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Shatterday (1983)

Shatterday (1983)

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4.18 of 5 Votes: 5
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0425071650 (ISBN13: 9780425071656)

About book Shatterday (1983)

This is the first Harlan Ellison book I've read. The only other story of his I was familiar with was "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," which remains one of the most chilling and effective things I've ever read. But I knew Ellison by reputation: he's known as the cranky old man of sci-fi, as a Luddite who has sued a long list of collaborators and producers over the years. He wrote the original scripts for some of the best-known episodes of "Star Trek," as well as a couple of "Outer Limits" episodes that inspired "The Terminator." He's got a reputation for being difficult to work with, and that's about all I knew.But, hey, another science fiction short story collection? Sure, bring it on. I love sci-fi short stories. I'm an avid "Escape Pod" listener, and I've read a bunch of stuff by Philip K. Dick and others.But here's the thing: Ellison really isn't a science fiction author. Not really. Reading this book I am surprised at how little of it can properly be thought of as sci-fi. "I Have No Mouth" is about a man-made Hell on Earth, a real manifestation of evil framed in sci-fi terms. But only a few of these stories fall under the sci-fi umbrella. Some highlights:"Jeffty Is Five." According to Wikipedia, this story was chosen as the "Best Short Story of All Time" by readers of Locus magazine. Whoa. I don't know that I'd go that far, but this is a terrific examination of childhood and the intangible things that we lose as we get older. The story, about a boy named Jeffty who remains five years old forever somehow, was inspired by Ellison's overhearing a comment at a party ("Johnny is fine; he's always fine") and misinterpreting it: "Johnny is five; he's always five." And despite Ellison's introductory comment that the ending of this story is the source of some debate, I think the ending was pretty clear."Flop Sweat" and "The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge" were two more fun ones. The former was written in one day, as a challenge to a talk show host. Ellison was scheduled to appear on her program that night, and he asked her to provide him with an idea for a story early in the day. He would then spend the day writing the story and read it on the air that night. Despite the myriad of suitable alternative ideas, she asked him to write "a story about a female talk show host," after calling him with this "idea" five hours late, no less. Yeah, she meets an unfortunate end. I would LOVE to have been listening to this show when Ellison read this one on the air.Apparently Ellison has been married something like five or six times. Stories like "How's The Night Life on Cissalda?" and "Would You Do It for a Penny?" certainly helped me see why. He's clearly a bit of a scumbag when it comes to women.One of the themes that comes up in many of these stories is loneliness. I get the impression that Ellison thinks of himself as a lonely person, and stories like "Count the Clock That Tells the Time" and "The Fourth Year of the War" give us some insights into his mindset. The former story really startled me, actually, because I can relate. We had a baby two months ago, and this has resulted in us being confined to our house more often than we're used to, and certainly more often than I've been comfortable with. "Count the Clock" struck me hard because I feel like we're becoming isolated from our friends, and I don't see a solution to this coming any time soon. It's a beautiful story about living your life now and the redemptive power of love. "The Fourth Year" is about being on your own too long and the tricks your mind plays on you. Kind of a dark humor vibe to this one."The Executioner of the Malformed Children" was a little more sci-fi-oriented. I liked this one; it's a little like "Ender's Game" in that people are chosen from a very young age to serve humanity by defending them from an invading threat.Despite a couple of duds, overall I really liked these stories. Ellison definitely has a way with words, unlike me, who not have way. I think I'll be looking up some more of his work in the future.

I go back and forth about Harlan Ellison, as he has reached near mythical status as a writer, public figure and all around crazy bastard.When he writes just sci-fi/fantasy stuff, it can be quite clever and entertaining, full of mad ideas, allegory and cool imagery. The kind of stuff that would make for a really good episode of the 'Outer Limits'.When he writes about 'The real world' it comes across, nine times out of ten, as wildly self-indulgent drivel. Full of anger, literary and emotional patting himself on the back, and the kind of knuckle headed attitudes about women that you only find in college age guys and older guys that are working on their third marriage.I read a ton of Ellison in college and think that might be the problem. Harlan is a young man's writer. Despite his years he sees the world and presents us with a world that is full of that anger, I got the game figured out and above mentioned knuckle headedness about women that I mentioned earlier. Unlike other writers, Harlan's stuff isn't timeless, it's quite dated, somewhat by his need to name drop and do clever bits of product placement, because Harlan is very much a product of his times and he is locked in a perpetual angry young man mode.It's part of his charm, but it also makes me what to slap him.The straight sci-fi holds up the best: 'How's the nightlife...?' is funny and adolsecent twist on alien invasion stories, 'Executioner of malformed children' was interesting with a rough twist at the end, 'Flop Sweat' could creep out Stephen King and 'Jeffy is five' deserves being called a classic.There's the stuff in the middle, that's a great idea that doesn't seem to go anywhere. 'Shoppe Keeper' is a great idea, that feels pointless and makes you wish a different writer had written it. 'The man that was heavily into revenge' tells us a vaguely interesting story, that doesn't match its title and 'In the forth year' is creepy, but feels a bit pointless.Then we have the bad 'All the lies' is so self-indulgent it makes you want to look away as Harlan is busy having sex with himself and 'Would you do it for a penny' is a weak joke stretched out in short story drag. Which would work if it was funny.and to add to the rough spots, Harlan has written intros to all the stories, because he wants to take a rare opportunity to talk about himself. So, every story gets an extra spoonful of 'I'm just so damned swell and clever'.Everyone should read some Ellison, because, at his best he does live up to his own press, but also, everyone should be warned about Ellison, because he is as bad as the rumors would have you believe.

