by Harlan Ellison
Cover Artist: Gnemo
Review by Steve Sawicki
Subterranean Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596060852
Date: 01 December 2010
Harlen Ellison is certainly iconic--for his writing, for the way he has written (or been unable to write), and for his opinions on almost everything. There are also stages to Ellison. There is the young Ellison, learning the craft but no less outspoken although probably much less listened to; there is the mid-career Ellison, winning awards, being very public but also beginning to struggle with the writing process; and there is the Ellison of the past 10 to 15 years, who has put his reputation and a lot of cash out there in order to fight injustices against individual writers and against writers as a whole.
Deathbird Stories was originally published in 1975 although many of the works collected within had been written well before that. It was met with stunned appreciation and that appreciation has swelled to critical acclaim first within the genre and then outside it until it now is also considered an iconic work. This particular version celebrates the 35th anniversary of the original publication and Ellison has written an introduction to the work as well as an afterword and has included three short stories that were written after the publication of Deathbird Stories but which he felt thematically were good fits. "From A to Z, in the Sarsaparilla Alphabet", "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore", and "The Place with No Name" are the three additions.
If you have read Deathbird Stories in the past your copy is probably, by now, tattered and falling apart. Time to get a new one. If you have never read Deathbird Stories then there is no better time than right now to get a copy.
If you have read Deathbird Stories in the past then you already have a favorite or favorites that you probably remember as if you read them yesterday. "Ernest and the Machine God", "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes", and "Paingod" are the stores that I remember well when my copy, back in 1975, was shiny and new and had yet to have it's spine broken and bent by time and abuse.
There are two things that I think are incredibly obvious about an Ellison story. The first is just the raw brilliance of the craft. Whether you get what Ellison had intended or not, the art of connecting words is evident. There is not only a flow but an intelligence to the formations, like Egyptian Hieroglyphs, one looks and knows that there is a mind at work behind the creation. The second is that there are truths present. They may be simple, surface truths or they may be hard, poke in the eye truths, but they are there in every piece. It is these two things that make reading Ellison a thing worth doing. It is these two things that also will force you to take a break from reading Ellison as his truth telling can be raw and, while wrapped in beauty, still deadly.
I noted earlier that I had favorites from this collection that I remembered. What I had failed to remember though was just how good the rest of the work was. I think that everyone who is fan of science fiction or just good writing needs to have Ellison on their shelf. That being said I can think of no finer example than Deathbird Stories as a best representation. Subterranean Press has put together a book worth owning and Harlan has given us content worth reading. I can't recommend this highly enough: 22 short stories contained in a well crafted book with a stunning cover by Tom Kidd.