembling with rage, to a friend who replied that he was only surprised that there weren't more people who would go out of their way for a person, like that. No screams. No comfort or consolation, except for a hot cup of coffee and a soggy smack on the shoulder.

Now, here are these stories - seven of them. The author does not make a formal declaration of theme, cites no common theme or thread for the collection. But it is there, sharp and relevant today as it was in 1968, when this collection appeared, or the original publication dates of the individual stories. It is bold and hot, for anyone with ears to hear, or eyes to see. Or mouths to scream.

We supply the theme. We produced it ages ago, and still it runs as thick, dark and pervasive as mold through a slab of Stilton. Not censorship, or persecution, or bigotry - symptoms, those things.

I refer to our recipe for damnation, the destruction of spirit, hope, future; the thousand killing hurts we visit upon each other every day. Betrayal, disappointment - you call it "corn," we call it "maize." I call it damnation.

Consider, please, the title story, wherein we are exterminated by a technology meant to save us, the sentient, Earthbound, literary predecessor of the HAL 9000.

"Big Sam Was My Friend," in which friendship is weighed-up in dollar amounts, and delivered to heartache and the hangman.

The society of "Eyes of Dust," in which beauty is only skin deep and allowed no deeper, and so ceases to be beauty at all.

"World of the Myth," giving us Medusa's perspective on the mirror. The "Lonelyache," the sore that can never heal because we keep picking at it, the tender, inner void that must be filled with something.

"Delusion For a Dragon Slayer," a tale that taunts us with the knowledge that we possess the coin that will pay our way into Heaven, if only that coin has not been rendered counterfeit by our hypocrisy, if we do not allow our dreams to be soured by the differences between theory and practice.

And, finally, there's Maggie - "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," and its crushing reminder that, truly, nobody knows you when you down an' out, and the biggest chip in the joint doesn't always bring the biggest pay-off.

In almost every other collection of stories I have read from Mr. Ellison, the reader can find some relief, some respite, some balm in Gilead - a warm chuckle written for warm-chuckle's sake. Not here. Some important message, made more palatable by liberal lacings of wacky wit.

Not here.

In another, later collection, DEATHBIRD STORIES, Mr. Ellison gives us a caveat lector at the outset, attempting to dissuade his audience from taking the entire collection at a single sitting - rightly so, for it is an emotionally exhausting collection. I wonder, though, whether such an advisory might not be in order for I HAVE NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM.

I was going to tell you that there are no happy endings, here. True endings, yes, honest and necessary endings, yes - each sustains the integrity of the story. And, as I've said elsewhere, Harlan Ellison writes of the world he sees, not the world as we would have it, or would like it, or the world as we desperately pretend it must be, a world in which Ward and the Beaver have everything sorted out at the end. The works here are exquisite. One cannot discount the author's creativity, but their success, I believe, is in large measure due to the honesty of the story-telling.

Are they happy endings, though? Well, I'm afraid that argues a matter of perspective. Because the survivors ( and only one "hero" among them) suffer a gamut running from the simple disappearance of their zest for living, to actual, torturous disfigurement. For the protagonist of the title story (the afore-mentioned "hero"), death would be the happy ending.

For anyone with a soul softer than granite, it is actually painful to read I HAVE NO MOUTH & I MUST SCREAM from cover to cover, without a break. These stories will entertain you, engross you, even enrich you. But they are fables of their times, fables of ourselves, and so, sadly, become timeless. Because we are still those people - as Pogo used to say, "We has met the enemy, and he is us." They are necessary, they are relevant. And they are still kinder to us than the evening news, which perusal will assure you that we are still committing such hatefulness.

I feel rather like that archetypal scene in jungle adventure movies, where the guy in the pith-helmet squints out past the edge of the firelight, muttering, "It's quiet; too quiet." Because we have eyes to see and ears to hear. We have mouths.

Why is there so little screaming?

K.C. Locke
San Francisco, CA
January, 1998

The Stories


Synopsis: A narrative of our species' five finalists in the Cosmic Crap-Shoot, in their 109th year of AM's torment, as recounted by the grand prize winner.

