jueves, 4 de febrero de 2016

Can & Can'takerous, by Harlan Ellison

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Sarsaparilla, by Unkle Ho (Spotify).

When I was a child I loved to read Isaac Asimov's Hugo Awards anthologies and I remember finding many stories by Harlan Ellison. Titles such as "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman", "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" or "Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38º 54' N, Longitude 77º00'13'' W" simply blew my mind away, although I must confess that I did not always understand the contents of the stories. I have also fond memories of Dangerous Visions, which I remember carrying with me across the ocean on a trip to visit my family in Mexico when I was 13 (though, again, some of the stories where too complex or subtle for me at that time).

Oddly enough, for more than twenty years, with the exception of one or two short stories read here or there, I had no other contact with Harlan Ellison's work, something that, being a hard-core SF, fan really puts me to shame. In fact, last year I bought The Top of the Volcano as part of the Subterranean Press Humble Bundle and I've had the intention of reading it for some time now. However, I had the chance of getting a review copy of Can & Can'takerous, newest Ellison's collection, and decided to give a try instead. I think it was not the best of the ideas.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that Can & Can'takerous is a bad book by any means, but maybe it is not the best place to start if you are not familiar with the work of Harlan Ellison. The stories included in the book are the most recent written and published by the author (the oldest of them is from 1999) and many of them are related to other, previous ones as, for instance, "Never Send to Know for Whom the Lettuce Wilts" or "From A to Z, in the Sarsaparilla Alphabet". What is more, several reproductions of original typescripts (with handwritten notes, in some cases) of stories are included in the appendices. All this, probably, will be especially appreciated by long-time fans of Ellison.

To my taste, however, most of the stories were good or just OK, but not excellent. Some of them, in fact, were too strange, too derivative or too parodic (as is the case with "The Toad Prince, or, Sex Queen of the Martian Pleasure-Domes", the longest piece of the book, that I was unable to finish). I did like "How Interesting: A Tiny Man", possibly the best story of the collection (it did win the Hugo Award) and the short interludes in which the author explains the experience of his heart-attack almost as it was just another tale. And, of course, I must say that the edition is very beautiful and the bonus material (the typescripts I mentioned above) is really interesting from a historical point of view.

All in all, Can & Can'takerous is a book that I think will be better enjoyed by those familiar with Harlan Ellison's work. For the rest of readers, it might be a better idea to start with The Top of the Volcano and then come back to this other collection.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)         

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