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Deathbird Stories

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  4,125 ratings  ·  285 reviews
Harlan Ellison's masterwork of myth and terror as he seduces all innocence on a mind-freezing odyssey into the darkest reaches of mortal terror and the most dazzling heights of Olympian hell in his finest collection.

Deathbird Stories is a collection of 19 of Harlan Ellison's best stories, including Edgar and Hugo winners, originally published between 1960 and 1974. The col
Paperback, 346 pages
Published October 1980 by Dell (first published February 1975)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,125 ratings  ·  285 reviews

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Althea Ann
At first, I was slightly put off by some of the luridly poetic language of this story, but as it went on, it grew on me.
Clearly a response to the Vietnam War, this story is pretty much an all-around indictment of war, the treatment of prisoners of war, the treatment of returning veterans, the behavior of those veterans... but it also deals with each aspect with a surprising amount of compassion and understanding.

A worthwhile, thoughtful piece of war fiction, with a fantasy aspect that works bo
else fine
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers who found american gods not quite dark enough
I somehow discovered this book when I was a kid. As dark and violent as it was, I found it weirdly hopeful. Finally, I thought, an adult who won't fucking lie to you, someone who will just say yes, everything sucks and people are screwed up and the only thing you can do in the face of all this misery is fight, even though you'll probably fail. Fight, and remember that everyone else is in pain, and never lose your outrage or your compassion. Not to pile more melodrama onto this paragraph, but it ...more
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was in high school, this book was banned from our library. So naturally I made a pilgrimage to the public library, checked it out, read it, and basically this is the book that made me want to be a writer. Because it was the first time I realized books had the power to make parents lose their shit.

I later bought Harlan's first typewriter, a 1938 Remington Noiseless Portable forged in the fires of Mt Doom.

Thanks, Harlan. Give my love to Susan.
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, reviewed
Vernon Lestig was caught by Viet cong, tortured until he talked, lost foot and eyesight, brought before a court-martial for treason, and returned home only to face his home in Kansas where nobody understood or accepted what happened in the face of public media.

Full review at my blog

Merged review:

Selena, a beautiful woman and a master manipulator, has a car accident in some lost town of North Carolina. An odd young man magically fixes it.

Full review at my blog

Merged review:

In an inversion of Chri
Ben Loory
Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i remember when this came in the mail from the science fiction book club when i was twelve. it was like having someone tear out my stomach.
6.0 stars. Another superb collection of short stories by the greatest short story writer of all time. While all of the stories in this collection are excellent, I would mention "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" as one that particularly affected me when I read it. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

Winner: British Science Fiction Award for Best Collection (1979)
Nominee: World Fantasy Award for Best Collection (1976)
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Collection (1976)
Voted to the Locus List of All Time Best
John Bruni
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read a few of these stories before, but never like this. No, every story in this book is meant to be read this way, not just a story here and there over the years. Read 'em all back to back, start to finish. (He warns you not to do that in the intro, but he's just goading you to do it.) It's a different, powerful experience. I think that SF has two phases: Before Harlan Ellison and After Harlan Ellison. He's a visceral guy. He doesn't do gentle, folks. He screams his straight-from-the-guts ...more
3.5 stars

DEATHBIRD STORIES, by Harlan Ellison is a collection of some of his varied short stories. I do love Ellison's literary style and writing in general; however, as in most story collections, some of the themes of the individual stories "worked" for me much more so than others. In general, I found that I prefered his horror and supernatural-style stories over those that reached into the fantasy and (to a lesser extent) the science fiction areas.

The writing is brilliant all throughout, in my
Joel Abel
Jan 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
for me this books represents one of those rare moments in life where you can point to a single instant and say, "that moment changed me".

i was around thirteen years old, and, as a lot of young teenagers, really struggling with Christianity, social expectations, parental smothering, etc. and so on. lets just say the box was feeling particularly small and i was feeling the squeeze.

enter a fateful trip to the local flea market/second hand emporium.

imagine a flea market booth so full of worthless i
Oct 29, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: can't recommend
I think I'm might be in a minority on this book. It has had many good reviews on many venues and was a bookclub pick by one of our more adventurous members.

While this may not be my cup of tea - there are a couple of things specifically that bothered me about the book.