Comments: Collectively, volumes have been written about this story, by everyone from adoring fans to the most learned scholars. I, therefore, am naturally dubious regarding the freshness and insight of any of my observations on the subject. So - stop me if you've heard this. Of all the words that describe Harlan Ellison's works, "static," if it is on the list at all, is so far down the line and in such fine print that even lawyers wouldn't think to look for it. This story is a prime example - thirty years old, and still alive and squirming. And, like its author, it refuses to be pigeon-holed. Ever see "Lust For Life?" Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh. At the end, he's trying to paint these black birds in a wheatfield. Remember? "It keeps changing! It keeps changing!" Alive and squirming. Every time I go back to this story, opening my rheumy, jaded critical eye, it's a little different. Shadowy elements trade places with those that had been in the foreground. It's like watching the ocean, or a slow-motion film of a lake's rippling surface. It keeps changing, with a nightmarish, swirling ebb and flow. I'm afraid that all I can do is tell you what I saw, but I can't be too sure of any conclusions - it keeps me too on-edge and off-balance.

The premise initially reminds me of a movie called "Five," produced by Arch Oboler (who also gave us "Lights Out!" on radio) in the late nineteen-fifties. It concerns the trials and tribulations of the last five people on post-WWIII Earth. Little more than a handy starting point for Mr. Ellison's extrapolations.

And there are other elements that hit me like machine-gun slugs: Dante's INFERNO; Milton's PARADISE LOST; a smattering of Sartre's "No Exit;" Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," and, to a lesser degree, "The Tell-Tale Heart;" the free-ranging paranoia present in much of Philip K. Dick's work; Jungian archetypes.

Are any or all of those things really present and intentional? I don't know - I calls 'em as I sees 'em. They might be nothing more than handles for my brain to hang onto, during thisroller-coaster ride through the Spook House.

Perhaps the most helpful and constant of those handles is that I find this story somehow reminiscent of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. No? Submitted for your approval: a sentient, artificial life-form - a powerful, inescapable, unstoppable, soul-less thing (here, without conscience or remorse) - devoted to vengeance on its creators, albeit by proxy in this instance. Even a climactic scene in the ice caverns.

If I may cite Mr. Ellison's remarks from his introduction to this story:
John Brunner tells me it is allegorical as hell. Virginia Kidd says it is a story of religious experience. James Blish says it is a good story.
They are each quite correct. One almost need apply Heisenberg's Principle of Uncertainty to this story - it changes with observation. Indeed, it changes with each observer, keying on individual perception, and working splendidly on each level.

It is a case against Humanity's dependence on (and ultimate victimization by) our own technology. It neatly and subversively blurs the distinction between creator and creation, pointing up our helplessness in the face of God/Life/Universe. It terrorizes us with an end-game look at what we might expect, should we continue to choose to hand over our choices, our say-so, our rights, responsibilities, privileges and individuality, our control, to the enormous, pitiless, semi-sentient machine of government. Such a warning is as valid today as it was when this story first appeared, back when the suspicion that perhaps our country's forces oughtn't be in Vietnam finally began to spread on a mass scale.

In keeping with the surreal, film noir flavor of the piece, there is a diminishing spiral of information about the characters and there background. We're told quite a bit about Benny, less about Gorrister, dwindling through Ellen, then Nimdok, until we reach Ted, the narrator, about whom we know little more than a name, until the end. The information does, however, seem to be in proportion to the characters' importance, and I don't think that it was random choice that Benny pounces on Gorrister - intellect-made-animal seizes and feeds on compassion turned to apathy.

And of course, there is AM - one of the niftier components of the story, I think. Echoes of the Doomsday Device in "Dr. Strangelove," but sentient, with personality. AM also reminds me of the HAL 9000 of "2001: a Space Odyssey," and the massive, menacing namesake of "Colossus: the Forbin Project." In retrospect, I should say that they remind me of AM - "I Have No Mouth, ..." predates both of those films, which hit theater screens in 1968 and 1969, respectively.

Is AM God or Devil, to this story? The Official Line, roughly speaking, is that a civilization is measured by its ability to "successfully" commit war. AM, sentient psychotic, is the last word in civilization, then. Why does he hate his captives? It's what he lives for. He was made that way. Wars are not waged through anyone's capacity to love. AM hates - it is his purpose. And, having achieved sentience, knowing that he is only capable of hate, must only intensify that hatred. Hatred craves vengeance: AM keeps his charges alive to fulfill his purpose - because, properly exacted, revenge is the gift that keeps on giving.