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I used to love Harlan Ellison's writing when I was in high school, but somewhere along the line I lost track of him. It was good to renew that old acquaintanceship with this volume and another one called Paingod and Other Delusions. Now I just have to check out the Deathbird Stories book, which I'm guessing includes what is perhaps my favorite Ellison story, of course, Deathbird.Now, about this book: It includes at least a dozen of Ellison's efforts. If you don't want to be disturbed, don't read Ellison. He has a way of hanging from the chandeliers while smoking a cigar and tap-dancing in the air while delivering serious social messages. He's bitter, and a genius, and both of those elements come through in these stories:A selection: Jeffty if Five, about a boy who doesn't age; Shatterday, about a man who calls home one day only to hear himself answer the phone; How's the Night Life on Cissalda, about sex with aliens; and many others. Ellison isn't afraid to write about anything, and he writes about it quite well.
—Charles Wilson

When I pulled this book down off my bookshelf, it had a price sticker on the front cover and 2 bookmarks inside from A Change of Hobbit, a "speculative fiction bookstore" in Santa Monica, California. I must have bought this book sometime in the '80s on a trip to the L.A. area, and my friend Stix took me to this bookstore (no one else would've gone there with me). All this is preface to say that while I enjoyed much of this book of short stories (some not so much), it definitely feels very dated. The collection opens with "Jeffty is Five," one of Ellison's best-known works, and one of my nostalgically remembered faves. Reading through it this time, I was struck by what a great concept this was for a story, but how it didn't really seem to go anywhere. The next few stories didn't impress me much either. "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?" is sexual sci-fi, but seems sophomoric. "Would You Do It For a Penny?" reads as misogynistic and downright mean. Fortunately, the stories pick up in the middle of the book. I particularly liked "All the Lies That Are My Life," the novella that's the centerpiece of the collection (the tale of a deceased science fiction writer and his last will and testament). "Count the Clock That Tells the Time" was a nice rumination on a wasted life. "All the Birds Come Home to Roost" has a completely different tone and style, but the life recounted there feels similarly wasted (in a way). Ellison is a masterful storyteller, but his use of details and references to then-current personalities and events prevent this book from ageing well.

It's been a long time since I've read any Ellison. I discovered him back in the day when I was on my science fiction kick. Let me just tell you straight....Harlan Ellison is not for everyone. He's not for the squeamish. Or the prudish. You want your fiction all neat and tidy and full of rainbows and sunshine and happily-ever-afters. Ellison is not your man. That's not to say he can't write a happy ending. He can. He does in this collection. But it's not your everyday, Disney happy ending....and getting there may be a bit more painful than you'd like. Ellison, as he puts it, walks through our lives and runs them through his spectacular imagination and hands them back full of all the horrors and nightmares and mortal dreads we don't want to face. No, I'm not talking about zombies or things that go bump in the night. At least not in most of the stories. "Flop Sweat" comes the closest to a nice horror-movie case of the screaming heebie-jeebies, but it's not the evil things that are the scariest. It's the idea that these things were called forth by human beings just like you and me.And that's what makes these stories so great. Maybe we'll never climb into a space/timeship and go off to another dimension; maybe we'll never have to face a day when our self has divided and there's two of us and we have to figure out which one is real; maybe our past won't ever catch up with us and force us to do horrible things. But...then again. We can relate to the characters because somewhere, sometime there was a situation, not the same situation, but a situation nonetheless where we acted/reacted/didn't react like we should just the same way. The stories show us to ourselves....and if we're brave enough we learn from it.I had forgotten what a master storyteller Ellison is. I had forgotten his skill at twisting the everyday and making it thought-provoking. And I had forgotten what a slippery little cuss he is. Just when you think you've figured out what kind of writer he fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, black comedy, psychological...he throws you a curve ball and does something completely different. No wonder he's racked up so many awards in so many fields. This is a fabulous short story collection. My favorites are "Flop Sweat," "The Man Who Was Heavily into Revenge," and "Count the Clock That Tells the Time." Five stars.

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