Harlan Ellison writes
for a new audience
January 6, 2002
Reviewed by Franklin Harris
TROUBLEMAKERS. By Harlan Ellison. New York: ibooks, $12.95, 293 pages, softcover.
Harlan Ellison is easily one of the two or three best short-story writers now living. That, of course, means that most people have never heard of him, because hardly anyone reads short stories anymore.
And that is why most people who have heard of Ellison know him from that "Star Trek" episode he wrote back in the '60s.
"Troublemakers" collects 16 of Ellison's previously published short stories, including one newly revised one, all selected by the author. It is his way of introducing himself to a new generation of readers, assuming they can get past his abrasive personality, which asserts itself in the brief introductions accompanying each tale.
As a man, Ellison is someone you either love or hate. As a writer, it's difficult to find anyone who will say anything bad about him. Certainly, there is nothing bad one can say about "Troublemakers." (OK. So, it is missing "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," but no collection is perfect.)
Here you will find some of Ellison's strongest and most memorable work: "Jeffty is Five," Sensible City" and (my favorite) " 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman."
Most occupy that gray area called "speculative fiction" -- not quite science fiction and not pure fantasy, either. The story behind another entry, "Soldier," is perhaps even more interesting than the story itself.
Ellison adapted the story for an episode of the original "Outer Limits" television series. Many years later, a certain big-shot movie director took huge chunks of it and turned it into a movie, "The Terminator."
Yes, the director was James "Titanic" Cameron. Ellison sued Cameron, and now every "Terminator" videotape and DVD credits Ellison for the story idea.
The lesson: Even the "King of the World" can get taken down a peg if he doesn't behave. Those are the sorts of lessons Ellison imparts throughout "Troublemakers," both in his stories and his introductions.
He addresses his lessons to young people, and certainly they could benefit from reading this book. But the audience could be anybody, and there's no reason it shouldn't be.
This review appeared originally in The Decatur (Ala.) Daily on Jan. 6, 2001.