My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve read a number of reviews of this book and most rave about its importance and the quality of writing. I’m not quite at that point, personally. I thought the book was tremendously uneven, with some strong material being short shafted by some weak, boring, and stupid works. Most seemed to be one or the other; few were middling.
Ellison is the ultimate narcissist and is quite taken with himself as editor and writer, and with the stories he solicited from his favorite sci fi writers. He argues it’s quite possibly the most important book of its type, indeed of any type, and he beats the reader into submission by constantly praising each author in his intros to their stories, in his introduction to the book, in his non-stop shameless self-promotions. That really grated on my nerves after awhile.
Ellison strove to produce an anthology of truly “dangerous” speculative fiction stories — shock stories, if you will, and to a certain degree, it’s possible he succeeds. Indeed, the book starts out pretty strongly (following a truly weak introductory story by Lester del Rey) with an absolutely brutal, punch-to-the-gut story by Robert Silverberg called “Flies.” Promising. Following are excellent stories by a couple of personal favorites — Frederik Pohl and Phillip K Dick, both deservedly notable. Ellison himself contributes a good story as a futuristic Jack the Ripper sequel to a Robert Bloch piece. I thought, however, the long piece by Philip Jose Farmer was fairly boring and quite rambling. Larry Niven contributes a piece after Dick’s story, but then the “dangerous” component of the book begins to crumble — unless you think that Theodore Sturgeon’s “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?” is dangerous. After all, what starts out as an interesting space opera-type story devolves sadly into a ’60s-era philosophical argument in favor of incest. I’m not joking. I wish I was.
Poul Anderson’s “Eutopia” is bland, boring, and weak. Larry Eisenberg and Henry Selsar’s contributions are too short and just boring. What happened to the shock value of the stories? Keith Laumer’s “Test to Destruction” is about a man who uses superior willpower to overpower alien mind control, only to fall victim to its power it can provide him, in a thoroughly predictable twist at the end of the story. Roger Zelazny contributes one of his better stories, but considering I think him to be awfully overrated, it’s not that impressive, frankly. The book tries to end with a shock story, but it, too, bored me.
When I bought the book, I had heard and read of it over and over again, so I was excited. After getting past the first story, I started delving into some exciting stuff. If I had stopped there, I would have given this book five stars. Even when I made myself finish this tome, I wanted to give it at least four, but I just can’t do that. Sturgeon’s incest story alone merits a three star review at best. I’m not even horrifically offended at the topic of incest — just how the story was used to justify it in our society. It was beyond stupid. It was appalling. I’m not terribly pleased with this book, and despite what Harlan Ellison thinks (and he thinks a lot of himself and this book), I don’t think it’s all that. Three stars.