Friday, April 10, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Voice from the Edge by Harlan Ellison

Book Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Bottom Line:  Some of the best stories by Harlan Ellison brought to life the way they should: read by the master himself.

The Voice from the Edge (Vols 1 &2) is a collection of short stories by Harlan Ellison which is also read by him.  Mr. Ellison is a well known figure in the sci fi community having penned many, many short stories in the genre as well as a few novels and quite a number of television scripts (most of which he was never happy with their final execution).  This two volume audiobook brings together some of his best known stories and offers a perfect starting place for those who may not have read much or any of his work.  Vol 1 collects three of his best known stories  "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream",  "‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman", and "A Boy and His Dog" along with 6 others "Laugh Track", "Grail", "The Very Last Day of a Good Woman", "Paladin of the Lost Hour", "The Time of the Eye", and "The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke". The first story on that list is probably his most famous, though I can't say it is one of my favorites by him.  It's a good story, but he has plenty more which are better such as "A Boy and His Dog" which delivers an irascible, post-apocalyptic romp that has Ellison written all over it.  Also, the less well-known "Laugh Track" is must-reading for anybody who wants to get involved in the entertainment industry.  It may focus on sitcoms, but it applies just as well to the industry as a whole and Ellison's reading is spot-on.  And "Paladin of the Lost Hour" is a piece of lyrical prose that had me nearly sobbing at the end.  It deserves to get made into one of those "big message" movies that stars Kevin Costner (think more Field of Dreams and less The Postman, though I'm sure Ellison would be unhappy with any big screen treatment).  Vol 2 has the stories "Jeffty is Five", "S.R.O.”, "In Lonely Lands", "The End of the Time of Leinard", "Pennies, Off a Dead Man’s Eyes", "Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral", "Rat Hater", "Go Toward the Light", "The Function of Dream Sleep", "Soft Monkey", "Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish".  Surprisingly, this volume falls short of the first largely because of the inferior story selection.  Ellison has plenty of tales better than the ones included here, so I'm not certain how these made the cut.  Perhaps the author himself chose the stories and he has a particular affinity for them.  None of these are bad, mind you, it's just that several of them start out quite interesting but don't quite seem to offer the resolution you might expect.  Still, I liked "Jeffty is Five" (a Hugo award winner) and "S.R.O." quite a bit and the others at least made for an enjoyable listen.  Note that several of the stores in Vol 2 are not sci fi, but I don't hold that against them.

As for the audiobook narration, I typically believe that authors should stick to writing and leave the voice work to the professionals.  However, in the case of Harlan Ellison's stories, not only do I make an exception, I can't imagine anybody other than him providing the narration.  His voice, with its palpable New York accent, adds just the right amount of acidic snarkiness to many of these stories to really emphasize the wicked humor at their core.  Particularly, his reading of "Laugh Track" is essential and I can't imagine this story working nearly as well without his voice.  In his introduction to "Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish", he claims that he wrote that to be heard and not read, and he definitely gives it the perfect treatment here.  Even the more somber tales like "Paladin of the Lost Hour" work well here as he shifts out of high gear and gives the tale the attentive reading that it deserves.  Personally, I think Ellison missed out on one of his callings and should have pursued a more extensive career in voice work.  He has done some other audiobooks (I have his reading of Usrula K. Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea which is truly excellent) and some voice-overs in film and television.  But I believe that he could have become one of the most sought after voice actors out there if he had chosen that route.  But at least you get to enjoy him here as he is full-on Ellison bringing to life some of his best tales.  You can buy The Voice From the Edge as a download from and if you search around you may be able to find it on CD as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment