Tim Giauque's Reviews > Shatterday

Shatterday by Harlan Ellison
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's review
Feb 18, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi
Read from February 18 to 27, 2010

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.

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Reading Progress

02/18/2010 page 50
02/21/2010 page 180
56.6% "Do I have enough time to write a few words about this before the wife comes to bed?"

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Karen (new)

Karen No baby stage lasts very long. You'll get going out again at some point.

message 2: by Karen (new)

Karen haha you too have way

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