The total amount of insanity in a person is directly proportionate to the number of Harlan Ellison works that they have read. The master of all speculative fiction, Ellison has published hundreds of mind-bending works that obliterate all your comfortably held ideas about sex, science, morality, or any subject you choose. We've been reading him since the age of ten, when our father made the questionable but much appreciated move of pointing us to "A Boy and His Dog," a postapocalyptic tale of telepathic canines, rape and the role of cinema in society.
By no means can we claim this list is definitive. Merely that it best represents the works we've come across that most affected us. We definitely encourage readers to contribute their favorites in the comments.
10. In Fear of K
A man and a woman are trapped together, forever hating each other and forever needing each other in order to fend off an unspeakable monster known as K. Little do they know that K means them no real harm, he simply feeds off their animosity, and does his best to provide them with necessities. However, he is growing ever more ravenous, and a final showdown between hunger and hate is imminent.
9. The Discarded
After a virus begins causing horrific mutations, the infected are exiled from Earth in a spaceship. The exile doesn't stop the spread of the virus, though, and Earth comes begging to the ship for blood samples to create a cure. What follows is a tense battle of wills between those who wish to return home and those who are convinced the plea of Earth is a trap.
8. Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.
We slipped this story into our Geek explanations for Christmas questions you might get from your kids, though we left out all the blood, mind parasites and death by prolonged boinking. Ellison's Santa is the ultimate spy and assassin, using his polar base as a mere ruse for when he has to come to the aid of the world against alien invasions. Pulpy, wonderful fun.
7. Run for the Stars
Benno Tallant was a cowardly junkie on Deald's World when the alien Kyben attacked. Kidnapped off the street by the planet's last human soldiers, they used him in a desperate attempt to escape. Their plan? Place the most powerful bomb in the universe in his stomach, and set him to run from the Kyben, who seek to vivisect him in order to defuse the bomb. If you thought the Saw movies showed what lengths man will go to to survive, then you've haven't seen anything yet.
6. From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet
Twenty-fix short, disturbing visions. One for each letter of the alphabet, and each one a perfectly distinct bit of dark humor and utter madness. Our favorite is...
O is for Ouroboros
Banished from Earth, the great worm coiled ever so tightly and went to sleep. One day he will wake. The moon will rise.
We're always hoping that Asmodeus X will base a song on that one.
5. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
In one of Ellison's most famous works, the last five humans on Earth are continuously tortured by the insane AI that destroyed the world in a final, massive nuclear exchange. Believe it or not, they actually made a video game out of this story, with Ellison himself voicing the computer and co-authoring the adapted universe. That's right, he wasn't satisfied with just writing about a murderous predecessor of GLaDOS, he wanted to freakin' become one.
4. "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman
In the future, your lifespan is known to the second, and every time you're late, a master control deducts time from your life. Excessive tardiness leads to a final switch-off of the heart. Only the laughing vigilante Harlequin stands up to the villainous Ticktockman, attacking the system with whimsy, jelly beans and a desire to be free.
3. Jefty Is Five
One of the sadder stories in the Ellison lexicon. Jefty is a boy who never grows up. For Jefty, there are new episodes of The Shadow on each week, candy that has long gone out of stock is readily available, and comic books are still carrying on in the Golden Age. His parents fear their strange son, but for his adult best friend he is a link to an innocent youth.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
2. Shoppe Keeper
The mysterious shop that sells wonders then vanishes is a staple of fiction, but have you ever wondered about the people that actually work there? Ellison did, and unveils the terrifying, hopeless struggle against tyrannical artistic suppression against a backdrop explaining how Charles Manson gained his hypnotic hold on others.
1. Worlds to Kill
No name brings more fear and hatred in the universe than that of Jared, a mercenary able to conquer any world for a price. His work has killed millions of beings, but underneath it all there is a plan for a lasting peace.