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Ellison Wonderland (1984)

Ellison Wonderland (1984)

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4.03 of 5 Votes: 3
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0312941331 (ISBN13: 9780312941338)
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About book Ellison Wonderland (1984)

I was turned on to Ellison through the intriguing documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which I followed up with the weirdly imaginative short I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. It was unconventional and murky and raw, and I wanted more. Ellison Wonderland wasn't it. The most interesting section of the 1974 re-edition is Ellison's autobiographical introduction, wherein he admits that even as of twenty-eight years of age, after many of these stories were already complete, Ellison "had never become an adult." Unfortunately, I did not take this for the warning that it was.Although Ellison's protagonists are already shaping up to be neurotic anti-heroes drawn more from reality than the classics of science fiction, he struggles visibly with melding the mundane with the fantastic. Does he want to explore the everyday, as the opening "Commuter's Problem" suggests, or stretch the limits of his imagination, as in "Deal From the Bottom"? Neither form commits, and the shorts turn into glorified set-ups to gimmick payoffs that succeed less often than they don't. Ellison works for countless pages to convince us that these people matter, that they have meaningful and relateable crises apart from intergalactic warfare, but hastily writes them off with a surreal punchline. The worst is "Gnomebody," one of two be-careful-what-you-wish-for cautionary tales in this collection, the entire point of which is to get to a resolution that neither shocks nor entertains. A boy who wished to be fast is turned into a Centaur! The End. It's difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a time when this resolution seemed competent, never mind compelling. Easily the best of the bunch is "All the Sounds of Fear," the third short in this line-up of sixteen, which tells of the rise and fall of a great actor. Until the conclusion, it deftly sidesteps the collection's Achilles heel. The trick? The story has no science-fiction, no fantasy, and none of the over-the-top melodrama that plagues "The Very Last Day of a Good Woman" and "Nothing for My Noon Meal." Even this effort is sabotaged, however, by a last-minute turn to the bizarre, which undermines the immediacy and necessity of all that came before. It's an understandable problem that writers of short fiction often feel the need to "get to the point." This despite the short's unmatched ability to create atmosphere in a way that novel-length works, whose every scene must be faithful to a greater whole, can't always afford to do. But the point, then, must be truly and consistently worth getting to. Those of Ellison Wonderland aren't.

In the 1974 and 1984 editions, you'll find an introductory essay by the author, titled "The Man On the Mushroom," and, in that essay, he tells anyone who's interested about his push West, the Fiend in Human Form for whom he worked, and all the circumstances that led to and occurred during his move to Hollywood, with his soon-to-be-ex-wife and her terrific son; that he was toiling like mad to take care of the various rents and daily necessities; how things were really begining to look sort of grim-ish, when a package arrived from his publisher, and he opened it, and there was ELLISON WONDERLAND, and a nice royalty check, and at that moment, his luck, his life and his future changed. Everything was bright and shiney and bursting with promise, and by damn it shows in the work.Those readers familiar only with Mr. Ellison's more recent offerings, splendid though those books are, may have only had the experience of the author addressing Social Issues, possessed of a certain amount of justified ill-temper and venom, and generally making few if any bones about the state of the species and the fate of the planet because of it. And it is true that, say, about 1965, Mr. Ellison did indeed apply himself with greater vigor to the task of Making Us Aware. But these are older stories, before things got quite so hateful and nutty in the world at large. When asked about them, Mr. Ellison speaks as fondly of them as any father of any of his children; but he remembers writing them so long ago, thinks of them now, and cringes the least bit. And I cannot understand why. If one judges them against his more recent work, there are certainly differences; there has been a maturation of his style, naturally. But those are comparisons of the author with himself. The stories in ELLISON WONDERLAND stand the test of time easily, I think and reading them leaves one in no doubt as to why Ellison was referred to in his early career as, alternately, the "wunderkind" and "enfant terrible" of science fiction.

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