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Here sighs, plaints, and deep wailings resounded through the starless air: it made me weep at first.
Strange tongues, horrible outcries, words of pain, tones of anger, voices deep and hoarse, and sounds of hands amongst them,
made a tumult, which turns itself unceasing in that air for ever dyed, as sand when it eddies in a whirlwind.
Inferno (Canto III, 22--31)
Harlan Ellison wrote the stories in this book, and they come from all over that strange thing we call a writing career. When a man is a writer and writing means as much to him as it does to some of us, his career and his life are pretty much inseparable things. He is what he is because of everything he's been up until the Now that equals the current Is, and the writing is an integral part of the Now of its composition and the Is of that time's being for him. I don't know how else to put it without breeding a Sudden Metaphysic.
Now, many of these stories come from Nows long gone by and from many an Is which has since become a Was.
In other words, they're from all over that thing we call a writing career, and because of this they differ from one another--which is a good thing indeed for those of us who would, in a way, observe a pilgrim in his progress. They differ, because of a thing called growth.
About growth: It means getting bigger, one way or another. Now forget essential biology and switch to the psyche: The voice you will hear in such things as Battle Without Banners is the voice of a bigger man than Time of the Eye. Why? That man knowsmore because he's lived more, is more. What's why. And growth operates on many levels: One, of course, is that of technical competence. Another, and I think more important one, is insight/outsight/hindsight/foresight. This capacity increases as one gets bigger. What would Thomas Mann or Hokusai be like if they'd lived to be a hundred and fifty and remained in full possession of this capacity? I wish I knew. I love them both. After reading Harlan's Introduction to this volume, I hope that he makes it at least that far, for he made a promise in there, knowing it or no, and he's a man who keeps his promises.
Harlan is around my age, and he was born in Painesville, Ohio, like twenty-five miles east of Euclid, Ohio, which is where I'm from, and we grew up that close to one another without ever running into each other and saying, "Hi! You want to write, too! Huh?" I wish I had known him in those early and, I suppose the word is "formative," days. I wish I had known him then, because I like him now.
Harlan, I am happy to say, is a man free of influences. He is his own man, come hell or high water, and that's one of the things I love about him. He will freely acknowledge a debt to such an humane and exceedingly capable writer as Lester del Rey--but this will be in the way of a journeyman's compliment to the man who taught him how to use certain tools, because he and Lester del Rey really have very little in common in the way of style and thematic materials. Harlan is eclectic when it comes to subject matter, autodidactic when it comes to what he knows, offensively personal (in a military, not pejorative, sense) when it comes to telling you about it and, to use a Henry James term because it applies here, he is possessed of his own "angle of vision." Whatever he sees, he sees. It is never anybody else's borrowed view of the subject that informs his materials. He is his own camera. Period.
And in all these respects, he has grown, is growing, will--I feel--continue to grow, because he's got something inside him that won't let him rest until he says what he must, at any given moment, say.
Okay, so much for uniqueness. I call him unique and I mean to honor him by it.
End of Preamble
BEGINNING OF AMBLE
What does it take to be a writer and why? The quotation from Dante which I stuck at the head of this piece contains the answer. There are these sounds, this tumult, turning in that air for ever dyed, eddying in a neat simile and beginning with that all important word "Here." Everybody hears the sounds, some people listen and a writer, for some damfool reason, wants to put them down on paper and talk about them--here, right now. So that's the answer to the question: "Some damfool reason." It's why Dante wrote, too. My damfool thing, the thing inside me that makes me say what I have to say, is a thing that I don't understand at all, and sometimes I curse it because it keeps me awake at night. So I can't tell you what Harlan's is, but go look at those nine lines of Dante's once more.
They're filled with spirits making the kinds of sounds you will hear in this book. That's why I put them there. Harlan writes about sighs, plaints, deep wailings, strange tongues, horrible outcries, words of pain, tones of anger, voices deep and hoarse and the sounds of hands moving to do many things. It's been around four years since I last read the Inferno, but when I sat down to write this piece, those lines suddenly came into my head. Because of the fact that I trust my personal demon when it comes to matters such as this, they're valid.