Reviews for Again, Dangerous Visions, by James B. Hemesath, Joanna Russ, Harlan Ellison, Ken McCullough, Ray Faraday Nelson, Gahan Wilson, Kate Wilhelm, Robin Scott, T.L. Sherred, Ursula K. Le Guin, A. Parra, David Gerrold, M. John Harrison, Burt K. Filer, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Andrew Weiner, Chad Oliver, Lee Hoffman, Piers Anthony, Judith Ann Lawrence, James Blish, Gregory Benford, Leonard Tushnet, Gene Wolfe, Andrew J. Offutt, Edward Bryant, Ben Bova, Richard A. Lupoff, Joan Bernott, H.H. Hollis, Barry N. Malzberg, Terry Carr, Evelyn Lief, David Kerr, John Heidenry, Josephine Saxton, Bernard Wolfe, Richard Hill, Dean Koontz, James Sallis, Ross Rocklynne, Ray Bradbury, Thomas M. Disch, James Tiptree Jr.
- Strong character development? It's complicated
- Loveable characters? It's complicated
- Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
- Flaws of characters centre-stage? It's complicated
There's a lot less to like here than in its predecessor.
Some real gems! That said, I skipped the stinkers. Excited to read "Dangerous Visions" even though the cover art really sucks in comparison!
I had already started a reread of Dangerous Visions before hearing of the recent death of its editor, [a:Harlan Ellison|7415|Harlan Ellison|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1377708311p2/7415.jpg], partly because it had passed a half century since its release and I wanted to see how well it had stood the test of time. The other reason was that I had started writing short stories again and thought reading some classics would be a useful background in structure and form, especially the experimental ones from the New Wave time period.
Dangerous Visions was quite celebrated at the time, awarded with a special Hugo for the whole anthology as well as some significant wins for stories therein. Probably the most unusual story was [a:Philip Jose Farmer|10089|Philip José Farmer|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1234714074p2/10089.jpg]'s Hugo and Nebula winning novella, "The Riders of the Purple Wage," positing a future where everyone was on social security in an early example of the horrors that might accompany a universal basic income. Farmer's story still works, mainly because his characters are interesting and vivid, even though the society described is strange and dystopic. [a:Robert Bloch|12540|Robert Bloch|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1208225228p2/12540.jpg]'s story, "A Toy for Juliette," is more dated today, but when it was new, readers hadn't spent years reading [a:Stephen King|3389|Stephen King|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1362814142p2/3389.jpg] and his imitators. Basically a twist story, its power is in its economy. Ellison's own "A Prowler in the City at the End of the World," a sequel to Bloch's story, however, takes that twist and makes so much more of the concept, creating a judgment on society and culture—what Ellison had wanted to basically achieve with the anthology in the first place.
I love [a:Theodore Sturgeon|12531|Theodore Sturgeon|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1211292667p2/12531.jpg]'s stories, but on rereading, "If All Men are Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?” I was disappointed. It's one of the longer stories in the anthology and, unlike Farmer's, feels extremely padded. Its meant to be a shocker, and part of the problem today may be that once you know what the shock is, you get tired of the constant tease and build-up to it on the re-read. Or, maybe in five decades, the taboo, while still in force, isn’t quite as disturbing as it was then. [a:Philip K. Dick|4764|Philip K. Dick|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1264613853p2/4764.jpg]'s “Faith of Our Father’s” fares somewhat better, although it too seems overlong for its subject, an examination of au autocratic future in which humans may, or may not, be subjugated by aliens. Some of the stories try too hard, like [a:John Sladek|114371|John Sladek|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1315095871p2/114371.jpg]'s "The Happy Breed," or [a:Damon Knight|48888|Damon Knight|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1322100972p2/48888.jpg]'s “Shall the Dust Praise Thee….” Within the first pages of these stories, you can predict the endings, telegraphed To Make a POINT. If anything, this was the real flaw with Ellison's vision, that need to make a point. Some stories could send a message and still be a strong story, like Farmer's or Ellison's. But the stories that were just message, like these or [a:Sonja Dorman|809418|Sonya Dorman|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/user/f_50x66-6a03a5c12233c941481992b82eea8d23.png]’s, [a:Robert Silverberg|4338|Robert Silverberg|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1366300348p2/4338.jpg]’s, [a:Lester Del Rey|19739|Lester del Rey|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1217499177p2/19739.jpg]’s, or [a:David Bunde]'s, really fall flat now.
Some of the stories weren't really that dangerous, though—not in 1967 nor today. They were, however, excellent SF/F stories. [a:Larry Niven|12534|Larry Niven|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1182720933p2/12534.jpg]'s “The Jigsaw Man" is [a:Robert A. Heinlein|205|Robert A. Heinlein|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1192826560p2/205.jpg]-esque in its speculation on the future of organ replacement, a real “If This Goes On...." kind of tale. [a:Fritz Leiber|23001|Fritz Leiber|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1423163995p2/23001.jpg]’s Hugo and Nebula winning novelette "Gonna Roll the Bores" is one of the best meeting with the devil stories ever written. "Lord Randy, My Son," like Robert Bloch's story, was almost made for the Twilight Zone, but, unlike Bloch’s, contained a much stronger kick at its end that is still powerful today. "The Doll-House" is another great example of a story that wasn't really dangerous, but simply a a great example of a good Twilight Zone story, in this case about a man with access to a Delphic oracle and the comeuppance of his greed. [a:Frederik Pohl|22996|Frederik Pohl|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1226540337p2/22996.jpg]'s "The Day After The Martians Came” has a nice kicker that seems to be even stronger now, five decades after the civil rights movement. Humans seem to have a need to treat others as lower them themselves, and Pohl makes his point with a touch more subtly than Knight or Sladek.