Benny makes the perfect recipient of AM's "gifts," too. His very ipsiety mocks AM, reminds AM of their similarities and differences. Driven, I think, by a combination of jealousy and self-loathing, he acts against Benny and himself. So Benny becomes a reverse image of the brilliant, handsome homosexual he was before AM claimed him - an idiot missing-link, driven by brute instinct, with little interest in anything other than eating or screwing, robbed of intellect and identity (social and sexual), whatever freedom remains to Benny is effectively useless. AM might be locked in his form, trapped deep in the bowels of the Earth, but he has the freedom of himself - something he denies Benny - even if he is limited in his scope by his programmed hatred.

See what I mean? It keeps changing, growing. "Programmed hatred." What else could we call bigotry, prejudice or racism?

And please - don't ask me where I got this, but I suspect that, somewhere, locked in some remote, lucid, cognitive region of his brain, AM has allowed Benny to remain aware: aware of what he had been, aware of what he had become. Aware of what all the other brilliant theorists had accomplished in AM, what they had ultimately done to him through AM. Aware that there is a bit of AM in each human being, that AM is the sum of us, and that this computer is a tool for Man's destruction, or deconstruction, of Self. Like Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," AM is the watcher, the punisher. The purgative that can't stop, or he'll be out of a job.

"I Have No Mouth,..." also toys, not-too-playfully, with the reader's sense of reality. Told, as it is, in the first-person, we have only Ted's word to rely on. His occasional, lively protestations, however, that AM has not messed his mind give rise, for me, to doubt. Is Ted's information reliable, or are we all merely victims of his perceptions? Are there four other people and a mean, omnipotent computer? Or is Ted the Jungian "self," and AM the "persona," Benny the "shadow," Ellen the "anima," Gorrister the "earth mother" and Nimdok the "wise, old man?" Is Ted's final form the punishment for his destruction of the others, the result of his lost battle with AM, the persona? Is Batman a transvestite? Who can say?

There's something about the characterization, the presentation of the players in this drama, that can mislead the reader to a certain feeling of antipathy for the people. Yet, somehow, we are drawn into giving a damn. We feel their ongoing state of misery, and the ending is truly a horrific image. And, in the end, we are rewarded with the knowledge that (if we choose to view it that way) Ted does care about these kindred souls, whether they are part of him or not. After all, he frees them, doesn't he? Leaving himself alone, to face the music of AM's retribution.

So there is a happy ending here, of sorts - he makes the sacrifice and lives, while they go free to their final rest. And it has been said that, "There is no greater love than to give up one's life for a friend." Not end it; just give it up. If you believe in that sort of thing.


Synopsis: Traveling with an interplanetary, psychic circus, Big Sam searches for a lost love. While he learns that not all good girls go to Heaven, his, chum Billy Lee discovers that sometimes friendship means working without a net - lessons that only one of them will get to live with.

Comments: In the course of his career, Mr. Ellison has spent no small amount of verbiage examining the nature and needs, of friendship. In his remarks in a later collection (SHATTERDAY), introducing his novella, "All the Lies That Are My Life," he sums it up quite succinctly: "It is a quality that defines itself in terms of love and loyalty as the readiness to inconvenience oneself at risk of something valuable. And that seldom means money. It means the skin goes on the line."

Of course, that observation came in 1980. This story goes even further back - 1958. I don't think any opinions have changed regarding the views expressed. In fact, I would hazard a guess that time has only strengthened Mr. Ellison's conviction. In his introduction to this story, he makes quite a case for action in the service of one's beliefs.

They don't lock you up for thinking crazy, they lock you up for acting crazy. To my certain knowledge, nary a soul has been jailed for fantasizing about murder, or contemplating a liquor store hold-up. We are held accountable for our deeds. So it is (or should be) on the opposite end of that spectrum. My father, for instance, might love me as the precious son I am, and cry himself to sleep in his little bed every night, over the lost years and opportunities of our relationship - what with the lack of birthday cards, fishing trips and tossing of the ol' cowhide around the backyard, there's very little to recommend my belief that he holds such an attitude.

Which is all by way of saying that commitment without demon-stration is fantasy - nothing more; and probably less. Whether the issue at hand is Equal Rights for all, HIV research and care for its sufferers, or friendship, glad-handing assurances just don't feed the bulldog, kids. A pledge to your local Public Television station, a kind word and a pat on the back - something.

