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The Last Dangerous Visions


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On 8/15/2021 at 9:50 AM, Lord Patrek said:

To a certain extent, I feel that this project has become somewhat irrelevant in the greater scheme of things of the speculative fiction genre. Given the span of time it took for this anthology to see the light, I don't believe that it will be a big commercial success...

This is my take as well.  What authorities or sensibilities are there left to overturn with LDV?

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On 8/18/2021 at 3:30 AM, Wilbur said:

This is my take as well.  What authorities or sensibilities are there left to overturn with LDV?

I think to be honest this is JMS trying to salvage Ellison's legacy, which was otherwise irreparably damaged over the years with his toxic behaviour and grandstanding far overshadowing his literary achievements (which, compared to a lot of his contemporaries, were slight). If you read JMS's autobiography you can see that he credits Ellison with helping further his career tremendously and being a friend to him at very tough times in his life when he had no-one else to turn to, and that ensuring that Ellison is remembered for his better qualities than his more negative ones is a laudable goal, but one that I don't think a posthumous anthology published in a vastly different landscape, where 99% of SFF readers have never even heard of Ellison, is in any danger of achieving.

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25 minutes ago, Werthead said:

(which, compared to a lot of his contemporaries, were slight)

"A lot of his contemporaries" would have to include hundreds of forgotten authors. If you then mean only "top-tier contemporaries", I also think this is untrue -- how can one of the most award-winning authors in the history of the genre have only "slight" success? He's in the same ballpark as Ursula K. LeGuin, for Pete's sake!

This view of his reputation is entirely predicated on the fact that he was not a novelist, near as I can tell. It's wrongheaded. It's ahistorical. He was widely known and read. He was in Who's Who in America alongside politicans, business leaders, world-famous artists and atheletes, etc. He appeared on prime time television to national audiences. He wrote influential TV scripts and influential TV criticism.

 

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3 minutes ago, Ran said:

"A lot of his contemporaries" would have to include hundreds of forgotten authors. If you then mean only "top-tier contemporaries", I also think this is untrue -- how can one of the most award-winning authors in the history of the genre have only "slight" success? He's in the same ballpark as Ursula K. LeGuin, for Pete's sake!

This view of his reputation is entirely predicated on the fact that he was not a novelist, near as I can tell. It's wrongheaded. It's ahistorical. He was widely known and read. He was in Who's Who in America alongside politicans, business leaders, world-famous artists and atheletes, etc. He appeared on prime time television to national audiences. He wrote influential TV scripts and influential TV criticism.

 

Harlan Ellison is absolutely not in the same ballpark as Ursula K. Le Guin when it comes to achievement and reputation, by any sensible margin.

He wrote a small number of well-regarded-in-their-day short stories, and was more influential as an editor and for writing a small number of decent screenplays, the best-known of which he disavowed because the superior end product was much more the end result of several other writers (although that didn't stop him riding its coattails nonstop for fifty years). But he is better-known, by far, as an expert self-publicist, thin-skinned litigator, dubiously-moraled procrastinator, outright liar and repeated sex pest (culminating in being an actual sexual assaulter), a reputation he somewhat relished (well, maybe not so much the sexual assault stuff).

He did succeed in winning awards at a time when awards ceremonies were closed houses of buddies voting for one another, sure, but that doesn't mean any more than it means They'd Rather Be Right or Foundation's Edge are actually good books.

He could be extremely generous and protective of his friends, and always put his money where his mouth was and stood up for what he believed was right (which wasn't always what was actually right, of course), and his campaign to "pay the writer" was very good, but he could also be a monumental dickhead, and the sheer volume of times and the manner that he was a monumental dickhead has overwhelmed his artistic legacy to the point of destruction. The fact he never really had a towering magnum opus moment which people could point to and say, "Well, he was a shitbird quite a lot of the time but at least he wrote this thing which inspired people's lives and careers," (which Asimov and Heinlein, who both also had massive dickhead moments of approaching equal status, certainly did) doesn't really help that.

