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While Harlan Ellison might not be a household name, he has developed a reputation among science-fiction fans as one of the greatest sci-fi writers to ever live, and perhaps one of the greatest short-story writers as well. Ellison brought different approach to science-fiction when he broke on the scene. His stories often dared the reader to question the status quo, ponder about their role within the universe, and contemplate the consequences our technological innovations might have on the future. Several years ago I was introduced to Ellison by my friend Brian, who occasionally posts on this blog as Psyche Zenobia. He let me borrow a paperback collection of Ellison short-stories entitled "Paingod and Other Delusions". Although it contained one of Ellison's most celebrated works, "Repent, Harlequin! said the Ticktockman", Paingod stood out to me as being one of the most original and though provoking science-fiction short stories I had ever read. My girlfriend bought me a massive collection several years later, "The Essential Ellison: A 35 Year Retrospective (Revised and Expanded Edition)", which contains a great deal of his work. I now rank Ellison, alongside Lovecraft and Poe, as one of my favorite writers of science-fiction/horror short stories.
In the mid-'70s Harlan Ellison started bringing his stories to life on audiobooks. At that point in time audiobooks hadn't managed to gain much popularity, but Ellison's decision to read his own written material helped to expose a large number of people to the concept, especially those interested in science-fiction. He also raised the bar for the quality of audio book standards by injecting a bit of personality, setting them apart from many other very dry and sleep-educing recordings. His vinyl audio book recordings from the '70s remain harder to find than most of his out-of-print books and often fetch a hefty price. In the years to follow a number of these recordings were reissued on cassette collections, which also remain extremely difficult to find. "Harlan! Harlan Ellison Reads Harlan Ellison" was originally released in 1976 by the Alternative World Recordings label. It was rereleased on Ellison's own label The Harlan Ellison Recording Collection (HE101) in 1981. Unfortunately it is now currently out of print. This album features Ellison reading both "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" and "Shatterday".
"Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" is one of the most reprinted short stories in the English language, it's popularity transcending the science-fiction genre. Ellison wrote it during a single six-hour session, then submitted it to a Milford Writer's Workshop the following day. It first appeared in the sci-fi magazine Galaxy in 1965. It would go on to win the Nebula Award in 1965, then the Hugo Award for best short story in 1966. Stylistically, the story is remarkable for purposely ignoring many "rules of good writing", including a paragraph about jelly beans which is almost entirely one run-on sentence. The story is a satirical look at a dystopian future where time is strictly regulated. In this future, being late is not merely an inconvenience, but a crime. The crime carries a hefty penalty in that a proportionate amount of time is "revoked" from one's life. The ultimate consequence is to run out of time and be "turned off". The story focuses on a man who, as the anarchical Harlequin, engages in whimsical rebellion against the schedule kept by the Master Timekeeper, or "Ticktockman".
The second track on the disc is Shatterday, written in 1975, and later reprinted in a collection by the same name in the early '80s. The story alludes to Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” in its portrait of a man undergoing a physical transformation which he cannot control or comprehend. The character discovers he has literally split into two distinct people. The dark doppleganger attempts to overtake the life of what he considers to be his inferior twin. Although It didn't receive a fraction of the attention that "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" did, it was nominated for a Hugo Award, and still stands as a well written story in it's own right. When the new Twilight Zone television series premiered in 1985, "Shatterday" was the first episode that aired. A young Bruce Willis starred as the story's protagonist, Peter Jay Novins.
I have a few other audiobooks by Harlan Ellison which I will be sharing over the next couple of days. I hope you all enjoy these two outstanding stories by one of the most creative writers in the science-fiction genre. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of these.
Year of Release: 1976 Label: Alternative World Recordings Genre: Science-Fiction, Audiobook Bitrate: 128kbps
Tracklist: 1. Harlan Ellison - Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman (1965) 2. Harlan Ellison - Shatterday (1975)