Harlan Ellison (1934-2018) was a prodigious American writer working in speculative short and long fiction and screenwriting. Growing up in a small town in the American mid-west, Ellison suffered from bullying because he was Jewish, a fact that imbued in him a “lifelong, blood-drenched obsession for revenge,” and often fueled his creative ideas.
He wrote more than 1,700 short stories and articles, at least 100 books and dozens of screenplays and television scripts. He also served as a science fiction adviser on memorable episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5 and the Twilight Zone.
His aesthetic values lead the vanguard of American New Wave fiction by making it possible to say things about sex and politics in novel ways that varied from stylized fabulism to the radically deranged.He also had a reputation as a cantankerous, pipe-smoking polymath, just as capable of charming a talk show host as he was of breaking the pelvis of a studio executive. Despite his volatile legacy, he is considered on par with eminent science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.
Best Harlan Ellison Books
|Deathbird Stories||9.88/10||346 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream||9.72/10||134 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Shatterday||9.68/10||300 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Strange Wine||9.56/10||262 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Angry Candy||9.44/10||324 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
Deathbird Stories (2006) was published between 1960 and 1974. The themes running through this volume are heavily philosophical, based on speculative ideas of death and God, uppercase G intended. Originally titled, Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods, the stories deliberately intertwine around the idea of modern-day gods replacing the old, traditional ones and by its nature, is inherently satirical.
The title of the book, and the final story in the collection, mixes science fiction with mythology and surrealism as it is set 250,000 years in the post-apocalyptic alien-controlled future, where the protagonist struggles with the fact ‘God’ has always been insane and ‘Satan’ is actually a caretaker. Meaningful themes of humanity relating to what love and compassion are defined as, are the undercurrent throughout this story of Earth.
The resounding opinion among critics and SF fans alike is that this collection is easily the best Harlan Ellison books because of his trade-mark writing and themes being at their fearlessly original best. The last of formal recognitions seems to reflect this regard as one story earned a Locus Poll Award and the two final ones both received Hugo Awards and Locus Poll awards.
A no-longer existing award for Deathbird was also given called the Jupiter Award from the Instructors of Science Fiction in Higher Education. The collection also won the 1979 British Science Fiction Award for Short Fiction as soon as it was published in Britain. Harlan Ellison built his career on the short story format and this collection is considered by many as the pinnacle of that career.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1984), is a short story collection first published in 1967. This volume contains the original introduction by Theodore Sturgeon and the original and updated foreword by Harlan Ellison himself because of the original and incendiary writing style.
The title story has become one of Ellison’s touchstone pieces, a futuristic nightmare that ticks all the boxes of classic dystopic science fiction. To find out more about this amazing book, check out our I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream book review.
5 People Left
After a war that affects the entire world there is left only five human beings and one super computer in command. This super computer is incredibly sadistic and persecutes the humans more intensely as the story progresses, from keeping them underground for years to using its advanced A.I powers to torture them as slaves; a typical scenario in best Harlan Ellison books.
Other stories in the collection are Big Sam Was My Friend, Eyes of Dust, World of the Myth, Lonelyache, Delusion for Dragonslayek, and Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes. Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes was apparently Harlan Ellison’s favorite, and his early authorial calling card. Conversely, it’s stories like these that provoked accusations of misogyny and arrogance in some reviews, but regardless, his brilliance as a writer is inarguable.
Shatterday (2014) is a collection of short stories about mortal dreads. Ellison wants us to be aware that human frailty and darkness are real and the fear we have of it should be acknowledged. His goal, he wrote, was to shock his readers into the comprehension that these fears are what unify all people. He starts each story with his own thoughts which could be succinct or carry through many pages.
Both the Nebula and Hugo Award was given to Ellison for Jeffty Is Five. In it, a five-year-old boy never gets old, living in an immortal cocoon of the past that doesn’t exist while the real world threatens his innocence. Another story had been published the year before called All the Lies that Are My Life. Shatterday, about the struggles of a man whose greatest enemy is himself, was also the base for the 1985 revival of the Twilight Zone pilot episode.