1. Many of the stories are firmly set in their era - the book was published in 1975 and you can tell by all of his branded references. Maybe this would be cool if you were reading it in 1975 and you could relate to the brands and tr
Jul 29, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I had to give up on this collection around page 183, in the middle of a story that meant nothing to me.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m bad at reading anthologies (with the exception of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, of course). The problem is that anytime I hit a story I’m not a big fan of, it makes it harder and harder to pick the book back up. I do all right with short story collections on the Kindle, but part of that is because it’s harder to tell how many pages are left dur
May 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autographed, horror
Harlan Ellison is one of my favorite short story writers but his output can be inconsistent. Deathbird Stories is easily his finest collection. These works are unflinchingly cynical and brutally honest about the human condition yet it is apparent that the writer hopes that mankind will rise and find something about it that is noble. If there is one repeating theme it is that man must create gods for itself even though those gods always fail us. Ellison's warning that these stories should not be ...more
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard for me to give this an overall rating, because while I recognize that these were fine short stories, I don't think they were my cup of tea for the most part. Maybe I also went about this with wrong expectations—it was one of the recommended books in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, and I distinctly remember Joe Hill also mentioning this collection as being formative for him, yet I expected a horror style like the one I'd find in Ray Bradbury books for some reason. The first story in this ...more
Emily Crow
The stories are, for the most part, interesting and well-written, but after a while, the non-stop cynicism and darkness left my brain feeling a bit numb. I was glad, finally, to be be done with them. Ellison warns the reader not to attempt to read these in one sitting, stating that doing so might be "extremely upsetting," and I did anyway. This didn't really upset me, but it did leave me with the impression that, taken as a whole, there is something a bit "off" about the whole collection.

I didn't know quite what to expect from this volume, especially after reading the author's caveat at the beginning:

It is suggested that the reader not attempt to read this book at one sitting. The emotional content of these stories, taken without break, may be extremely upsetting. This note is intended most sincerely, and not as hyperbole.

Not that this is an issue for me, I never read books in one sitting. But after finishing these stories I can see what the author means and agree that it is not
Mary JL
May 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sf fans; fans of short stories, those seeking something "different"
Shelves: main-sf-fantasy
Harlan Ellison is a passionate writer with a unique style. I've have read many of his story stories, including these in this book.

Like most of Ellison's work, these stories are aiming for an emotional effect. Ellison has a great deal of anger in some stories, also he has very little optimism.

I often think of this child's poem when I read Ellison: "There once was a girl And she had a curl Right in the middle of her forehead And when she was good, she was very, very good And when she was bad she w
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2018, fantasy
This collection is apparently Ellison at the height of his powers, an extended New Wave Scifi riff on the themes of gods and sacrifice. New gods of cities, of highways, of neon lights and computers. Old gods, bloody monsters buried in the earth or the psyche appearing and exacting a heavy toll from modern people.

If there's a word to describe these stories, it's excessive. The language is trippy and overwrought. When Ellison tempers the excess with humor, as he does in "Along the Scenic Route", a
This collection of short stories started out with a bang, and ended with a whimper. They shouldn’t have front-loaded the best stories.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was difficult to rate... the last 2 stories are brilliant and a couple of others are classics as well, but so many of them just seemed pointless or had an interesting idea but just didn't seem to be able to achieve what it was attempting to do. And so many are all in the same vein, just full of anger and nastiness to the point where you feel like your mind needs a shower after reading them. It just gets so repetitive. And Ellison seems so impressed with himself for being "edgy" and dark. It ...more
Scott Rhee
Harlan Ellison is one of my consistently favorite writers of all time. I have a rotating list of favorite writers in my top 10 list at any given time, mainly because I am always trying to read new authors, so from week to week the list is always different, but Ellison has always remained firmly at the top of that list, next to Mark Twain and William Shakespeare (who, to be honest, have occasionally been superseded by the latest "phase" authors that I am into. For example, I am currently in a Lee ...more
C.V. Hunt
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Writing a review for a book filled with short stories is trying. It’s difficult to judge the book as a whole. When it comes to writing a review for a book of short stories published before I was born… it becomes maddening.