From the perspective of 2021, Harlan Ellison is, at best, a footnote in the history of the genre, and not particularly well-regarded one. Kudos to JMS for trying almost single-handedly to reverse that, but I don't think it's going to be very successful.

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42 minutes ago, Werthead said:

Harlan Ellison is absolutely not in the same ballpark as Ursula K. Le Guin when it comes to achievement

Count the awards they have. Add in the Writers Guild of America awards -- multiple of them, for someone who allegedly wrote only some" descent" scripts -- and the Edwards and the Bram Stokers.

And go ahead and find someone with a modicum of sense who'll argue that any one of this Hugos for short fiction were not in the same class as any other nominee in those years -- you won't find them, because they absolutely were. "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktock Man", "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", "The Beast Who Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" are classics of the genre.

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and reputation, by any sensible margin.

Google's Ngrams viewer, which tracks the presence of phrases across their catalog of millions of scanned publications, is helpful to give some sense of just who was written about in various years -- I've included a few of the contemporaries besides Ellison and Le Guin. Ellison was someone who was in the conscience of the genre, of the literary and popular world, about as much as Le Guin for a long time. His personal faults overshadowed his career in its late stage at the same as health issues reduced his output while Le Guin was still going strong, but the idea that you can say he had only "slight" literary achievement remains absolute BS. He was one of the most notable and influential writers in the genre at his height.

Le Guin was a much nicer person. She never courted controversy. But I'd put the best of her short fiction against Ellison's best short fiction any day and say that it would be purely personal preference as to who had the better oeuvre (and if we want to talk simply versatility, Ellison was definitely a much more experimental writer.)

Neil Gaiman credits Ellison with making him the writer he is today. But what does he know? No doubt Gaiman, too, will one day only be a footnote in the history of the genre.

I think JMS doesn't have to worry about Ellison's reputation -- the things he did wrong cannot be changed retroactively, and most people who know anything about the history of the genre know the body of work he left behind and its place in the history of the genre. I think JMS is publishing it because it's a way to honor Harlan, by getting out some version of the great white whale that he had struggled with for decades.

Edited by Ran
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Le Guin has sold - at an extremely conservative and 20-year-old estimate - 3 million copies of the original Earthsea quartet and 1 million copies of The Left Hand of Darkness by itself. Her total career sales are likely approaching or in excess of 10 million today (probably way in excess, as I believe those figures were US-only). There is no question that Ellison's sales are remotely comparable, and these are weak figures by the standards of even middling-to-variable contemporaries like Niven and Pournelle (and obviously grains of dust next to Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke). You cannot argue that Ellison's influence and importance are equal to Le Guin when not nearly a similar number of people have read his works, and when Le Guin is recommended on a multiple-daily basis on multiple forums, Goodreads, Reddit etc to thousands of people, and Ellison is barely mentioned at all, and when it is it's usually to mention him being an arsehole, or usually to mention The Last Dangerous Visions in a derogatory fashion.

Ellison did have influence, which is clear - A Boy and His Dog informed the video game Fallout and obviously The City on the Edge of Forever is one of the best-known Star Trek episodes of all time (even if the finished episode owes more to Fontana and Roddenberry) - and his editorial impact in bringing major writers to public attention via anthologies and the first two Dangerous Visions is indisputable - but you are dramatically exaggerating his impact to the field overall, especially from a global perspective where Ellison had much less impact.

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  • 2 months later...
  • 6 months later...
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NEWS: A deal to publish Harlan Ellison's THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS, as well as its predecessors, DANGEROUS VISIONS and AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS has been struck with Blackstone Publishers via Emma Parry at the Janklow & Nesbit Agency, and announced at the London Book Fair, slated for '23.
Blackstone is a major, mainstream publisher, handling such authors as Cory Doctorow, Ben Bova and James Clavell, and has the capacity to get Harlan's work out into brick-and-mortar bookstores as well as online retailers in mass market editions for the first time in many years.
The books will be published in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook. They will be available for purchase individually and in a separate, unified edition. With TLDV formally finished and scheduled for publication, this completes the DANGEROUS VISION trilogy of anthologies.

 

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