Title: Sweets from Harlan Ellison

Author(s): Mitch Berman

Publication Details: Los Angeles Times Book Review. (Jan. 1, 1989): p9.

Source: Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 139. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. From Literature Resource Center.

Document Type: Critical essay

Grow up. Harlan!, we've been wanting to tell him for the last, oh, 20 or 30 years. Angry Candy might make you stop wanting to tell him, which is fortunate, because it wouldn't do any good.

"This is a book of stories that you may think of as angry candy," Harlan Ellison tells the reader, with characteristic bossiness, in his Introduction: then he asserts that "they will please and entertain."

And damned if they don't. At least 8 of these 17 selections rank among the finest science-fiction stories I have ever read. The others are always solid, usually funny, frequently moving, sometimes brilliant and never less than entertaining. Piled one upon another, they accumulate a breathtaking sweep and momentum. Very few writers of any kind of fiction possess either the ability or the audacity to put such a galaxy of imagined worlds between two covers. This is a book of science fiction that will impress readers who never touch the stuff.

Ellison's style, for the most part, is nicely turned, despite his inexplicable fondness for the word "scintillant" and occasional lapses into vagueness ("She was a good dancer. All the right rhythms at just the right times"), melodrama ("My soul ached to rush out and stare up at beauty forever") and cliché (see above). Often the writing is much better. The delightfully grisly ending of "Quicktime" is one example.

It is a prose that must be--and generally is--ready for anything that Ellison's imagination might serve up, from a woman whose sexual fantasies are entered by a peeping Tom, to a human soul forced to inhabit the flesh of half a dozen aliens, to a man who hears the guffaw of a favorite aunt, long dead, on "The Sandy Duncan Show" laugh track. In Angry Candy, Ellison confects a 17-course feast.

In nooks and corners, the author may be glimpsed striking a rich variety of pompous attitudes, inter-larding the narratives with a McInerny-esque and rather gratuitous litany of hipness-establishing buzz words (Burberry, Star Wars, Jerry Falwell, MOMA, Karen Black, the Food Emporium, Cadillac Broughams (in two stories), the New York Helmsley Hotel, et al): festooning too many of these tales with solemn frontispiece quotations and thanking one or more persons for their "assistance in the creation of this work of fiction," acknowledgments that could have been less obtrusively stored together in one place.

But unobtrusiveness is rarely Ellison's intention, and still more rarely does he achieve it. "The Region Between," the longest story in the collection, includes rather childish, overly literal illustrations: columnar and mirror-image text and text arranged both left-to-right and up-to-down on the same page; another page with only one word on it; a paragraph in which lower-case letters that describe one character are interspersed with capital letters that describe a second; plenty of italics, bold-face and little squares of black ink; the word "this" printed as 'tHiS'; and a maddening spiral of fine print that requires the reader either to rotate his copy of Angry Candy 16 times or (as Ellison would undoubtedly prefer) to place the volume on a pedestal and orbit 16 times around it. I defy the reader to do either without feeling at least a little bit foolish.

Can Ellison get away with all of this? Yes, or as he might put it, yEsYESeyessss. Angry Candy is a fine and almost grotesquely ambitious collection.

Grow up, Harlan Ellison? Naah.


Source Citation

Berman, Mitch. "Sweets from Harlan Ellison." Los Angeles Times Book Review (1 Jan. 1989): 9. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 139. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.