I have never been a fan of audio books, being too interested in the
actual printed page. What I am a fan of are radio dramas, because they
have different characters doing the voices. In The Voice from the
Edge, Harlan Ellison does a great job of blending the two mediums.
He reads from his own work and often employs different voices for the
characters, playing Italians, Southern women, and old men with ease.
This is pure Ellison, in his own words, and is simply a treat to listen
If Ellison had never become a writer, he would still be renowned for
his lively lectures and gravelly speaking voice. Unlike many writers,
who are shy and quiet, Ellison is charismatic and loud. He is also thoroughly
engaging, and you are compelled to follow him on a walking tour of some
of his most famous stories.
The introduction is great, because Ellison talks about the writing life
as he compares two of his short stories, I Have No Mouth, and I Must
Scream and Grail, and the difference between the critical
acclaim they have received. This was nice, but it seemed to begin in
mid conversation. I would have liked more of this type of dialogue,
in which Ellison discusses his personal experiences. Of course, this
is coming from someone who is as much a fan of Ellison the man as Ellison
The rest is, of course, great stuff, and I have several favorites. The
stories begin with his most famous, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.
The story of the last members of humanity trapped beneath the earth
by a giant computer called AM, No Mouth is designed to shock.
Ellison does a great job reading it, using different voices for the
characters and AM. Ellison is a natural born actor, and he uses these
skills throughout this collection.
The next selection is a nice change from the bleak and disturbing No
Mouth. Laugh Track undoubtedly draws on Harlan's experiences writing
for television. This story is a very humorous look at mindless sitcoms
and their producers. The narrator, an Italian kid making his way in
show business, keeps hearing his dead aunt Babe's laugh on laugh tracks
for awful television shows. It turns out that she went to a taping years
ago, and that laugh has been recorded over and over again. With the
help of a "phantom sweetener," one of those mysterious people
who freshen up inane sitcoms with laugh tracks, he frees his aunt's
ghost from television hell, with hilarious results. The last sentence
turns out to be the punch line for a long, though well told joke.
My other favorites are "Repent, Harlequin!" said the
Ticktockman, Paladin of the Lost Hour, The Lingering Scent
of Woodsmoke, and A Boy and His Dog. In the first, Ellison
takes us to a future society ran by the hands of a clock. The Master
Timekeeper, referred to as the Ticktockman behind his back, keeps everything
running smoothly, until a Harlequin literally throws jellybeans into
the works. This is a great story, very different from other Ellison
works, and I had as much fun reading it as I did listening to Ellison
You might remember Paladin as an episode of The New Twilight
Zone which aired in the mid eighties. It's about a young man who meets
an old man in a cemetery by the name of Gaspar. Gaspar has a very special
pocket watch that holds the last hour of Earth. If the watch runs down,
the world will end. The two men become companions and share a touching
relationship. This is a fine story.
The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke, is my favorite of Ellison's
most recent efforts. It was written around an illustration for Ellison's
comic book Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor. It's the shortest story
in the collection, but a lot of fun. Woodsmoke gives a new twist to
the Jewish Holocaust. Ernst, a Nazi returned to the mother country,
encounters a dryad in the forest. This wood nymph seeks revenge on him
because he stoked the furnaces in a concentration camp, burning thousands
of her brothers and sisters, the trees. In the end Ernst has been turned
into a tree.
A Boy and His Dog is widely considered Ellison's masterpiece.
This novella tells of a future earth devastated by nuclear war. The
survivors get by with the help of genetically engineered dogs, who are
telepathic and equipped with a kind of sonar. Vic, the boy in the story,
and his dog Blood scout for food and sexual gratification on the bombed-out
earth. When Blood finds a girl for Vic, the trouble starts, as Vic follows
the lovely Quilla June back to her "downunder," huge towns
built beneath the earth. Quilla June's downunder is a subterranean Anytown,
U.S.A., and it's wholesomeness sickens Vic. I won't spoil the ending,
but will sum up by saying that Vic ultimately chooses the love of his
dog over that of a woman.
I love this collection, and often go back and listen to it again and
again. I can't wait until Ellison goes back into the studio to do more
of these collections.