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INTRODUCTION: SONS OF JANUS
These are stories I have written with other writers. Collaborations, they're called. They are the products of two minds working together, sometimes in complete harmony, more often in opposition. The former, because the ideas were so right they needed no conflict to produce a coherent whole; the latter, because writers are perverse creatures who enjoy tormenting one another. And also, conscious opposition on the part of one of the collaborators, to the direction a story is taking naturally, may produce a stress that bends it unexpectedly in a totally unpredictable way. And from that can come a toad prince or a toad, depending on whether or not both writers know how to handle a fable run amuck.
The beloved Lester Del Rey--one of my early mentors in the craft of professional lying--told me once: never write a story with someone, that you can do as well by yourself. Well, I believe that. I tried writing a novel with Avram Davidson once, titled "Don't Speak of Rope." Ech. One of the most horrible experiences in a universe filled with death camps, hardhats, campus massacres and the human gamut that runs from Spiro to Manson; somewhere in a file drawer languish ten thousand words of that novel, unended, unlamented, unfortunate. So I do, I really do, agree with Lester.
Even so, life can occasionally become dull and predictable, and so, to spice it slightly, those of us with a flair for danger and high adventure take guided tours through the heart of Mt. Vesuvius, stalk the blood-sucking vampire bat through the swamps and fens of Bosnia and/or Herzegovina, join peace rallies, date beautiful models and, when all else fails, collaborateon fictions with other writers. I grant you the picture of world-weariness and jaded appetite I paint, the desperation of ennui that drives men to such hideous extremes as collaboration, is an ugly one. But I feel you must know what horrors and pitfalls lie behind this seemingly uncomplicated act. Ask Avram. Ech.
But the reward of successful collaboration is a thing that cannot be produced by either of the parties working alone. It is akin to the benefits of sex with a partner, as opposed to masturbation. The latter is fun, but you show me anyone who has gotten a baby from playing with him- or herself, and I'll show you an ugly baby, with just a whole bunch of knuckles.
And so, risking the hisses and catcalls of overly critical readers and critics who will call these joint efforts (if you'll pardon my carrying on the allusion from the preceding paragraph) merely gimmicky constructs, over the past many years I have yoked myself to fourteen other writers, and from these literary miscegenations have come the fictions before you.
My relationships with all of these men have been substantially more than what might be termed mere acquaintanceship. All of them are my friends, but not all of them like me. Nor do I like all of them. Many of them have done me favors I would be hard-pressed to repay in full or in kind. Others have messed me over hideously. From time to time I have been in serious disagreement with one or another of them. Between one of them and myself there was a shadow for many years. Between myself and another is something very much like the love of one brother for another. One saved my life, literally. I thought another had ruined it. One made me terribly proud of him, and then sold out, thereby destroying all my illusions about him. Two of them managed to alter the course and texture of my life. From one I learned much about the nature of love, from another the nature of hate. With one I dreamed odd dreams, and with another I learned people can only act as people, not as gods. One demonstrated there can be nobility even in failure, and another showed me how badly success can be handled.
Millions of words of conversation in the past nineteen years have passed between me and these fourteen men. Advice, shoptalk, problems, respect and denunciation. That is the nature of friendship.
But without these men, I would never have come to write the solo stories on which my reputation--however great or small it may be--is based. Without all the words they have given the world on their own, some larger part of the joy of having been a part of speculative fiction would never have been. Bloch and his psychos and the Ripper; Bova's clear view of the importance of space travel; Budrys and the Gus nobody bothers; Davidson and his sentient coat-hangers; Delany and frelking; Hensley and his son, Randy; Laumer and Retief; Rotsler and a stack of cartoons only slightly smaller than Everest; Sheckley and all his dimensions of wonder; Silverberg and thorns; Slesar and the greatest short-story ever written; Sturgeon and ... well, everything; Van Vogt and weapon shops and Jommy Cross and the corticalthalamic pause; Zelazny and he who shapes.
All of them are masters, each of them writes only as he can write, and no two can ever be confused in the minds of students of masterful sf. These are the extra special meanings for me of these superimportant people:
Laumer is strength, and Davidson is erudition, and Budrys is empathy, and Delany is youthful commitment, and Sheckley is outrageous madness, and Sturgeon is both dazzlement and love, and Bova is the rationality of reality, Silverberg is craft, Van Vogt is complex conceptualization. Rotsler is irreverence, Hensley is gentleness, Zelazny is poetic intricacy, Bloch is coming to grips with terror, and Slesar is courage and pride and dignity.
I have learned these things from these men. So it is not merely by chance that we came together finally to write. It is heady company and only a fool or an amateur would consider working with them without a full realization of how good one must be to share the same story with each of them.
The individual introductions to the stories will tell you how the pieces came to be written, the method of collaboration, any sidelights or anecdotes that informed them, any mishaps or contretemps encountered in their making, their history and their success or failure as works of art, in my estimation. (Understand: just because a story reaches print, or even sees repeated anthologization, does not mean that we, the authors, are totally delighted with the outcome. Some of these stories fail in some of the areas where we considered it important to succeed. Some started out as one thing, and wound up as quite another, thereby dampening our pleasure. But in rehashing the histories of these stories with the men who were one-half their origin, I have not found one who regretted the experiment. That says something; what, I'm not certain.)
It sounds like hype to point out that this is the first book of its kind ever published; in that one way it is the most original book of stories ever published, and in the same way it is a monstrous literary joke. Throughout, however, it is for me a delight. You cannot know what a joy it is, what a prideful thing it is, what a satisfying thing it is, to have my name linked with these men.
I have a few regrets. I'll name them. Norman Spinrad, Isaac Asimov, Michael Moorcock and Philip José Farmer. I wanted to write stories with all of them, and somehow, through no real fault of anyone, they just didn't get written. I'm sorry about that. They'll more than likely never get written now. And I think it a bad thing that there is no Ellison/female collaboration here. What a strange mind-fuck it would be to read a story on which I'd worked with, say, Kate Wilhelm or Ursula Le Guin or Joanna Russ. Yeah, I lament that.
And the lamentations are all that remain, because now having written the collaborative thing out of my system--it was a thing to do, you see--I doubt very much that I'll do it again. Oh, there may be one or two little stories that chance ordains will be written in company with another (there's a half-finished short story titled "Mefisto in Onyx" by myself and bright newcomer Ed Bryant in my file, waiting for a conclusion), but a project like this? No, not again.
I think I speak for my collaborators when I say that we hope this book lightens your burdens, brings an occasional smile to your lips, puts a twinkle in your eyes, a shiver down your spine, an idea or two in your heads, and when you close the book finally, you will feel that our time--and yours--was not ill-spent.
For all of them, I say, thank you for dropping in on our little session, and for myself I say, thank you for letting me coat-tail your talents; thank you gentlemen, one and all.
New York City
21 July 70
Posted October 31, 2013
The quality can be a bit spotty, and this is not Ellison's very best work. But most of the stories are at least worth a read, and several are excellent. I recommend "Rodney Parrish for Hire," which chillingly stuck with me in spite of the fact that I haven't read the book for decades. There's also Ellison's wonderful collaboration with Robert Bloch on Jack the Ripper in the Future.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.