Monday, December 30, 2013

Harlan Ellison: Edgeworks Abbey on Amazon

Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison, Vol. Three
Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison, Vol. Four 
Brain Movies: The Original Teleplays of Harlan Ellison, Vol. Five
Harlan 101: Encountering Ellison 

Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word 
None of the Above (Unproduced Screenplay based on Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron)
Rough Beasts: Seventeen Stories Written Before I Got Up To Speed 
by Harlan Ellison
(Edgeworks Abbey, $29.99-$39.99)

      Last year I wrote about how science fiction/fantasy/TV writer Harlan Ellison was publishing new, old and revised works through a publisher so exclusive that the books could only be ordered from a dedicated website -- not from, say, a brick-and-mortar bookstore or Now he (or his publisher) has relented and the books are appearing on Amazon (some of them, anyway, but still not on Barnes and Noble), and the publisher is now listed as something called Edgeworks Abbey, a reference (I guess) to the old Harlan Ellison Edgeworks reprint series from White Wolf that went bust.

     I only received one reader comment on the earlier post, and it was critical of my criticism, specifically my complaint that the books seemed overpriced ($40 for a softcover book about the size of a Yellow Pages) considering that they were filled with "found" material, either scripts for TV shows and films -- some never produced -- that Ellison had long ago written, or material that Ellison hadn't previously considered worthy of reprinting, now slightly revised.

     (One famous or infamous example is the story "Invulnerable," which was scheduled for his collection Stalking the Nightmare, and was included in the manuscript sent to Stephen King for his perusal prior to his writing a laudatory introduction to the book. King singled out the story for praise, devoting many paragraphs to it, but after HE sent King the ms., HE had a change of heart and removed the story from the book as unworthy. He did not remove King's comments from the intro, however. Now he's "fixed" the story. I object on two grounds. First, I think that was rude to King and his readers to remove the story, and I also disapprove of authors rewriting stories and book after publication. Mary Shelley did this with Frankenstein, and H.G. Wells did this with his excellent short story "The Country of the Blind." It is almost always done for a buck. I prefer to see the original work, warts and all. Tinkering with history in this way reminds me of Orwell's 1984.)

     My critic argued that the books were facsimiles of the original scripts, with marginal notes and therefore invaluable for anyone interested in studying TV and film writing. (I suspect Ellison has just photocopied the pages so he doesn't have to have them typeset. The comments/changes/etc. could appear as footnotes, take up fewer pages and therefore be more convenient to read. If they take up fewer pages, which seems likely, they might also be cheaper.)

     (I like -- or rather liked; I haven't read much in the past couple of decades, so I'm not sure how I'd feel about them now -- much of Ellison's work, including his scripts, but considering his track record in getting scripts produced -- despite the awards and acclaim they receive -- he might not be the best example for a struggling screenwriter to emulate. Just saying.)

     The non-script volumes HE released, including a best-of volume that doubles as a writing manual, were priced about the same as the books of scripts (I think one goes for $30). Do these also have the marginal notes my critic thought justified the cost for the script volumes? Some of these are only half as long as the script volumes.

     My critic also failed to comment on my criticism that the books were cynically arranged so that fans of one of one segment of the author's writing -- say, his Burke's Law scripts, or the story that became the Outer Limits script Demon with a Glass Hand -- couldn't just buy one or two volumes, but would have to buy several (I believe his Burke's Law scripts are spread out one per volume). All are equally deserving of attention, in HE's opinion, so he throws them together in a way to make it more difficult for his fans. (Fortunately HE's fans should be used to such treatment; see the earlier Edgeworks series, for example.)

     As I said in the earlier post, I don't object to these books based on their quality. If they were a third the price, or they had been published 20 years ago,  I would probably buy them all. If I could see them in the stores. I might buy one or two on impulse. But these books will do nothing for HE's reputation or legacy. The prose is rewritten juvenilia or best-of stories that are or should be readily available elsewhere, not from an overpriced small press. The scripts are a specialty item, but poorly packaged to appeal to fans or even serious students of HE because of the way they are organized. The supplemental material, such as the prose that became Demon with a Glass Hand, are curiosities that HE previously refused to release, the sort of item in fact that he has said he has specified in his will as to be burned after his death, now released apparently to shake a few coins out of his most devoted fans.

     HE does have one long-promised publishing venture Ellison could actually put out from this imprint that would be a genuine service to the general public and many of his fellow writers, living and dead: The Last Dangerous Visions. More about that next time.


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