Recently, author Harlan Ellison announced he was fixin' to die. Or words to that effect. He feels that his body is shutting down. He has gone to his last convention, and has left instructions with his wife to destroy any unfinished work once he goes. The once enfant terrible of the science fiction world is cashing in his chips. I have never met Ellison, but I know from numerous testimonies that he is an honest, ethical, and fearless man -- one whose talent is equalled only by his fierce humanity. (But don't get on his bad side; he can be tenacious and has a long memory.) I sincerely hope his personal prediction is wrong and that he will grace us with his presence and his words for a long time to come.
Anyway, this brought to mind several Ellison projects that died a-borning -- most notably Don't Speak of Rope, a collaboration with Avram Davidson that didn't make it. Instead of a Friday's Forgotten Book, let's consider a Friday's Forgotten Non-Book.
A few words about Avram Davidson. He was one of the best writers (in any genre) of the 20th century. Where Ellison would shock us and play with our emotions, Davidson would woo us with his words and jopyfully screw with our intellect. Davidson loved words and the power they could have; he would zig from one idea to another to another across the pages and leave the reader breathless. His few years as editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction were like no others; his eclectic hand was obvious in every issue. Davidson, like Ellison, was a highly moral person; A. J. Budrys once wrote that, when he and Davidson were writting for the "true story" men's magazine, Davidson would actually research and write true stories. Davidson also never admitted that he wrote an "Ellery Queen" novel because that would have breached his contract.
The time, I imagine was the Sixties. (I'm going on memory here about what Ellison wrote about this some years ago.) Ellison and Davidson were having late night coffee in a New York City (?) diner. And there was some sort of a disturbance. Some people, perhaps members of a gang were getting rowdy and there was a chance that things could go badly for our duo. Ellison noted that Davidson had taken a piece of rope (maybe it was a scarf -- I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast, let alone something that I had read years ago) out of his pocket and was quietly, calmly knotting it in the middle. Nothing happened. Davidson and Ellison finished their coffee and left. But the rope? What was Davidson doing? Davidson explained that it was the only defensive weapon available, with it he could disable and probably kill a person in seconds. Just something he had learned while serving in the Isreali Army. (This was the same method Thugees used in Colonial India.) They talked some more and thought that this could have the makings of an interesting novel. Ellison wrote a bit of the novel; Davidson wrote a bit. Ellison (or his publisher, or agent) announced it as a forthcoming book. Soon after, both writers realized that they could go no further: the book just did not gel.
Never written. Never published.
Let us weep for this book that never was. Ellison and Davidson, both at the height of their powers -- what a combination! In my fantasies over the years, I wished that a third writer, equally distinct, equally, talented, someone on the level of, say, Fritz Leiber, might pick up the fragmented pieces of this novel and mold it to completion. Alas, my fantasy is as dead as that book.
Ellison, of course, has other non-books (almost every writer has). An early collection of his stories never made it to print (what was it's name? I swear it was on the tip of my tongue when I began to write this piece -- ah, The Crackpots, that's it!); all the stories slated for that collection eventually found their ways to other Ellison collections. And there's the infamous Last Dangerous Visions, an anthology that has remained unpublished for more than a quarter of a century.
Davidson, too, had a number of non-books. Many of those he published were envisioned as the first of a series. The vagaries if the publishing world pushed planned sequels into non-existance.
What non-books have been gnawing at your brain? What ones do you wish existed?
For some true Friday's Forgotten Books, go to Patti Abbot's wonderful blog pattinase.blogspot.com, where you will find some great reading suggestions. I'll get back on the proper track next Friday.
Great idea and piece, Jerry.ReplyDelete
I remember reading that same story fron an Ellison introduction and my memory is every bit as hazy as yours as to the details.ReplyDelete
Every writer has those bits and pieces of things that didn't gel. Ellison's BLOOD'S A ROVER is one I'll miss, but I understand his desire not to have someone else finish it. While I've read and enjoyed such things before, it can never, however well intentioned, completely be the original writer's vision.
Yes, Mr. Ellison should live more long and fruitful years. His like might not ever be seen again.
PARTNERS IN WONDER has the material about DON'T SPEAK OF ROPE, as well as Ellison's and Davidson's accoutns of the averted gang-bang, and their collaborative short story "Up Christopher to Madness"...it won't suprise you, I suspect, that PARTNERS was one of my FFBs.ReplyDelete
(More along the lines of a street gang were hassling a group including Davidson, Ellison and a number of friends and acquaintances, and the two writers, Davidson in calling the police and absent-mindedly fashioning a thuggee strangle knot from a piece of rope he picked up on the way to the phone, and Ellison in attempting to stall all-out beatings by getting in the face of one of the gang-members, were able to keep things from going Too Wrong...but both they and their companions were saved mostly by an ex-gang-member/leader happening by and getting the gang to knock it off while the Davidson/Ellison group got the hell out of there...with the police coming past them as they retreated.)ReplyDelete
THE ROOTS OF YGGDRASIL by Fritz Leiber might've been a fine contribution to the literature.ReplyDelete
Great story. Maybe those fragments will some day come to light, and someone will write the rest of the book.ReplyDelete