Some investment - that is the only thing, for my part, that seems to be missing from this story. Big Sam is a likeable fellow and a star attraction; but what else is there by which Billy Lee - or any of them - might claim friendship, other than big numbers at the ticket office? Fritz Bravery owes Sam his life - but the rest?

And that's where I become uncomfortable: the question of motivation in friendship. If Sam had been a jerk, if that single aspect of characterization had been different, how would I feel? Would Billy Lee then, seem somehow noble for wanting to speak out, and save Sam's wretched life? It has been said that, "Friendship is the thief of time;" but where and on what would you rather spend it? Indeed, what else is worth it? Just something for the reader to ponder. Because I don't have an answer for that one.


Synopsis: On Topaz, perfection seems to be a one-way street, until one unfortunate Person provides them with a lesson in the difference between beauty and aesthetics.

Every day and every night, Some are born to Sweet Delight. Some are born to Sweet Delight, Some are born to Endless Night.
At least, I think that's how it goes. I also can't be sure, but I believe I'm mis-remembering one of William Blake's sonnets. It's lovely, don't you think? Something about it connects with this story, in my head.

There are some to whom genetics have been appallingly kind and generous. Such people are, seemingly, made to be seen. Not just running around Hollyweird, either. Walk down the street and make mental notes of who catches your eye. Somehow, our society has become possessed, obsessed with youth and sensual aesthetics: "beauty" caught in the act. Declining to look further, deeper, most of us are oblivious to those in whom beauty has left its mark, though it might have long ago departed. I assure you, though, that those of discrimin-ating taste and perseverance can gaze upon an elderly lady and see the echoes of a six-year-old moppet, in a cotton dress, dancing in the fading, Autumn sunlight, lifting blossoms up to the spirits of the air. Joy, acceptance and compassion shining out through thick-lensed spectacles and twisted, decaying, buck teeth. Bare-foot boys with cheeks of tan, etc. etc.

Somehow, we have become so engrossed with how external loveliness drapes on us, touching the hearts and souls of others, that we forget that there must be some sort of beauty shining from within - of course, I must admit, that sort of beauty is sometimes harder to cultivate. The physical exertions of the gym and tanning salons are less demanding than spiritual growth. So we celebrate the bottles and forget about the wine.

And here's this charming couple, Ordak and Broomhall. She has a physical disfigurement (a mole), but is tolerated because she can at least cover it up. For all we know, Broomhall might look like Brad Pitt - but he is a greater source of fear and disgust, for he is blind. Not only is he unsusceptible to their loveliness, he is unable to tell them how swell they all look; perhaps that is what they find most offensive.

Finally, there is Person, child of endless night. He sees what cannot be seen, on that beautiful world, and loves it anyway. But those eyes - eyes that are the mirror of our soul; the reflections from the Abyss. "Even the bravest of us rarely has the courage for what he really knows." Nietzsche, I believe. No wonder they killed that tragic Person - once you know a thing, there's no unknowing it..

So the Topazoids are beautiful to see - but would you let one marry your sister?


Synopsis: Marooned and awaiting rescue, an isosceles love-triangle (with Cornfeld getting the short side) encounters a group mind, with whom it is terribly important to make a good impression. As the Mountain may come to Mohammed, so it seems the Abyss might also come to Nietzsche.

Comments: I'm reminded heavily, here, of Goethe's response to Socrates's direction to "Know thyself" - "'Know thyself?' If I knew myself, I'd run away!"

Which brings us, Dear Friends, to another examination of perspective. How we see ourselves, how others see us - in fact, this is almost the flip side of "Eyes of Dust." But wait - we're dealing with a "mirror mind," here, aren't we? Mirrors have no opinion, they merely tell you what you already know but don't necessarily see; so, is that vision objective or subjective? Is it truth, or is that truth dependent on the seer's perception? This is starting to go into that old Danny Kaye routine, where the Dragon With the Flagon Has the Palace by the Pestle,...

Unless you care to pursue it amongst yourselves, I will spare the audience any sort of lengthy, dry, philosophical treatise on the Nature of Truth - whether truth is subjective, or confined to factuality, whether truth is contingent upon belief, yadda-yadda, and so on.

