The All-Singing, All Dancing, Extremely Entertaining Audio Ellison#4:
FIRST, IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THIS _IS NOT_ a collection of Ellison Stories known as DEATHBIRD STORIES. THE INCOMEPETENT FOLKS AT AMAZON (in the USA), AFTER BEING ADVISED THAT THIS AUDIO COLLECTION, ONE OF FIVE AUDIO COLLECTIONS BY ELLISON -- PUBLISHED BY AUDIBLE.COM, A COMPANY THAT _WORKS WITH_ AMAZON -- IS _A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT COLLECTION OF TALES_ (thus the DIFFERENT TITLES, doh) FROM A BOOK ENTITLED _DEATHBIRD STORIES_, PROCEEDED TO WRITE SOME INANE REPLY REVEALING _THEY_ STILL THINK THIS IS THE SAME BOOK AS THE AFOREMENTIONED (even though my friend took the time to explain, in detail, that the contents were different). AND THEY, THE FOLKS AT AMAZON, DID NOT FIX THEIR MISTAKE (removing the reveiws of the _book_, DEATHBIRD STORIES, from this online posting of the _audiobook, THE DEATHBIRD & OTHER STORIES). STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES. UNFORTUNATELY, THAT MISTAKE SEEMS TO HAVE CARRIED ON INTO THE Amazon.co.uk system. ONWARD AND UPWARD. NOW, THE REVIEW OF _THE DEATHBIRD & OTHER STORIES, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH _THE DEATHBIRD_ (now published by Subterranean Press):
Having recently purchased -- and seriously enjoyed the hell out of -- Vol. 4 & vol. 5 of Ellison's "The Voice From the Edge" series of Audio book/story & essay collections, I was moved to listen to the first three volumes (purchased as each one came out, earlier this century) and then review all five of the "Voice From the Edge" Audiobooks by Harlan Ellison. Ellison starts from strenght, again, in this collection with a reading of "Ellison Wonderland," a short-short taken from MINDFIELDS, his sadly underrated (and underreviewed) collaboration with the imaginative illustrator and paitnter, Jacek Yerka. Inspired by both Yerka's paintings (as were all the stories in MINDFIELDS) and a maddening "layover/delay" in an American aiport, the story is a great piece of Borgesian paranoia regarding unwelcome changes in the events of our daily lives (it's always _them_, ain't it?).
Like Volume 5 in this series, volume 4 contains reading by some guests whose skills are on par with Ellison's when it comes to narration. Not sure _which_ of the listed guest narrators reads "The Deathbird" (Arte Johnson perhaps?), but he sounds just a _lot_ like Max Von Sydow. And the voice works perfectly for the dark and cynical anti-King James version of mythical events, starting with creation and onward. Like many of Ellison's signature stories, "The Deathbird" is a tale which makes use of straight-forward narration as well as narrative, metafictional "tricks" (a pseudo "test", dropped into the middle of the narrative, as well as an emotional essay about the death of a pet dog). My only complaint would be that his voice _doesn't_ get soft (or wistful) enough when reading "Ahbhu", the essay about the death of a writer's (Ellison's) dog. Read in the right way, it's a punch in the gut that is guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat. "The Creation of Water" is yet another short-short from MINDFIELDS, and yet another short, sharp, poke to the intellect. A novella previously released on audio, "Run For the Stars" is on of about half-a-dozen stories set in an SF story Ellison first came up with when writing "Demon With a Glass Hand" (a teleplay for "The Outer Limits that won him his first WGA award). Aliens known as teh Kyben have invaded earth-settled planets out in space. Earthman Benno Tallent, a career criminal, is captured by his own soldiers, and forced to become a human bomb (a bit of relevance in today's world, even though this is a story from the 1950's), so that the survivors of a Kyben invasion can escape while Benno "holds" a sort of gun to the head of the alien forces. This sets up a chase across the planet story that is pure, space-opera/action-thriller, and Ellison has all sorts of fun with it while narrating the tale. "Croatoan" (narrated by a guest) is Ellison's famous story about the moral ambiguities of abortion -- and, of course (as he so often does), Ellison turns it into a tale of _personal responsiblity_. Without giving too much of the spooky gruesomeness away, suffice it to say that the protagonist is chided -- by a highly emotional girlfriend -- into going down into the sewers of New York City to try and find a just-flushed fetus. What he finds down there is another world, full of thoroughly creepy old men, reptiles, connections to a Roanoake settlement of long-ago, and...something else. Still as "trippy" as it was when he wrote it in the '60s, "The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" is also just as unsettling as it was long ago, as well (it begins with a milkman delivering death --inspiration, perhaps, for a Stephen King tale?). And Ellison's delivery is pitch-perfect. The follow-up, "On the Slab", a Lovecraft-inspired tale is one of those stories that seems like a Universal Monster flick, but catches up with you an hour or so later. Good stuff, and another spot-on bit of Ellison narration. Even though I would've _loved_ to hear Ellison read his "Best American Short Story" (of 1993)-honored piece of fiction, the narrator who _does_ read it (Johnson again, perhaps?) does a bang-up job, balancing the pathos with the bouts of whimsy, making for a funny, moving, enlightening, and eye-opening story which rests at the core of this collection. "The Dreams A Nightmare Dreams" is another of those "entertainments" mentioned in reviews past, but this one is almost the verbal equivalent of an illustration (much like the MINDFIELD tales). It was written for and inspired by a H.R. Gieger drawing, and it also works as a tale that might be about the out-of-control contents of a story-teller's mind -- a storyteller who helped keep the nightmares of the world at bay. The second of Ellison's Edgar-winning stories to be recorded for Audio books, "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" is famous for having been inspired by the death of Kitty Genovese (a name everyone interested should google some time). Ellison's reading is a chilling as the message of his now classic tale of a city (and a world?) lacking in empathy. Drenched in dark humor, "Killing Bernstein" is a crime-fiction-cum-science fiction tale that would've been perfect material for "the Twilight Zone". Ellison's reading is does it ample justice. "Count the Clock That Tells the Time" is a fable about, well...making the most of the minutes, hours, days, months and years we all have within us, and how two particular people -- who _don't_ make the most of their days -- deal with the consequences (it is read by a guest narrator). And, finally, Harlan Ellison's most _recent_ piece of fiction (published in 2010, and the winner of a Nebula Award in the short story category), "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" is a tale that conjures thoughts about ever-growing mass of increasingly intolerant people living in the USA, as well as thoughts about the creator and his creation (a bit of homage to Mary Shelly, perhaps? Or the author and his pseudonym or public image, maybe?). Ellison's reading, like the story, is sublime.
REMEMBER FOLKS: THIS IS AN AUDIO COLLECTION! (FOR A REVIEW OF the hardback book collection DEATHBIRD STORIES, type in _that_ title).