The Voice from the Edge Volume 3: Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes by Harlan Ellison & Robert Bloch
This is the third collection of Harlan Ellison’s short stories which he has narrated himself. Each of these Voice from the Edge audiobooks is quite excellent. I can’t say that I like every story — some of them are just too gross for me — but I can say that Ellison is a great storyteller and that there’s no better way to read his stories than to listen to him read them to you.
This collection contains:
- “Between Heaven and Hell” — (first published in 1994 in Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison) This is a very short piece (3 minutes) in which Ellison juxtaposes the wonderful and awful things of life. It reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (“There is a time for to be born and a time to die….”). This story, and a few more in this volume, accompanies the surreal art of Polish artist Jacek Yerka in the book they were originally published in (which Ellison says is his favorite of his books). If you listen to these stories, I recommend that you look up the art on the internet.
- “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” — (first published in 1967 in the collection I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream) In this novelette, which is one of Harlan Ellison’s personal favorites, a dead prostitute haunts a slot machine in Las Vegas. This story has the awesome line: “Maggie. Hooker. Hustler. Grabber. Swinger. If there’s a buck in it, there’s rhythm and the onomatopoeia is Maggie Maggie Maggie.” You’ve got to hear him read this one.
- “Twilight in the Cupboard” — (1994, Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison) Another extremely short piece with an interpretation of what the afterlife might be like. Here’s the accompanying art.
- “Kiss of Fire” — (1973, Two Views of Wonder anthology) In a futurist world where humans can be rejuvenated and live for hundreds of years, a man who programs the death of non-human races on other worlds feels dissatisfied with his life.
- “Fever” — (1994, Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison) Ellison suggests what may have actually happened to Icarus. Here’s the art.
- “The Discarded” — (1959, Fantastic) A prison ship carrying mutated humans orbits Earth. This feels like it belongs in one of George R.R. Martin’s WILD CARDS anthologies.
- “Darkness Falls on the River” — (1994, Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison). A vignette about growing up. It doesn’t really seem to go with the art.
- “Status Quo at Troyden’s” — (originally published 1958 in what Ellison calls “a long-gone mystery magazine” but preserved for posterity in his 1975 collection No Doors, No Windows) I loved this story about an old man who is worried about losing his apartment when his son doesn’t send him enough money to cover his rent.
- “Tired Old Man” — (1975, No Doors, No Windows) As he explains in the author’s note, this is a quasi-autobiographical story about a party that Harlan Ellison attended where he met a writer who inspired him. This is another of his favorites.
- “The Silence” — (1994, Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison) A one-minute piece. You kind of want to see the art for this one.
- “Valerie: A True Memoir” — (1972, The Los Angeles Free Press) In This essay, Ellison gives the true account of a girlfriend named Valerie. It’s pretty amusing. This was later collected in the book Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled.
- “Base” — (1994, Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison) This is the longest of the art pieces. It’s about a man who’s asked to come identify a corpse in the middle of a freezing Chicago night. In the afterward, Ellison explains that something similar really happened to him. Here’s the art, although it has nothing to do with the story. Ellison was using a different meaning for the word “base.”
- “A Toy for Juliette” — (1967, Dangerous Visions anthology) This is a story by horror writer Robert Bloch which was originally published in an anthology that Ellison edited. It’s included here because the next story is Ellison’s sequel to this one. “A Toy for Juliette” is read by Bloch himself and the recording is very old. The story is about a young woman who’s a sadist and it’s really bizarre, but what makes it even more horrifying is that there’s childish music in the background and Bloch reads it with an incongruously cheery voice. Really creepy.
- “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” — (1967, Dangerous Visions) I really hated this novelette which is a sequel to Bloch’s story “A Toy for Juliette.” According to Ellison, it’s the most gruesome story he’s ever written and, if you know Ellison, you know what that means. I couldn’t handle it and had to start skipping through it toward the end. Be warned.
I didn’t like this collection quite as much as I liked the previous two Voice From the Edge audiobooks. The art vignettes didn’t do much for me (though I love the art that goes with them) and the two horror stories at the end were beyond what I can handle, but I did like several of the others, most notably “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes,” “Status Quo at Troyden’s,” “Tired Old Man,” and “Valerie: A True Memoir.” Still, it’s always entertaining to listen to Harlan Ellison read his own stories and if you’re a fan of his, I insist that you acquire this audiobook series. I guarantee that you’ll love them.
Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes: The Voice from the Edge Vol. 3 is the third installment in Harlan Ellison’s 5-volume THE VOICE FROM THE EDGE series. He’s a born storyteller, without question the most passionate, intense and brilliant audiobook narrator I’ve ever experienced. This is the ideal showcase for him to read his favorite stories from a career spanning over 60 years.
Vol. 3 has some top-notch stories like “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes,” and finishes with two horror tales, the first narrated by Robert Bloch to chilling effect. It’s also unusual in that it has six very short stories that accompany the artwork of Jacek Yerka especially for the book Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison. While these may be very effective when seen with the artwork, they lack context alone and are too short to really have a major impact. I would have preferred that he include some of his huge back catalog of longer shorter stories instead. Ellison does sprinkle in a lot of biographical anecdotes that makes this audiobook a real treat to listen to. He may be cocky and abrasive, but he’s also charming and honest as hell.