However, I submit this notion for your consideration: Cornfeld, indirectly, murdered Rennert. Early in their association with the ant-creatures, Cornfeld and Rennert are provided with images to go along with their ideas, and emotions: the wailing woman, the madman, the devils. Is it not possible that, later, when Cornfeld dares Rennert to ask the creatures for a vision of who and what he really is, the "bug-a-boos" show them Cornfeld's vision of Rennert? Rennert is described and portrayed as an amoral thug - though he is perhaps not utterly incapable of remorse, I don't quite believe that a man like Wayne Rennert would see "evil incarnate" in any sort of mirror. Cornfeld, on the other hand, would see just such a monster in Rennert.

Is Cornfeld concerned that Iris will trot out and discover that she is the Devil's willing consort? Or will she ask them what happened, what really happened? Maybe it happened exactly as Cornfeld said - but will the "truth" Iris sees be colored by her perception, portraying Cornfeld as a murderer? Is that why Cornfeld himself fears to ask the question - that he feels a certain degree of responsibility for Rennert's fate? Perception. All in how you look at it.

Perhaps that is what makes this a "World of the Myth."


Synopsis: A man in retreat. Paul Reed, unable to decipher the warning of his dreams, murders himself trying to fill a spiritual hole with physical gratification - a dressing too small for the wound.

Comments: Harlan Ellison counts this as among his favorite stories. "This is, I think, one of the best stories I've ever written," he says, "It is certainly one of the most personally important to me." I can't help but agree - I think it is one of those unique stories that is personally important to whomever might need it.

It's still important, still relevant, because it addresses what is still a common problem - and, as the ending rolls out, it encourages the reader's contemplation of alternate solutions. Because, to defend the story's integrity, it might need to end that way, but our own stories can be resolved more happily.

Our own lonelyaches.

Paul Reed makes an error that still runs through our society like shit through a goose: he mistakes sex for intimacy. I am not without this sin, myself, and I doubt that very many people reading this now can claim truthfully that they are, or ever were, free of the impurity. I can remember names and faces, most of the particulars if documentation is required; and I also remember that feeling, the emptiness and loss of having given away small pieces of myself, that crushing dissatisfaction of having tried to make myself real and valid through an act that, ideally, should succeed those feelings - the Lonelyache.

There's a part of Paul that sees very clearly what he's doing to himself and how he's dismantling not only his relationships with the people around him, but his ability to create and support those relationships. That part of him really does try to put a stop to the deconstruction - hence that series of assassins, converging on him like brooms on Mickey Mouse. They aren't out-siders, as Paul supposes, they are Paul's "better nature" attempting to oust this drive to self-destruct. The trouble is Paul's utter refusal to examine the matter more closely - otherwise, he might see why his sister calls him a "chaser," and find a way to stop doing that.

But Paul won't take the tour, and certainly won't hire a guide to show him a safe route. So his betrayal of his better nature births an opportunity. Each infidelity - to himself and his soon--to-be-ex-wife - only gives greater form and reality to that sad, staring, karmic beast in his bedroom corner, a creature composed of Paul's hope and integrity, all the small decencies that have begun to disappear from him like fleas leaving a sinking rat.

Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum, whether in outer space or the inner mind. As the components of the "real" Paul flee, they are replaced by the demon horde, one of whom he is in the process of becoming. Paul could have gone either way, perhaps, had he come to such a realization earlier; but, as it is, there is only the prospect of his becoming a conscienceless user of people - so, rather than join that despicable mob, he chooses nothing at all, leaving the best parts of himself behind.

More I cannot say, except to suggest that, if you are ever confronted by a soft-brown staring thing that is nothing like a Kodiak bear - perhaps you should embrace it.


Synopsis: Warren Glazer Griffin, thrust between this life and the next, armed only with his ethics and a suitable vehicle, learns too late that the one thing he can take for granted is opportunity - all else is dependent on whether he does the footwork.

Comments: Here, Mr. Ellison gives us a neat, passionate parable, exploring what might happen if one were granted the opportunity to play the game by one's own rules - the results of being called upon to walk the walk after talking the talk.

Griffin (a name I will forever associate with H.G. Wells's THE INVISIBLE MAN) is physically out-fitted for the tasks ahead, and now need only call up the courage of his convictions. We are, I think, all-too-well-acquainted with such recommendations: put the well-being of those in your care ahead of your own; fair-play is important - there is no such thing as a victory, if it is won through dishonorable or petty means; think with the organ that was made for thinking.