A few stories are dated by their style, like "Encounter with a Hick," which uses hipster slang to recount an incident in the far future when an Earthman comes up against a test of faith. Strangely, Farmer’s story had some similar stylistic quirks, but not as strongly, and the story didn't rely on the language itself to be strange. Like Sturgeon's, [a:Poul Anderson|32278|Poul Anderson|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1218818842p2/32278.jpg]'s "Eutopia" deals with another sexual taboo of the time. Unlike Sturgeon's, however, this is one that's hardly taboo anymore, at least for a majority of the U.S. population, so really seems dated now.
And then some stories are just...ok. Well written, not overly strong on the sledgehammer with a message, yet not so dangerous, either. For instance, [a:Samuel R. Delany|49111|Samuel R. Delany|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1516722468p2/49111.jpg]’s "Aye, and Gomorrah," which centers around a fresh sexual fetish to do with space-farers, or [a:J. G. Ballard|7010931|J.G. Ballard|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1497551843p2/7010931.jpg]'s "The Recognition, "about people's fascination with cages, and how quickly they will create one around themselves. Similarly, [a:Carol Emshwiller|54462|Carol Emshwiller|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1334335881p2/54462.jpg]’s “Sex and/or Mr. Morrison," is a well-done character study of how little we know about others, and ourselves.
So, storywise, Dangerous Visions is a very mixed bag. Very likely, stories that work for me today may be stories that you hate are bored by, and vice versa. In some ways, nothing then has changed for the anthology. Reading some of the reviews of it published following its release, critics were divided over just how dangerous it all was.
What Ellison did achieve, though, was to reenergize and challenge the field, at least for a number of years, up to the release of Star Wars and the emergence of the SF Blockbuster Bestseller. His championing of new voices along with encouraging the old guard to adopt new stances could clearly be felt in the SF releases of the early 70s. In particular, I think [a:Frederik Pohl|22996|Frederik Pohl|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1226540337p2/22996.jpg]’s [b:Gateway|218427|Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1)|Frederik Pohl|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1441698400s/218427.jpg|1668837] wouldn't have been written or been the same without the influence of Dangerous Visions.
The other thing that Dangerous Visions did was further dissolve the artificial lines between mainstream and science fiction as labels. Incorporating a wide selection of writers, including those who had previously been known for their television work along with new writers and old guard, Ellison illustrated that writers will be writers, damn the genre.
For me personally, both when I initially read this anthology in the late 70s and today, was the impact of Ellison's chatty introductions and incorporating afterwords from the authors, some of whom, like Silverberg, were brief, preferring to let the story speak for itself, while others took the opportunity to talk about the writing process or state their own manifestos. The sum of this created an extended dialogue with the reader, making the reader a more active participant in the creation of the event of the anthology. The diversity of responses to how writers described themselves for the brief bio sketches and what they had to say about their stories is basically a study for how many people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints can interact to then create something greater than themselves.
And to give Ellison, a flawed individual like all of us, his due, he was a masterful cheerleader as much as he was a serious gadfly. Reading his introductions, there is no doubt about his admiration for his fellow writers and how pleased he was to shepherd this project into being. Writing is not a zero sum game, and Ellison was happy to see other writers be successful—especially if he had a part in bringing them to the attention of new readers.
This is regarded as being one of the most important SF anthologies of all time. It was written in 1967 and Ellison's vision was a collection of stories that were dangerous, that could never have been published in the other outlets of the era, and that would expand the boundaries of the genre. He succeeded incredibly with a huge collection (33 stories) and an author list that reads like a who's who of 1960s SF authors, including Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, Roger Zelazny, Samuel R. Delany and many, many more.
Over the years some of the stories have lost their edge, what made them dangerous to start with (although Sturgeon's If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One of The Marry Your Sister or Delany's Aye, and Gomorrah... still bite today) but it's still an excellent collection with many outstanding stories. I'm glad that I've read it, not just for itself but as a piece of SF history.
A real mixed bag. Some stories are genuinely fascinating, some are simply disturbing for the sake of it.
Ah yes. These must have been what they set out to be. They're a legend, so never mind, except, I think I found James Tiptree Jr here, who was my number one sf writer for ages (along with Delany, also championed by Harlan Ellison in these books: he tells you the stories he has from those two are Great stories and he isn't wrong, so there).
I seem to have been much more enthusiastic about the stories in 'Again, Dangerous' - I think the books got better, bolder (aside from Delany, in the earlier).