It’s hard for me to establish the mindset that would have been rampant before my birth. I think this work should have been perceived as a great gathering of insight into the human mind and soul when it was published. Each of the stories was well written, but lacked indulging i
Keith Stevenson
May 29, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The years have not been kind to the stories in this collection. Published in 1975, the book opens with a 'caveat lector' warning us not to read the stories one after the other without a break as the emotional content 'may be extremely upsetting'. No doubt some of the concepts dealt with were confronting at the time, now the writing style in the stories comes across as overwrought, preachy and full of telling, telling telling. Not to mention the overt misogeny, and the lack in variation of tone: ...more
Jeff Lawrence
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece of bleak, modern not-quite-horror.

The Deathbird is a series of short stories that I damn near required all my friends and lovers to read. They are bleak, bitter, angry ... and fascinating. Like a car wreck you can't help but rubberneck at as you drive past it, Deathbird left me a little weak in the knees and sometimes, a little sick to my stomach from the emotional wreckage of the characters-- and the window they opened into my own psyche.

Read it alone, in a well-lit room.
Wait and
Alex Kebab
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ignoring Ellison's caveat lector at the beginning on the book about "don't read this in a single sitting". I read the book in a single sitting. As such, I am not an emotionally "ok" person today, I'm slightly dead inside because this collection put me through one too many emotions, utterly confused me at times, and had me captivated by the wonderful prose to the point where my brain could not take it anymore.
If I had to rate the stories individually, several would get 5 stars, some would get 2 o
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Given this collection's reputation, I went into it with high expectations. I was deeply disappointed. With the exception of "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", with which I was already familiar from its countless reprintings, I found the stories emotionally and intellectually uninvolving. Far too often I felt that a bombastic, overwrought style of writing was being used to disguise weakness of content. ...more
I read this for 12 Grandmasters in 2012 challenge. I had heard of Ellison, of course. I know who he is, I’ve heard the rumors, the gossip, the cool talk about him. He’s rough. He’s crude. He’s a blazing asshole. He’s brilliant. This is, however, the first time I’ve actually read anything by him (of course I’ve seen things that he’s written screenplays for). He’s definitely unique, and I don’t think I’ve read anything that touches him.

This is a compilation of short stories, whose theme seems to b
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deathbird Stories famously starts with a caveat: don't read it all in one sitting, Unca Harlan warns, because it's intense, it's upsetting, and it'll fuck you up. Now as a rule, I respect Unca Harlan's opinion -- he's the angriest motherfucker to ever love words, and it positions him firmly Up My Alley. But: "PAH!" upon reading the warning -- "I've got steel for emotional skin when it comes to supposedly creepy stories. Whatever, Ellison."

Yeah no. I don't. Don't read them in a single sitting.

John Defrog
In which Harlan Ellison® explores the modern gods that humans create and worship, and the horrific consequences this inevitably leads to. The stories were written over a period of ten years, but they cover the same basic theme – if God really is dead (or was never around to begin with), who or what would humans worship in His place? What other gods might step in to fill the void? Or which gods would humans invent to replace them?

That said, Ellison’s pantheon comprises a mix of literal gods (Pain
Deathbird Stories is a short story cycle surrounding the idea of gods new and old interacting with everyday America. Yeah, it wasn't Neil Gaiman's idea. Throughout all of the stories Ellison maintains a consistent dark energy in his narrative voice that grips the reader and drives the story forward. This beautiful and agressive style manages to keep even the less successful stories enjoyable.

Like any story collection, the quality varies, but Ellison (or his publishing company) is smart enough to
Mar 31, 2015 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Far too often lately I find myself abandoning books. I never used to do that! I used to be able to name all five or so books I couldn't get through - back when I was 18.

But now that I'm older my decisions about how I spend my time seem to carry more (undesired) weight. It's now obvious that my life is no longer filled with endless summers and lazy nights, the perfect time to read through my roommate's entire collection of D&D novelizations or whatever.

So when a book like this doesn't thrill me -
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Harlan Jay Ellison was a prolific American writer of short stories, novellas, teleplays, essays, and criticism.

His literary and television work has received many awards. He wrote for the original series of both The Outer Limits and Star Trek as well as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; edited the multiple-award-winning short story anthology series Dangerous Visions; and served as creative consultant/writ

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