Pretty simple stuff. Not always easy, by any stretch, but simple. Griffin doesn't even think to try - forewarned that this is a test contributing heavily to his final grade, he is readily side-tracked by the pretty colors, and full of the gloriousness of his shiny, new bod, singing his own praises while those in his charge go do a late lunch with Davy Jones (I do not refer to The Monkees); even when the Mist-Devil evens the odds, he cannot conquer his fear sufficiently to go through with a fair fight; as for winning the lady's heart, well, there are plenty of gorgeous assholes running around, these days, who wonder why they can't keep a steady girlfriend (many of whom, oddly enough, seem to belong to fraternities and are up on date-rape charges).

Most galling, as mentioned, is that Griffin doesn't even really try. I suspect that, had he at least struggled in his attempts, it would have come off rather well for him: get the men to safety; fight the good fight even though out-gunned; ask the damsel's name, is she okay, is she hungry, how's her bridge game, anything but a forced shtupping because he is the mighty hero and how could she not love him after such a romp in Cupid's Grove? Being worthy of one's dreams means risk - and, to take a risk, means you have to be willing to lose. I forget the name of the man who originally said it, but it's like this: "I admire Christopher Columbus, not because he found a new world, but because he went to look for it on the strength of an idea."

Warren Glazer Griffin, now a truly Invisible Man, sadly, had no ideas. No strength. And no conviction. The delusion is that he ever did. Not only is his worthiness tested, but so is that of his dreams.

Mr. Ellison is proud of this one, and justifiably so. In what he calls an experimental style, he strives for mysticism through the Baroque and rococo. I'm afraid I can't comment on that. I can say that his attempt at density of image and layering of narrative succeed splendidly, coming fast and furious, and rarely giving the reader more than a moment to catch his or her breath. What hits me hardest though is The Message - nobility is in the struggle, and success in the attempt.


Synopsis: Kostner, down and out in Las Vegas, turns his last cartwheel and lets it ride on the Oldest Established Profession, getting a lot of nothing for his little bit of something on the biggest sucker bet since Nathan Detroit put Sky Masterson onto Sgt. Sarah Brown.

Comments: Another of Mr. Ellison's favorites, and no wonder - thirty-one years later, and it still wins in a walk against much of what passes today for "brilliance." This tough, brassy, little bon-bon is flashy hard-shell and soft, bittersweet nougat, with a crisp little worm at the center.

It doesn't happen often, but I, too, have a special place in my heart for those stories of mine that roll out of my fingers while the movie flickers past my eyes. That doesn't guarantee excellence, but the stories are easy and fun to write. And when you look at it, after the smoke clears, and there is evidence that The Writer who lives in your head has really earned his rent on the space between your ears - wow; just, wow! You kiss your typewriter that much harder (no, that's not how I chipped that tooth).

So it's a great story. I mean, it fucking struts, Jack.

But not a happy story. No. Stories of people trapped and damned by their own need, such stories are never really happy. This is one of those stories.

Kostner, though he begins as something of an enigma, isn't so different from any of the rest of us. He's in Vegas because, well, he ended up in Vegas, and, among that whole something-for--nothing crowd, he doesn't really want anything that we don't want - he just wants it to be a little bit better and a little less lonely. Traveling the rocky footpath (or sliding down the razor-blade of Life into that icy pool of chilled vinegar, as I sometimes refer to it), don't we all want some companionship? Some other soul who tries to make it by the same rules we employ? Someone we can trust?

And Maggie; bright as a button, cold and soft as a first winter frost, sharp and deadly and hypnotic as a cobra. Not a nice lady; but it's hard to hold it against her. Anyone who's ever known need, who's had to choose between groceries and a new pair of shoes, who's ever had to try to get a few winks behind a parking-lot dumpster and been a little too hungry for a little too long, ... Well, we understand where that head can take a person, don't we? That doesn't make it right, but we can understand.

Las Vegas - is it evil? Hmm. I think that might be a matter for some debate. No souls are stolen, there, not really. Given away, yes - handed over in fury, terror.

Desperation. Need. If there is evil in Vegas, it is because we have put it there. By the emptiness we allow to fester in each other and ourselves.

By our need.

Story Reviews by K.C. Locke (mesmeratronics@usa.net)
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