This collection is interesting for the number of stories that are nearly devoid of fantastic elements. Ellison is a masterful storyteller, so basically any ideas he chooses have the potential to be great. In this collection, you won’t find too many spaceships, robots, or futuristic societies except for “Kiss of Fire,” “The Discarded,” and “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World.” Some of the best work perfectly well without any real fantasy elements at all, like “Status Quo at Troyden’s” and “Valerie: A True Memoir.” These were the standouts for me:
“Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” — (1967): This story alone is worth the money. Ellison absolutely tears into every word like a pack of Dobermans attacking a bloody-raw Porterhouse steak. I guarantee you have NEVER heard narration this intense, sinister, down and dirty and absolutely joyful. Ellison’s description of Maggie goes on for a long time, and in the afterword you understand this character had a real-life inspiration. It’s an incredible tale of a down on his luck loser in Vegas who finds a Silver Cartwheel Chief slot machine that gets him jackpot after jackpot after jackpot… but at a terrible price. The real show-stopper here is Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes, a high priced escort who shows in Vegas with her Sicilian hood boyfriend Nuncio and ends up staying in Vegas much longer than expected. I listened to this one several times and every character in it, including the sleazy pit boss, are done to perfection. Here’s a sample of Ellison’s writing:
Outthrust chin, perhaps a tot too much belligerence, but if you’d walloped as many gropers, you too, sweetheart; narrow mouth, petulant lower lip, nice to chew on, a lower lip as though filled with honey, bursting, ready for things to happen; a nose that threw the right sort of shadow, flaring nostrils, the acceptable words: aquiline, patrician, classic, cheekbones as stark and promontory as a spit of land after ten years of open ocean; cheekbones holding darkness like narrow shadows, sooty beneath the taut-fleshed bone structure; amazing cheekbones, the whole face, really; simple up-tilted eyes, the touch of the Cherokee, eyes that looked out at you, as you looked in at them, like someone peering out of the keyhole as you peered in; actually, dirty eyes, they said you can get it.
“Kiss of Fire” — (1973): This is a fairly tricky story to grasp on the first time around. I listened several times to get the drift, but I came to appreciate it as a very daring story about creativity and at what cost, set far in the future. It’s also about a fatigued artist, and how far one can go when your work victimizes others. Strangely enough, the jaded and cynical far-future denizens strongly reminded me of the decadent members of Iain M. Banks’ CULTURE series.
“Status Quo at Troyden’s” — (1958): This is another perfectly narrated story by Ellison that has no fantastic elements. It’s the simple story of a down-on-his luck old man living in a flop-house on the minimal payments sent by his son. When his payment is cut, he is at a loss and asks the slimy building owner for a few bucks off the already-low rent. When he gets rejected, things take an ugly turn, and our previously-meek protagonist shows a surprisingly mean streak when the tables are turned.
“Tired Old Man” — (1975): This is a story based on a real life meeting in NY at a writers’ party between Ellison and one of his crime fiction idols, Cornell Woolrich. It is one of Ellison’s favorites, and features some pretty harsh ridiculing of the jealous little world of competing authors, and Ellison’s dislike for such literary circles. But when he encounters and has a deep and inspiring conversation with a very old man in a soft chair, he is shocked to find that nobody else at the party saw this guy, and that the person he claims to be has been dead for many years.
“Valerie: A True Memoir” — (1972): Here’s another excellent story that has no fantastic elements whatsoever. It’s simply a tale Ellison tells about himself as a writer, when he encounters a seductive woman named Valerie who takes him for a ride, and his efforts to get back at her. Ellison isn’t afraid to ridicule his own gullibility, while also suggesting he is quite the lady’s man. It’s a funny story, something you could easily imagine him telling over a beer.
“A Toy for Juliette” — (1967): This is actually a story by Robert Bloch (of Psycho fame) written for Ellison’s famous Dangerous Visions anthology in 1967. It may be the creepy soundtrack of any horror story I’ve heard. It’s about a young lady named Juliette in the far future who basically sits around waiting for her kindly uncle to bring her live ‘toys’ for her to play with (and dispatch painfully). Everything goes as usual until one of her ‘toys’ turns out to be much more than she bargained for. The story reads like an evil nursery story, with this inane toy store background music that wildly contrasts with the dark storyline. I loved it.
“The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” — (1967): This story is a direct follow-up by Ellison to “A Toy for Juliette,” and takes place immediately after that story ends. As Ellison says in his afterword, this is the most violent and explicit piece he’s ever written, and I can understand why Kat would be sickened by it. When you realize who has been set loose in a decadent far-future dome society, you can imagine the mayhem that will ensue. It’s a pretty nasty story, and I actually liked the prior story better because of its sick sense of humor. But I give Ellison full credit for such a creative idea and not pulling any punches.