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It was 45 years ago today...,
This review is from: Dangerous Visions (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
"Dangerous Visions" is the Sgt Pepper of science fiction - the most famous symbol of the achievement and ambition of its artform in the 1960s (to the extent it even came out around the same time). And like Sgt Pepper, it's not necessarily the best work in that particular artform in the 1960s, but no-one's arguing about landmark status.
Ellison's intention was to create the first wholly original SF anthology, and one which, by dropping the censorship restrictions of the magazine market, would show the maturity and daring in both form and content which the genre had achieved by the mid-sixties. This was partly done because it was a good idea, and partly as a thumbed nose to the serious literary world, which then as now had a rather disdainful view of genre fiction. The full story is told in Ellison's introduction, which also explains why it all ended up being way, way bigger than anyone had originally expected.
That's partly because it's not just full of stories. Ellison's copious editorial material, the afterwords to each story by the authors, not one but two why-the-hell-not prefaces from Isaac Asimov (and Ellison's response), and the excellent illustrations all add to the book's length. They also create its rollicking, carnivalesque feel and uniquely sixties sense of optimism. For a book that prides itself on "danger", it's a remarkably upbeat read.
The stories themselves vary widely in style, content and quality: there are no stinkers, a few classics, several award-winners and a few that don't stay in your memory. Some, inevitably, have dated a bit, but not as many or as much as you might think. Many very big names from the era are present, including Anderson, Farmer, Aldiss, Leiber, Ballard, Pohl, Sturgeon, Dick, Spinrad, Niven, Laumer, Delany, Zelazny, Silverberg and Ellison himself. I don't normally single out "best" stories when discussing anthologies, as individual tastes in these things vary so much, but the understated wisdom of Pohl's "The Day After The Day The Martians Came" has stayed with me for decades, Delany's "Aye, and Gomorrah..." says all you'll ever need to know about the cult of the celebrity, and Sturgeon's "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" has the best title. David Bunch's "Moderan" stories are the most audacious literary efforts, darkly ironic fabulations with a heart of pure steel.
There was some controversy at the time as to whether the book was really as "dangerous" as the large amounts of accompanying hype, much of it fomented by the editor, suggested. Although it's widely cited as a "New Wave" book, some of the stories and contributors certainly fall way outside that admittedly vague (sic) umbrella. It was often suggested that the contemporary work in the UK's "New Worlds" magazine, edited by Michael Moorcock, was far bolder in terms of both content and literary inventiveness. That's almost certainly true, though ironically the argument would have been less strong if the story Ballard's agent submitted, "The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As A Downhill Motor Race", had ever reached Ellison. It didn't, and the "replacement", "The Recognition", is one of Ballard's weakest stories, prompting some in the Moorcock camp to criticise Ellison's timidity. Ellison's side of the story is told in the 1972 follow-up, "Again, Dangerous Visions".
"Again, Dangerous Visions" is a better (and even longer) book, and one which comes much closer to fulfilling the promises made by the original volume. But it's less of an event than the first book, which, nearly 50 years on, still conveys exuberance, fun and energy. Is "Sgt Pepper" really a great album? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a great experience, with amazing moments. And "Dangerous Visions", the "Sgt. Pepper" of SF, is one of SF's greatest experiences, and if at least some of its amazing moments don't dazzle you, nothing will.
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Initial post: 1 Jun 2013 15:27:31 BDT
M Poole says:
Excellent! Thank you for the background info. Ellison has always been one of my favourite authors and I feel you did him great justice in your review. He certainly wasn't perfect but he was interesting, which goes a long way.
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