Other collection stories are How’s the Night Life on Cissalda?, The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge, Shoppe Keeper, Django, Count the Clock That Tells the Time, All the Lies That Are My Life, In the Fourth Year of the War, Flop Sweat, Would You Do it For a Penny?, All the Birds Come Home to Roost, Opium, The Other Eye of Polyphemus and The Executioner of the Malformed Children, Alive and Well on a Friendless Voyage. Though not recognized as one of Harlan best Harlan Ellison books, it was highly regarded for how it exposed humanity’s darker actions.
Dark and Edgy
Strange Wine (2004) is a series of fifteen short stories from the nightside of the world of Ellison. This volume was published in 1976 in a series called Amazing Stories, and has Ellison’s signature dark, edgy writing, engaging the subversive bedtime reader from start to finish.
It includes fifteen short stories of varying length, often considered to be just as enjoyable as reading the stories themselves. The book content is mix of horror, science fiction, dark fantasy and metafiction, yet is all gathered in outstanding storytelling and imaginative prose.
The title story involves a long-suffering protagonist who believes that he’s an alien trapped in a human body, his existence on Earth a punishment for past alien sins. This story features a relativist narrative with a classic Ellison twist at the end.
Some reviews regard this volume as more hit-and-miss but it has garnered just as equally positive reviews praising it as the most inspired fiction ever imagined and probably the most influential book of short stories ever written in the SF genre. Harlan Ellison considered storytelling as a holy chore and though he denounced the label of science fiction writer, he always wrote as an imaginative purveyor and creator of humanities’ psychological and philosophical darkness.
After reading this collection of sixteen stories, you will find yourself thinking about life and all of its possibilities. This is some of Ellison’s more experimental work you could say, but hey, a home run is a home run. Five stars across the board. These short stories are not Ellison’s “Best of”, but rather him coloring outside the lines and challenging not only himself, but the reader as well.
The three standout stories for me were “Soft Monkey”, “The Region Between”, and “The Paladin of the Lost Hour” – which in my opinion is one of the best speculative short stories to ever be written. The first two follow underdogs who succeed despite the odds being stacked against them.
Best Of The Best
“The Paladin of the Lost Hour” follows a Vietnam War veteran and his friendship with an old man while they try to put a stop to the end of the universe. It was so well-written, that it was actually adapted into an episode for the TV series The Twilight Zone. If you need any reason to buy Angry Candy, this story should be more than enough.
Reading the reviews, it is clear that so many people love it, and each person has their own favorite story. We really get to see Harlan Ellison at his best in this book, as he shows us his incredible range as a writer. People like him were born to write and share stories with the world, and I will definitely be rereading this book for years to come.
The Essential Ellison
In One Place
While Harlan Ellison is most famously known for writing scripts for sci-fi and fantasy films, his range reaches far beyond that. He has also written stories, essays, reviews, novels, plays, and even fake autobiographies. In this collection, Harlan Ellison puts together his most highly ranked books, 74 stories all in one place.
Now, I will warn you ahead of time that this book is a whopping 1250 pages, but please do not let that intimidate you or put you off. It is so worth the read and remember that you do not have to read everything at once! The best part about collections is being able to read them as and when you please.
Some of my personal favorites from this collection was “The Boy and His Dog”, “The Deathbird”, and “Along the Scenic Route”. Another amazing read (and the longest one) is “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie” and follows an old movie starlet who gets a second shot at Hollywood stardom. You’re probably thinking that it sounds boring and unoriginal, but let me tell you, it is one of the best works I have ever read.
I can’t exactly give away the plot of this book due to the fact that there are so many of them that it would literally be impossible. If you are already familiar with Ellison’s work then you should need no encouragement to read this, but if you are not, then let me be the thing that pushes you to take the leap and invest in this incredible piece of literature.
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
By now it should be clear that most of Ellison’s works are collections of shorter writings, and this one is no different. This one contains 15 short stories, some of which can be found in his other collections. The titular story is one that I am still trying to wrap my head around, but it has time travel and insanity across the multiverse.
A great one from this collection (and one of my favorites) is “Along the Scenic Route”, which is a sort of dystopian death race where two men with weaponized cars have to battle it out. It all starts when one man challenges another to a duel after being insulted on the motorway.
