Shatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 by Harlan Ellison audiobook reviewsShatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 by Harlan Ellison

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsShatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 is the final installment in Harlan Ellison’s 5-volume THE VOICE FROM THE EDGE series. It’s been quite a ride, and it’s hard to dispute that Ellison is a superb storyteller who can take an idea and run with it in the most original and twisted way, frequently delving into the dark and cruel side of human nature, but also celebrating moments of nobility and pathos along the way. His voice is powerful, unique, and very charismatic, so hearing him narrate his own work is a treat.

Like Vol. 4, not all the stories in Vol. 5 are narrated by Ellison himself. Fortunately the supporting cast are very skilled, and the stories really lend themselves to narration, so I didn’t have a problem with that. And again he throws in anecdotes about his life and writing that illuminate his creative process. This entire series can be listened to multiple times; it’s that good.

This collection has a large number of award winners and nominees (he has a lot to choose from). The tone of most of them is quite dark, and they demand careful listening for full effect. The good thing about short stories is that it’s not a big time investment to re-listen to the ones you really like. In this case most of the stories are from his most experimental period in the 1960s and 1970s. While not as difficult as stories like “The Deathbird” in Vol. 4, I did have to give two careful listens to “Adrift Just off the Islets of Langerhans,” but it was well worth the time. Below are my favorites from this collection:

“Delusion for a Dragon Slayer” — (1966; Hugo nominee): What if you could live as you always imagined yourself in dreams? Let’s say a 6-foot 3-inch chiseled Nordic warrior steering a ship on rough seas on route to fighting a fearsome dragon to save a beautiful damsel in distress. Ellison explores this male wish fulfillment fantasy by a meek 41-year old accountant who takes a detour on his way to work one morning. The descriptive passages are vivid and dramatic, and the story’s conclusion is anything but wish fulfillment. Very well done.

“Shatterday” — (1975; Nebula nominee): Ellison once again tackles the old chestnut of what you would do if you met yourself, and turns it on its head. Here a successful ad executive with a wealthy but shallow existence calls home one night only to discover… himself answering the phone. The two selves insist they are the real one, and as they examine their lives they discover they have not been a very nice for a long time. As always, Ellison leaves the denouement in suspense until the end, and it is a satisfying one that pulls no punches.

“Basilisk” — (1972; Hugo & Locus winner; Nebula nominee): I was waiting for an Ellison story about the Vietnam War, which dominated social debate during his most creative writing period. Well, “Basilisk” doesn’t disappoint. A soldier on patrol in Vietnam steps on a punji stick booby trap and wakes up in captivity, having lost his eyesight. He is repeatedly tortured until he spills all the information he knows. But one day when pushed to the edge he discovers that he has the power to destroy his enemies in terrifying ways. He is rescued and brought back to the US, but when he returns home he is viewed as a traitor to his country. His family has been driven out of town and his fiancée has married the town jock. When he confronts them, things quickly spiral out of control. It’s a very powerful allegory of what US soldiers experienced both in Vietnam and after returning home.

“Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” — (1968; Nebula nominee): This is a trippy story about a man who comes back from Army basic training to reconnect with his fiancée. He discovers she has shacked up in a large drug-house on a hill. The inhabitants of the house, including his fiancée, spend all their time high on various substances. He is the only normal one among them and serves as their connection to the outside world. However, when his fiancée convinces him to partake of their drug cornucopia, things get very weird and phantasmagoric. This is clearly a horror story about the dangers of the drug culture prevalent at the time.

“Adrift Just off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54′ N, Longitude 77° 00′ 13″ W” — (1974; Hugo & Locus winner): This is probably one of the most original stories in the collection, and certainly scores points for most creative and unwieldy short story title of all time. It’s a gonzo version of Fantastic Voyage, in which a man pleas for the opportunity to be shrunk to the microscopic level so he can enter his own body in order to find the geographical location of his own soul. Not content with that, his intent is to discover his soul so he can die in peace. After going through the process he begins to explore his body in an Odysseus-type voyage of rough seas until he finds the island where his soul is stored. I needed to listen to this twice to grasp the details, but it’s a very interesting and affecting story.

“All the Lies That Are My Life” — (1980; Hugo nominee): This is the longest piece in the collection, a highly autobiographical novella about a highly successful writer (sometimes of science fiction) who is brash, arrogant, brilliant, popular with the ladies, and frequently a jerk. Then there is his less successful writer friend with whom he has a love-hate friendship. When the writer dies in a spectacular high-speed highway accident involving road-rage and Latino thugs, it’s revealed at the funeral that he has left his final will and testament on video. Everyone is then subjected to a long invective-filled rant about his worthless sister, followed by props to the friends he approved of. This is about as self-indulgent a story as every was penned, even by the king of self-absorption, Harlan Ellison. And yet he is such a larger-than-life personality that I think it’s fair to conduct an analysis of his life in fictional form like this, a retrospective of his life and legacy while still living. Who wouldn’t want to control the image people hold of your life? It’s certainly quintessential Ellison, full of self-deprecation, oversharing, self-aggrandizing, and heaps of chutzpah. But because he is a natural storyteller, it’s definitely worth a listen.