Harlan Ellison and Pain

I am a latecomer to Harlan Ellison, and I am a fool for it.

I kept hearing how wonderful his stories and collections were, but I never read anything. My Kindle changed that. I bought a copy of Deathbird stories

Somewhere, in some collection or introduction Neil Gaiman says that Harlan Ellison burned images into his mind (I paraphrase) and he was never able to see things the same way. Or something. Anyway, Harlan Ellison is a writer that everyone should read something by, and there is plenty to choose from. I have been on the very edge of ordering Ellison 101 which includes among short stories, “Seven informative, yet entertaining essays on the craft of writing (four which have never appeared in an Ellison collection).”

What can Ellison teach us about writing?

Mostly to be fearless, I think. Write whatever the heck you want (as Ellison might say) and don’t listen to the naysayers. Here is an example of Ellison writing about pain:

He did not see the pungi stakes set at cruel angles, frosted with poison, tilted for top-point efficiency.
Two set close together penetrated the barricade of his boot; the first piercing the arch and his weight driving it up and out to emerge just below the anklebone, still inside the boot; the other ripping through the sole and splintering against the fibula above the heel, without breaking the skin.
Every circuit shorted out, every light bulb blew, every vacuum imploded, snakes shed their skins, wagon wheels creaked, plate-glass windows shattered, dentist drills ratcheted across nerve ends, vomit burned tracks up through throats, hymens were torn, fingernails bent double dragged down blackboards, water came to a boil; lava. Nova pain. Lestig’s heart stopped, lubbed, began again, stuttered; his brain went dead refusing to accept the load; all senses came to full stop; he staggered sidewise with his untouched left foot, pulling one of the pungi stakes out of the ground, and was unconscious even during the single movement; and fainted, simply directly fainted with the pain.

I am in awe of that passage, from the story Basilisk in his short-story collection Deathbird Stories, which you should all buy right away.

Now… excuse me, I have some writing to do.


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