A Spy For Christmas
“Santa Claus vs S.P.I.D.E.R.” is a really fun, cheesy and spoofy spy story. It follows Kris Kringle, the world’s greatest secret agent, as he tries to stop S.P.I.D.E.R. and their insidious plans. Will he defeat them in time to attend to his Christmas duties? You will just have to give this a read to find out! I would love to see this made into a Christmas movie.
There were many other stories that felt like they were written to eventually become episodes of The Twilight Zone, but they are all very enjoyable to read. Some are heavier and others more lighthearted. You will find yourself on a journey through a mine field of ideas, and it is one of Harlan Ellison’s best-selling books.
Paingod and Other Delusions
These eight wonderful short stories will knock you down while also bringing you back up high enough to reach the stars. You will meet some of Ellison’s most famous characters, such as the Harlequin and the Ticktockman. These stories are wonderful and shocking at the same time, from the master of troubling truths and impossible dreams.
One of Ellison’s most famous works, “’Repent, Harlequin’ Said the Ticktockman”, is included in this collection. It is the perfect example of how the dystopian genre can be about so much more than most authors tend to make it nowadays. You should buy this book if for no other reason than to read this story.
Very Real Possibilities
Another gem is “Deeper Than the Darkness”, about a man who can create fire by simply willing it into existence. This story was awesome and felt quite similar to Stephen King’s “Firestarter”. It really centers in on the fear people have when they lack control. Another great read is “Wanted in Surgery”, where machines have replaced doctors in surgery.
This one comes off so real because in the world we live in now, it could become a possibility, and sooner than we think. I mean, it’s pretty much already happening. If I had to recommend one collection of Ellison’s that I think you should get, especially as a reader new to his work, I think it should be this one. Every single story is an absolute hit and I loved every second of reading this.
All In The Mind
This last book of collections from Harlan Ellison was so good that it was re-issued several times! It was actually one of Ellison’s first collections that he ever released, and it really shows you the range of his imagination. He was a writer with a creative energy that seemed unstoppable, having an eye for not only the wonderful, but also the terrifying and tragic.
These 16 short stories are preceded by an introduction from Ellison, where he shares his struggles from before he was in Hollywood. The one thing he wanted to make clear was that his overactive imagination was his own, and he never relied on drugs to inspire or encourage his creativity.
Better Than The Rest
Hands down the best story from this book is “Back to the Drawing Boards”, about a highly intelligent robot named Walkaway. We also meet Walkaway’s eccentric creator, Leon Packett. Ellison’s last sentence in this story is like a KO punch to the head, and all I can say is WOW.
It is clear that Harlan Ellison is the best of the best when it comes to science fiction and fantasy stories, and it is made especially clear in this book. Each one is unique and different, with a little horror, a little humor, and an endless amount of wows. There are stories here that you won’t find anywhere else, so make sure you get your hands on this book!
Dangerous Visions (2002), originally came out in 1967, and was subsequently published on its 35th anniversary, housing a compendium of short fiction by distinguished authors of fantasy, speculative and science fiction genres. This widely revered collection includes published work by writing heavyweights such as Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Larry Niven, Fritz Leiber and Carol Emshwiller, not to mention the illustrious editor-in-chief himself, Harlan Ellison.
This is Ellison’s self-proclaimed revolution in speculative fiction, with over 30 original stories in addition to the original and updated introduction, a foreword by Michael Moorcock, and the original and updated forewords by Issac Asimov. Ellison also provides, to each of these stories, an afterword by each author. He promotes his revolution by deliberately choosing stories that weren’t publishable in magazines because of censorship issues. No wonder that we dedicated the whole article to this amazing book.
The stories included were chosen to represent breakthroughs in form, style, and treatment of taboo topics surrounding violence, sex, and religion, thus defining the overall title. By inviting writers to challenge the conventions of SF fiction with stories about self-destructive anthropologists or strange visions about human eugenics of the future, it’s clear the voices are as original as the writing itself.
Ellison provided a platform for writing that was highly original and at times, controversial when first published back in 1967. It was, however, well awarded at the time, with a special Hugo for the whole anthology as well as various literary nods some of the stories themselves. Many SF fans still review this collection with unbridled support, saying it changed the entire direction of science fiction as it attempted to push the genre in a more extreme way.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)